The Monroeville Public Library Lifewriters group began meeting five years ago after students in a six-week lifestory writing class I taught at the library wanted to keep meeting as an incentive to stick with their writing projects. All agreed to meet on a regular basis, twice a month, without adjusting the schedule to accommodate absences of any members, myself included. The group has continued to meet skipping only the second meetings in November and December, ever since. We have no formal membership or structure, and our average attendance has grown from around six at the beginning to a dozen today. Only a couple of original members still attend. The rest have cycled in at various points since.
Several members contributed short pieces for this post telling about the value the group and lifewriting in general has had for them. Excerpts follow.
Ellen: I am passionate about lifewriting because I am telling my own personal story in my own voice. Others can listen if they want, but the joy is in the telling. The joy of the lifewriting group is that there are eager listeners to my personal story—and they validate my life. I am passionate about lifewriting because I am telling my own personal story in my own voice. Others can listen if they want, but the joy is in the telling. The joy of the lifewriting group is that there are eager listeners to my personal story—and they validate my life.
Helma: I began writing my memoir in 1987 and continued to add to it periodically but never on a regular basis. I began with the marriage of my parents and tried to write a chronological-type bio. It was slow and infrequent work. Then one morning at the health club I happened to overhear two women discussing the writing club at my local library and decided to investigate, which I did and found that I would be welcome to attend. At first I was somewhat intimidated by their knowledge of writing and grammar, but the warm welcome and positive input soon changed that. In the short space of time that I have been with them I have gained much from the positive critiques. I look forward to each meeting.
Joan: The group gives me advice, critiques my work, accepts me for being me. My life is an open book and I enjoy sharing the good times as well as the not so good times. No one judges me. When I hear another person in the group read a story about something in their life, it inspires me and triggers another one of my memories, which could have stayed dormant forever.
Margaret: I really enjoy the group, and the friendly interaction of each one. It's good to know other people’s stories and how they grew up and what their thoughts are about life. It's heartwarming to know that we can connect to other people, no matter what our up-bringing or circumstances.
Chuck: I have taught many different university-level writing classes, edited technical writing, and written 42 plays and two writing text books, so I know how to write. So I do spend a lot of time proofreading and never dash something off the morning of the class. And yet, I can overlook my own typos, and I always appreciate the keen eye of one of the group spotting an error. I definitely find being a part of the group extremely enjoyable. People in the group are great; and the group serves as great motivation to write. I've been deeply moved by something that each person in the group has written.
Nancy: For some time, I had been thinking about writing my memoirs, using "I remember when . . . " as my theme. I tried a class at the Penn Hills Library in the summer of 2010, but was somewhat disappointed to learn that it was a group for all types of writing; in addition, once my fall schedule began, I was not free the night the group met. One of the members of the Monroeville Library group, a friend from church, encouraged me to visit. I have thoroughly enjoyed the group, hearing others' memories and sharing some of my own. The constructive criticism and the positive reinforcement meant so much to me. Our two-hour meetings twice a month work well for me, and we always seem to find time for every person to read his or her story.
Paul: You could display my two books that you inspired me to author and publish after the age of eighty.
Paul, the author of Living to Serve and Bridges to Peace wrote this brief response while on vacation. He is working on a third book and is a charter member of the group. I mentioned him in an earlier post.
Thanks to all the members who responded. I hope their comments may inspire others to join a group, or start one if you can’t find one.
Write now: about your experience with writing groups. If you don’t belong to one, write about benefits you might receive from one, and reasons you may think of starting one.