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Writing Exercise

Long ago, I held writing workshops in my living room. There were eight people in a group, and I was one of the eight. We met once a week for two hours. My courses lasted eight to ten weeks. There was no homework, nor did people bring stories or poems to share with the group. The purpose of the gathering was to do writing exercises I invented to illuminate various aspects of the writing process, and after each exercise, to share what we’d written.

No one had to share what she or he wrote. Sharing our work was voluntary. No judgments were made by anyone in the group, and the only outward responses to shared work permitted during the sessions were smiles, nods, and positive humming. If a participant had a negative reaction to something, they kept their response to themselves.

In every group, despite my assurances to the contrary, there were people who thought they would be judged and critiqued for what they created during the sessions. In fact, most of the people I worked with over the years were sure they would be criticized and judged, though I told them when they signed up for the workshop there would be no analysis or criticism, and I restated that rule at the outset of every session.

And so for the first few exercises of every first session, only I and a few other people (usually those who had previously taken one of my workshops) would read aloud what they wrote. Then once it became clear there would be no judgment or criticism, most people were emboldened to share some of what they created.

There were often people who would wait until the second or third sessions before sharing something with the group, and one person waited to share something until her fifth session. When she finally got up the courage to share a few lines of what she’d written, and her offering was greeted with smiles and positive humming, she wept, and thereafter eagerly shared her work.

What I learned from working with hundreds of writers, teenagers to oldsters, was that virtually everyone had been shamed and traumatized regarding their writing. The main traumatizers were unskillful teachers, though parents and fellow students were frequently traumatizers, too.

And though my exercises helped people practice their writing skills, the greatest boon of the sessions was that people got to experience sharing what they wrote without being punished for doing so.

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