Stop. Before you dismiss the idea with “I don’t know much about memoir writing and I’m not a teacher,” hear me out. If you’ve ever shown anyone how to do anything, you’re a teacher. And learning the ropes of memoir writing is child’s play – if you know how to access a search engine.
Using my best friend Google, I entered “memoir writing.” After scouring several articles in that category I went on to “Memoir Writing Prompts,” “Memoir Writing Exercises,” and finally “Memoir Writing Workshops.” Within a couple of weeks I grew comfortable with the “how” of teaching a memoir writing workshop.
Next I needed to find a place to hold the workshop and identify a funding source. I started with a call to our public library director and asked if she was interested in a six-week “What’s Your Story?” memoir writing workshop for seniors. She sounded enthused and invited me to stop by the library for an in-depth discussion on the matter.
By 2 o’clock that afternoon it was a done deal. We would meet in the Community Room at the public library from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Mondays for six weeks. The library staff would advertise the class, provide coffee, juice and munchies, and print all handouts. And…drum roll…the Friends of the Library would foot the bill: $100 per session for a total of $600. Life was good.
Although there are countless ways to run a writing workshop, this is the format (after some trial and error) that I used during each presentation: (1) Tell a “senior” joke (2) Select ten volunteers to read aloud a piece written at home (3) Hold a chew and chat break (4) Teach a mini-lesson on one writing craft (5) Distribute handouts that correlate with the day’s mini-lesson (6) Announce a category for the weekly write-at-home assignment.
Caution: It’s important to urge participants to not skip a class just because they didn’t complete that week’s assignment. Sometimes life gets in the way, and that’s understandable. This “permission” is indicative of the relaxed atmosphere I maintained throughout the entire workshop. I believe it is the primary reason my workshops have been so successful.
How successful were the sessions? Pardon me while I boast. The first group of writers requested (and were granted) an additional six-week workshop for the following year, and word spread to neighboring towns and cities with lightning speed. As of this writing I have done ten six-week sessions at public libraries, with three more on the docket for next fall. I have kept my fee at $600 per series, plus $.57 per mi. travel expense. Thus far, the Friends of The Library, a nationwide network of non-profit groups that raise money to help public libraries, has funded all of the workshops. There is of course, no fee for participants.
Why is this relatively simple endeavor so popular? I think participants enjoy the experience for a number of reasons: It gives them a sense of purpose and a feeling of accomplishment; they have an opportunity to share their stories with others in a warm and friendly environment; they make new friends; and everyone – including the instructor – has a rip-roaring good time.
Growing older doesn’t mean we have to stop growing or enjoy doing it.
BIO: Jacquie McTaggart of Independence, Iowa, is the author of two books: From the Teacher’s Desk and If They Don’t Learn the Way You Teach…Teach the Way They Learn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Better Homes and Gardens, Parenting, American Educator, Reading Today, Teacher, The Catholic Teacher, Funds for Writers, Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Weekly, ByLine, This Active Life, Grand, and in numerous metropolitan parenting publications.