Tonight we met for the first time at The Writer’s Workshop, our home studio in Northwest Austin. Four of us gathered around the brand-new writer’s table, built by hand from birch, pine and Douglas fir, then stained and just coated the day before our group meeting. We had our light supper together at that table, with the ceiling fans spinning to bring the balmy springtime air into the studio through our screened door.
We began by writing a seven-minute biography of ourselves, longhand on the notebooks everyone had brought to the class. Cynthia had forgotten to bring her reading glasses; we turned up a spare set for her. (We also have notebooks and pens on hand, so people can really just turn up. But the first meeting we passed out our Rotring Core pens, included as part of the tuition.) I’d given the group our set of AWA guidelines before we began to write: Everything is treated as fiction, it’s all confidential inside the group, and we always refer to the narrator or the speaker when we respond to the writing. It’s all designed to honor the safety of the group. “We leave the judge outside,” I said. People can learn how to write better by focusing on what’s working in their early drafts.
That seven-minute bio needed to contain one lie. A few of us got past three guesses with our lie, but others didn’t. It proves that all writing really is fiction, when you can’t tell the difference just by listening or reading.
Later we wrote about things we might discover in the pockets of a loved one. Maybe somebody who has died, and we’re going through their clothes before giving the garments away. Or a partner of ours whose laundry we’re doing. Looking at each item in the pockets, then writing about that person, using those items. Great writing emerged out of that one.
Then there were my brownies, using the recipe from Chris DeLorenzo of the Laguna Writers Group in San Francisco. He was one of our instructors at the Amherst Writers and Artists training last fall. I’ve made those brownies three times now — an AWA group tradition — but every time I need to head to Chris’s Web page to look up the recipe. I always mislay the printed paper. Now that we’re in a 10-week session, I bet I get the recipe down without the cheat sheet.
Afterward we wrote from postcard prompts, going deep into our imaginations or recalling sharp memories. Every exercise gave us a chance to praise the work for what was memorable, vivid, alive or notable. We talked about psychic distance during one set of responses. More on that tomorrow.