Break on Through


I took a Memoir Boot Camp class last month, the first workshop in many (too many) years. Eight women sat around a large square table in a crowded space with our instructor, Patrick. I brought my laptop with me but locked it in the trunk of my car during our morning break. We wrote everything – notes, prompts and exercises, references – the old-fashioned way with pen and notebook.

Taking a seat I was shy and insecure, feared the other women were more accomplished writers. We took turns introducing ourselves and shared why we were taking the workshop and what we hoped to accomplish. Always an avid reader, since creating my blog, I’ve re-discovered my love of writing and have resuscitated a veiled memoir I started (too many) years ago. I found the workshop online and registered before I could talk myself out of it. The other women, warm and supportive, were there for various reasons; by the time the last woman spoke I felt comfortable and worthy of the chair I occupied.

Patrick passed along handouts with writing samples and helpful tips. We read, wrote, shared. Before lunch, we were instructed to write, in only a minute, a few sentences where we reveal something about ourselves that the other’s would not guess. My pen moved quickly across the page as I wrote something I don’t normally share, something about me that not all of my friends or extended family members know. We all have secrets, parts of us we keep private, even if they’d seem silly or inconsequential to the world. When the eight of us were done, pens down, hands covering our words, Patrick looked at me and asked me to read the first sentence I wrote. After telling him I was feeling anxious and had no idea we were going to read out loud I read the first sentence. He asked me to read the next sentence, which I did. Nobody laughed, screamed, sneered or ran out of the room. One by one the others read what they wrote; one woman confirmed “what happens in memoir boot camp stays in memoir boot camp” after reading her secret to us. We all nodded in agreement.

The overall experience has helped me with my writing practice. I’ve carried a notepad in my purse for months but have just started jotting down sentences as they come to me, descriptions, dialogue, ideas. I’ve been more consistent, try to write everyday, whether it ends up being hundreds of words or fifty.

We all have a story and I’ve started writing mine. The fictionalized memoir has been replaced with the real story – real names, real events. I’m writing as if no one’s ever going to read it. It’s funny and bittersweet, difficult and scary, some of it hard to touch. But, I’m breaking through and soldiering on. In reality my story isn’t unique, probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, but it’s mine and is staying on the page, hidden when I’m not working on it.

And those women at the workshop? They invited me to eat lunch with them; we all expounded on our secret and I admired them for their fearlessness and bravery.

32 replies

    • Thanks, Jill. I have a favorite pen, too, and a lot of different stories started. Hopefully, I will actually finish one of them some day. You have a great weekend too!

  1. Can’t remember the last time I used a pen for anything but the checkbook (and with on-line banking that doesn’t happen much). This sounds like such an awesome experience. To be with others of like mind is exhilarating!

  2. I also carry a notebook around.
    I’m glad you had the courage to share yourself with others. I’m usually afraid to share at workshops.

  3. I don’t believe you are going to leave me holding my breath waiting for you to reveal the secret. How will I ever get a full nights sleep again with that anticipation not met! Feel like a murder mystery ended and I don’t know “who is the killer”! Gotta love her, Mom

  4. I’m glad you ‘dared’. 🙂 I think that people are mostly very supportive in a group like this. We’re none of us very confident in our skills, are we? But it’s good to try. Keep writing! 🙂

  5. Isn’t it funny how we get so anxious and insecure about our personal things, and then no one else judges us on them, but actually accepts us. I’m glad they asked you out to lunch. I’m sure you felt relief and acceptance. What an awesome experience Geralyn.
    I also make sure I (almost) always have a notepad and pen/pencil with me. I think it’s a trademark of a writer.
    Have a great weekend, my friend.

    • So true, Staci. We had a very nice lunch after sharing something about ourselves. This was a safe place to reveal a secret or two! Thanks for your support from afar! Have a great weekend, too.

      • Oh, that’s wonderful Geralyn. These moments are what make life special, don’t you think?
        You’re more than welcome.

  6. I LOVE this quote- write as if no one is reading – and will use it with my creative writing students. You write beautifully and smoothly; I was right there with you in that memoir class. Keep it up!!

    • I thought of this quote and wondered if it had already been said. When I googled it I saw it had been, thought it was a good one. Thanks for your nice comment about my writing, Pam. I really appreciate it. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  7. What a lovely experience, Geralyn! It sounds like what every writing class should be: warm, inviting, supportive. I also like the idea of writing your memoir as if no one will ever read it. I’ve done a bit of that, too, and it is very freeing. Still, if I were to make any of it public, I would have to change quite a bit to keep the still living relatives, etc. at bay. It’s a tension I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t think my story is anything exceptional, and yet I want to tell it. It’s part of what makes us writers 😉

    • I’m trying to keep the experience alive! I agree with you about protecting living relatives. I’ve written a fictionalized account of some parts of my life but have now gone back and started a memoir with real people and real names. I’m not going to worry about it just yet as I’m still writing as if nobody will read it. 🙂

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