In the New York Times online, you can find the rules for a past amateur essay contest. The challenge – to tell a short, powerful, true story. You may be used to calling this type of story a memoir, but the shorter version is often referred to now as a personal narrative essay, something with a beginning, middle and end.
For our group’s training purposes, I selected three different examples that I thought would generate challenging feedback. You can read them for yourself on our public Facebook site:
Look for these essays in our Files section on the site:
1.) Lawless Friendship 2.) Shrinking 3.) Strangers on an 18-Hour Train
The provocative titles are designed to pique your interest, and the essays contain vivid and engaging writing that helps you visualize content, but do they persuade you? The authors write from their own point of view, of course. Do you believe them? Have they won their argument? Can you follow their train of thought?
This kind of exercise hones our feedback skills which we offer as a free service to OLLI members. We call ourselves a Community of Readers and Writers. What keeps us together as volunteers – we learn much from these feedback sessions that improves our own writing.
When experienced writers learn about what we offer, they appreciate getting more than one person’s opinion. We exchange a variety of responses, often differing, in lively group conversation. Authors listen while we discuss what we love about their writing, what confused us, and what we look for in good writing, generally: language, momentum, mystery, stakes, change and structure.
When we’ve done our part well, the authors are enthused by all this attention and we all leave energized by the social interaction, ready to jump right back into writing mode at home.
You are invited to explore this experience for yourself. Read the three essays offered on our Facebook site. You’re not going to like all of them, or maybe any of them. You may notice inconsistencies, too many ideas, and cringe at some unbelievable statements, but all have something powerful to share. Choose one essay to study closely and read it a second time. Print it out and mark what you love about it or where it confuses you. Write notes in the margin, draw arrows and diagrams, underline phrases. Enjoy reacting viscerally to the whole piece of writing.
Another way to explore the benefit of good feedback is to sign up for our one-session OLLI course, “Will You Read My Writing?” You’ll find information about it online at www.usfseniors.org in the current OLLI Winter/Spring catalog, page 20.
You’re welcome to drop by and listen to our group conversation any time. Let us know of your interest and send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We meet twice a month, the second Thursday and fourth Tuesday, at the Temple Terrace Lightfoot Senior Center near the USF campus from 10 am to 12 noon. For your convenience, there’s overflow, easy-access parking to the right of the Center.
Liesse Chable, OLLI Writing Instructor since 2016.
Readers and Writers SIG – NOW FORMING Writers know that having a reliable and trusted reader can strengthen writing. This group will review writing that has been through at least several drafts (no first drafts) and hear from local published authors. Meetings are scheduled twice a month at Lightfoot Recreational Center. For more information contact Liesse Chable, email@example.com.