If one writing group is good, would two groups be great? I discovered the power of a writing group a dozen years ago when I thought I was ready to write my memoir. The group was warm, welcoming and inspiring. But I wasn’t ready.
Last spring, following an e-mail signature-line link, I discovered a memoir class at a local library – exactly the push I needed. Several classes later I knew I had found the right place, a compassionate group, gentle critique, and a strong coach. Problem is, after eight weeks, the class was over. Eight chapter drafts sat untouched on the edge of my desk for the entire summer. Guilt began to sink in. I couldn’t risk letting another dozen years pass before I picked up the pieces – by then I might be too old. When September came and I found out the class had morphed into an official writer’s group, I grabbed my pink notebook and a couple of my favorite pens and headed to the library.
I am comfortable with this library group. It gives me a safe space to write and share that crappy first draft. I trust and accept the feedback from this group of eight women and one man. Our individual stories may be different but they all peek into the souls within us, all the way down to the soles of our feet.
But I still have that tough inner critic who tells me I am not author material. So I joined a second writing group, one made up of authors (by my definition, writers who have published their words). My thinking – wouldn’t this be the perfect place to take the draft from the memoir group, clean it up, and share with these “professionals?” Two chapters into it, confidence grows with positive encouragement.
Now I begin to reflect. This group is a mix of fiction and memoir writers. There may be some truth in fiction but as I reveal my story to this new audience, I wonder if I have the strength to share the whole truth. And, beyond that, do I really want the world to know? The answer comes. I have a story to tell. The grace to tell one’s experience, strength and hope, gives others the courage to tell their story.
Where does your memoir begin? Where will it take you?
I begin with the Anne Lamott method – a sh*tty first draft. No one lays eyes on this piece of work. It will be tweaked and trimmed before I dare to read it to my memoir writing group. I am fortunate to have found this group of eight willing to listen and share each others stories with an openness and nonjudgmental sense of loyalty. We critique with compassion for each other, gently making suggestions – what to leave in, what to eliminate, what needs to be expanded.
There are times we hit a rough spot and we bring in the same piece of work week after week. Usually I take my piece home, make a few notes, and move on to the next chapter, keeping in mind that this is still not the final draft. It gives me the freedom to work through the cathartic phase of writing a painful memoir in a safe environment. This is where I learn what happened, where I gathered strength, and figure out where will I take the reader.
The original plan to hold off on writing this memoir until resolution is conceived was procrastination on my part. I didn’t want to write down the gritty details. I wanted to come out looking like the person who exists on FaceBook – the one always smiling, looking good, enjoying a wonderful life. The more I write the more I realize the truth – I am that person portrayed on FaceBook. I am in a good place. Perhaps resolution comes within the process, a slow mining of the gold within a story, growing from the experiences, and knowing there is much more good to come.