Self Stories writing workshops

Forming a Group

Following are guidelines for forming a Self Stories© writing group.

Workshop Size

Workshops will vary in size. Limit registration to 12 people, assuming that a few will drop out or be unable to attend each meeting.  Eight is an ideal number since and will provide opportunities for discussion.  Groups of four or fewer can be challenging, especially if not everyone is comfortable with sharing their work. Depending on the availability and interest of your participants and location, workshop sessions can last 60 or 90 minutes.

Recruiting Participants

Sometimes it’s difficult to recruit the first group of participants since many people can be intimidated at first by the idea of writing. It is generally easier to recruit subsequent groups once word about the experience of participating gets out. The more you’re able to talk directly to the people who you are trying to recruit, the more likely you are to succeed.  Talking to people directly can help assure them that they 1) don’t have to have lead an “interesting” life to participate, 2) don’t need any previous writing experience and 3) they do have stories worth telling.  Consider also:

  • Listing workshops in local papers, websites and blogs;
  • Submitting a listing about the workshop to religious centers’ calendar of events sections;
  • Spreading the word through conversations with potential participants, as well as friends and colleagues;
  • Making a public announcement at an event or activity.

Be sure to stress that previous writing experience is not necessary, and that access to a computer or knowledge of spelling and grammar aren’t important. If participants cannot write due to physical impairments, offer the option of using a device such as a portable audio recorder to record their stories. 

Budget

At a minimum, you will need enough funds for folders (with pockets), pens, and copies of the writer handouts (located at the end of this manual.) It is also important to have tissues on hand since reading what one has written can be an emotional experience . If you have the resources or are planning to charge a small fee, refreshments are a nice way of building group camaraderie.

Space

Meetings should be held in private, closed-off rooms where passersby cannot hear what’s being read. Spaces should also feel warm and inviting. A cozy, quiet meeting room will add importance and intimacy to the group setting. Other considerations:

  • Is the room handicapped accessible?
  • Is there adequate overhead light?
  • Is free parking and/or public transportation located nearby?
  • Are there restrooms near the meeting room?
  • Does the space have tables or desks for writers to take notes?
  • Is the room available 30 minutes before and after, so participants can take their time?

Facilitator’s Role

The most important credentials for a facilitator are 1) an interest in people and their stories and 2) ability to listen closely. Writing experience isn’t necessary although the facilitator should feel comfortable providing helpful comments on participants’ written work. Workshops will depend largely upon the participants who join them. All levels of writers and thinkers are welcome. Facilitators should be prepared to meet participants where they are, and understand that circumstances may change from week to week.

Much of the facilitator’s role involves balancing the dynamics of the group, especially group members who might be talkative. Decide at the beginning of the workshop how much time each person will be allowed to have to read and comment, and announce it to the group.  For example, suggest that each person can have up to 10 minutes to read their piece and receive feedback.  By having a pre-established time, it is easier to interrupt someone who is talkative.

At the end of each session, workshop participants submit their stories to the facilitator for comments. The facilitator should photocopy each story, and respond on that copy with notes, leaving a clean, original version for the writer to keep. Point out positive writing choices (“Nice image. I can see this house you describe.” or “The repetition in this passage emphasizes what a struggle this must have been”). Include comments without stifling or correcting the writer. The importance of feedback isn’t on “correcting” a person’s work.  Instead, knowing that someone has read their work seriously can be a very validating experience for the participant.