If you want to get to know a group of people faster and more intimately than you ever thought could happen, take a Personal History and Memoir writing class.
Writing has always been something I’ve associated with school essays and cover letters. This blog has been my first attempt at writing with a more personal approach. In order to expand my writing skills and take on my next project at the same time, I signed up for a class through Portland Community College. It was a non-credit class that met once a week for eight weeks.
The classes were workshop style. We would begin each evening with a 2-3 minute quick-write. The teacher would give us two prompts: "Instead of doing blank, I blank…” or “If I were you, I would…" and when time was up we would go around the room and read our writing aloud. We did similar writing sessions throughout the class, increasing the time we spent writing and offering feedback to our classmates. Between writing sessions we would read published works, learning about different writing styles and discussing our thoughts about the pieces.
The most challenging and rewarding part of the class was writing spontaneously on a given topic. We would get a prompt and then time would begin. I wrote the first thing that came to mind and would see where it took me. It was an exercise in recalling memories from my past and putting things into words that I hadn’t thought about in years.
The majority of the people in class were older than me, many of whom had been writing for years. There was a lot of talent in the room, and a lot of personal experiences that fueled a drive to write. Hearing these personal and often intimate stories quickly became my favorite part of the class. I listened as people shared about their search for belonging and identity, personal accounts of life-changing medical treatments, connections to family members and experiences growing up. As the weeks went on I became attuned to everyone’s individual reading voices, something that made the stories really come to life.
Our final project was a five page personal essay on a topic of our choice. We wrote on our own time, using class to share and get feedback on our draft in order to revise and give a final reading of our piece during the last two classes.
At the end of the final class everyone seemed sad to see it end. This was one of the only classes I’ve been in where people wanted to stay longer than the class was scheduled and the teacher had to remind people to leave. Not only did we learn writing techniques, it was also a class in learning how to open up and share what makes you who you are, as well as developing listening skills and having empathy for other people.
If you’d like to read my final project, you can find it here.