Friday, January 29, 2016

The Writing Class

When I retired, I thought I would spend a lot of time writing.  I planned that finally get that memoir written. I had grandiose plans for myself whenever I thought about retirement.  Perhaps, the most grandiose idea of all was that I would spend a lot of time writing.

Since I retired, most of the writing I have done has consisted of writing in this blog.  I took up blogging in 2008 in order to have an outlet for all the writing I envisioned myself doing. It is hard to believe that I have published 372 posts over the past seven years. Blogging  has provided a great platform for writing.  Along the way, blogging gave me a bonus I never expected:  I made many friends through blogging. My life has also been so enriched by learning of so many new and different topics through reading blogs.  News around the world and nation has a new relevance to me because I  have blogging friends living in places where the news event is taking place.  My life has been broadened more than I imagined through my writing.

Even though I have written all those blog posts, I just never seem to get down to the real practice of writing that I envisioned I would do during my retirement years.  I write most days, but if I don't blog,  my writing mostly consists of journaling.  Journaling has become an important part of my writing journey as my journals have been the place where I worked through the grief I have experienced over the past five years after the death of my daughter Julie.

 Several of my dear friends are gifted writers and share a desire to get some serious writing done.  We have met on occasion over the years.  We always make promises to keep meeting to write, but then, life gets in the way and we cancel our next get together and don't meet to write.

In October, five of my blogging friends and I, the Vashionistas, as we call ourselves met for five days
 on Vashon Island in Washington to write.  It was dream come true for me.  I had often thought how wonderful it would be to spend a week writing with these great ladies, and it was great in many ways.  I guess you can say that the experience stimulated that desire to get serious about getting some serious writing done.

When I got home from my time with my blogging friends at the wonderful Lavender Hill on Vashon Island, I immediately began to search for a writing class.  I found that one was being offered through a local writing community that would be taught by Kathryn Eastburn.  I knew of Kathryn because of the writing that she had done as editor and co-founder of the Colorado Springs Independent, a local newspaper.  I also had taken a class several years ago with a woman who spoke highly of all she had learned from Kathryn when she had taken a class in creative nonfiction from her at Colorado College.
I knew that opportunities to take a class from such a great instructor are rare. so I paid my money and signed up for the class.

The timing for the class was not the best in that it would go from October 22 until December 17.  That is right during the holidays, I thought as I pondered whether or not I should sign up for the class that was limited to ten participants.  The timing of the class was difficult.  It certainly added to the stress of the season, but it is also good to have deadlines so that writing gets done.  We met once a week on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:30.  The class ended just before Christmas.  I felt a big hole in my life when I no longer had the mental stimulation and inspiration the class provided.

I so enjoyed the class.  Kathryn is the best.  She gave me so much insight into reading and writing creative non-fiction.  We had the best reading assignments that have given me great insight into how others have gone about writing memoir.  It was great being introduced to new authors I had never read before.  I wondered at times what rock I have been under that I have missed the work by these authors.  I most enjoyed reading selection from Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, and a selection by JoAnn Beard from her book, Cousins.  An essay that appeared in the New York Times by JoAnn Beard entitled, The Fourth State of Matter, blew me away.  Blogging friends, take the time to read this essay.  It is an amazing piece of work, and a story that won't be forgotten.

Not only did I enjoy some great reading time because of the selections that Kathryn assigned for the class, but I also greatly enjoyed, and learned much, from the discussions we had in class about what we had read.

Every week, we would receive two or three pieces of writing from our fellow classmates to read.  As we read, we were to annotate the piece of writing so that we could workshop the piece in class the following week.  Some of you readers may not be familiar with the term "workshop" as it is used in the context of writing.  Think of writing an essay and then submitting it to several readers for feedback.  The reader is not acting as the grammar police looking for mistakes.  The reader is instead reading to give the writer or author feedback that speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of the writing.  What works?  What doesn't work?  Where should the writer give more detail?

It may seem scary to submit writing to be workshopped, and to be honest, it is.  A very safe and supportive environment must be established in order for this type of writing experience to work for all of the participants.  It is really up to the instructor or facilitator to create this type of learning environment.  Kathryn is an excellent facilitator/instructor.  She creates a stimulating, welcoming, safe, and instructive place where I personally felt very free to create and learn.

Stephen Krashen, a linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, my hero when it comes to teaching and learning in the area of linguistics and second language learning,  teaches teachers about of the affective filter.  Many students in the literacy classroom come equipped with a well constructed affective filters through which they pass the instruction being delivered by the teacher.  This filter must be lowered by the teacher by creating a safe learning environment before the student is able to comprehend the input coming from the teacher.  This theory hold true for me as an adult learner.  If I don't feel safe in a writing community, or in the environment in which I write, I am not able to write if I don't feel safe and supported.  I am grateful that Kathryn created such a community and environment and restored my confidence in writing for others.
Over the course of the weeks I took the writing class, I was able to produce quite a bit of writing.  The feedback I received from the pieces I submitted was very positive.  As a writer, I am my own worst critic.  I think the things that just won't work in a piece of writing are surprisingly the things that my readers liked best.

After the class ended, and after the holidays were over, my fellow writing group ladies and I began to email each other about how much we missed our Thursday nights together.  After a bit of discussion on where and when to meet, we settled on a plan to continue to hold writing workshops on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:30.

Last night five of us met at the appointed time in the upstairs room of a wonderful coffee shop in Old Colorado City.  Each of us armed with a pot of tea, our notebooks, pens, and books, ascended the staircase to sit in an inviting private room around a large round oak table.  We are reserving the room for a month on Thursday nights at a rate of $25 a night which can be covered by our tea or food purchases and a bit more.

We will follow the same format as before.  Work will be submitted on Sunday nights for the others to read and annotate.  We will produce writings twice during our month together.  We shared the books we have been reading.  We share personal stories of the storytellers in our life.   We determined our plan and process.

The writing group continues.  Perhaps, this month I will actually get  a chapter written on my WIP (Work in Progress).  The group has really helped me find a focus and the work is seeming less scattered.  I am so looking forward to seeing what we all will produce.