Explorations in Storytelling

On Writing

Writing about writing

Hats off to Champlain College II

In my workshop at the Champlain College Young Writers' Conference, my second exercise prompt was one I have used often -- with young kids and old, adults and even a group of folks who are fighting their addiction to opiates.

Step 1 (5 min.): Jot down as quickly as they come to mind memorable moments in your life (earliest life, at school, or over the last week, or whatever ...). These should have emotion. They can be just a split second or something that lasted several days. ONLY write a phrase to remind you of the event and the story and move on.

Step 2: (6 min.): Share your list with the person next to you. Read the other's closely and figure out which phrase intrigues you the most. Then interview the person; get them to tell the story behind the phrase; be an active listener. Then switch. Each person will have two minutes to speak.

Step 3: (15 min.) Write the story you told. (Or choose another if, in telling the story, you discovered too many flaws.) Write quickly. Get as much of the important parts down.

Step 4: (15 min.) Share. If you are doing this online, then have the partners read and then comment on each other's stories. Share a few outloud.

We did not have much time to share, but we had a few moments to share reactions about the exercise. One young writer noticed how much more detail she used when she wrote the story. Another said it was easier to tell, but more fun to write. And another worried that her writing was in a very different voice than her speaking. "Is that a problem?" I asked. "Yes, I think it is," she said.

Words from a memory, a story. Audio below.

Words from a memory, a story. Audio below.

The words above were ones I wrote down for a group of middle schoolers to show them how to do the exercise. They wanted the story, of course, but I waited to the end. And then I told it, for the first time in my life. Six months later, I wrote it at a workshop led by friend and poet Leland Kinsey who eschews all things digital. God bless him. And God bless his editing suggestions at the time.

Below is the audio version; click here for the photo, text and audio version.