Session One

Introduction and First-Person Memoirs

Introduction of facilitator(s) and group members – 15 minutes

Start with a brief explanation about who you are, why you decided to start a writing group, and how you can be reached for any questions between sessions. Ask participants to say a few words about what motivated them to join. Make sure they keep it brief — there will be a chance to share more later in the session.

Course Materials – 5 minutes

Distribute notebooks and pens. Briefly discuss the workshop outline (“Each of you will be writing stories about your life, using a variety of different forms, or genres…”) and goals (“Our aim is to help you reflect on the past, and find new ways to express yourselves…”).

Ground Rules of the Workshop – 10 minutes

Explain the need to be open-minded and non-judgmental of other participants, as well as the importance of completing the workshop’s weekly assignments. Stress that confidentiality is an absolute must. Participants should feel secure that what they bring up in the workshop will not be talked about by others later. Ask each participant to sign a confidentiality agreement, which they can keep in their workshop notebook as a reminder.

Written Introductions – 10 minutes

Ask participants to write five sentences about who they are, why they are there, what they hope to accomplish, or anything else they would like to say about him or herself. Keep the instructions vague. Allow each participant to define what should be included or excluded, and what areas of their life to focus on.

Reading the Introductions – 15 minutes

Ask if there are any volunteers who would like to read their introduction. Do not pressure people to read or go around the room asking each person to read. Since people will feel the most vulnerable during the first group session, they should not be put on the spot or they may feel uncomfortable and decide to discontinue. Once introductions are read, collect them and keep them until the final workshop session, when the introductions will be returned after participants complete a similar last assignment.

In-Class Example: “The Captain’s Lady and the Tiger” – 20 minutes

Distribute hard copies of the piece, an example of a first-person memoir. Read the memoir aloud, and ask the group:

  • Without looking back, what do you remember about this piece?
  • Did you get a sense of the person writing the memoir? If so, how?
  • What does the title say about the piece? How would a different title, such as “The Boat Trip,” change the piece?

Explaining Assignment One – 5 minutes

Distribute this week’s assignment (First-person memoir: Write at least one page about a significant event in your life -- see writer handouts), and ask participants to consider a topic. If there is time, see if participants would like to share their ideas. People who do not wish to share should not be pressed to do so.

Discussing Literary Concepts

  • Briefly review the following literary concepts so that each person can think about these as they write their piece for the following week.
  • Plot – the action that the story retells; each story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end
  • First person – from the point of view of the writer, who is generally the main character; tells the story using “I”
  • Conflict – action that creates tension and interest in a story, which may result in resolution or not; in sharing a life story, writers should try to interpret events, but not invent resolutions