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1. Come Prepared to Respond to Surprises; Bring Along a Well-Packed Suitcase of Tricks

  • Reviewing your listening log from day one to see where people were going when they imaged their stories out loud, so that you will be ready to talk about your desire for the actual writings

  • Preparing a few stories ready to share from our library that you think will particularly speak to the group. 

2. Setting the Stage: Easing in with the group “Go Round,” where people can share how it was to begin their writing journeys.

3. Working Individually with Text Shared Aloud

  • Expectations and Surprises

  • Getting to know your writers more deeply

4. Modeling Positive Feedback: A time to Introduce the Herstory tools.

  • Replacing more conventional notions of feedback and fixing with the search for Moments of Power and Beauty to build on 

  • Reinforcing the Notion of the Stranger/ Reader, as participants are dared to find moments in each reader’s sharing where they would like to hear more

  • Introducing the Notions of There-ness as opposed to about-ness, Nesting, and Book Time.

  •  Engaging the whole writing circle in wanting more.

5. Leaving each writer with a clear task

Come prepared to be surprised, and to help the writers in your circle overcome their first shyness in sharing.

From the moment people begin to share their stories, it is important to abandon the notion of having a lesson plan for each session.  


The joy of reading and listening is in being surprised in a place where you are suddenly face to face with a stranger’s whole way of perceiving the world.   You are suddenly sitting up in bed, or sitting on the edge of your chair, as if you are the protagonist in an action you couldn’t imagine being part of (or maybe an action you know all too well).   You forget you are you,  as the writer invites you into their world.  You are hooked.


So it makes sense to start in your own way, talking about how the oral imaging hooked you, and how excited you are to see where the writing will take you.  Each new facilitator does this very differently.  You might talk about how some of the images from the Page One Moments you heard being playacted came over you when you were in the shower, or waking in the middle of the night.  You might talk about the feelings that came to you thinking about the spirit and beauty you heard in those first oral imagings.   Or the power and anger,  how much it made you want to continue to work for a better world.   There is no right way to do this.  The only goal is to set up your desire to hear.   


Because there will be inevitable lulls no matter how carefully you set things up,  it is important to bring along a well-packed “suitcase” of Stories to Share and Stories to Tell, in case you need them to keep things going at first. 

Take a few minutes before you meet with your writing circle to browse through the stories you selected before you met with them for the first time.  


But now you are thinking more specifically in terms of content and form about what will speak to your particular cohort.   


Reread your listening log before you make the final selection.


As your workshop members develop trust with one another and have more and more writing to share, you will need them less and less.   

Setting the Stage:

Easing in with the group “Go Round,” where people can share how it was to begin their writing journeys.

Working Individually with Text Shared Aloud

Let us assume that you left your newly formed writing circle with people inspired by the raw Page One Moments that popped up during the oral imaging.

But now, when they begin to write, quite a number will be intimidated by putting these raw sparkling moments on the page.  This is equally true with those who have extensive literary or scholarly backgrounds (perhaps even more true) and those whose exposure to listening and storytelling has been more organic.  


Some will jump right in and write pages and pages (much more than there will be time to share aloud) in the excitement of sudden release of the stories locked inside them.  Others will write just a sentence or two and be stuck.  And still others will not write at all.  Some will write such a powerful first scene that you will be in awe and not imagine anything that should be changed or elaborated.  Others will map in their whole story, enough for a book in a paragraph or two.  Some will rush from one traumatic moment to another, so fast that the listener will not have time to catch a breath.   Others will carefully lay out the background.   


How then do you work with a group with respect for the dignity and individuality of each writer, knowing that no two writers will share the same process?   


Trust is a tricky thing, as you navigate the delicate balance between celebrating each writer’s “tadpole” beginning,  giving space to experiment and try out new ways to engage in the newness of the task of daring an imaginary reader to care,  and responding in a way that meet each writer in the dance of desire to be fully engaged? 


How do you make space for the surprise of actually being met, as opposed to either being complimented (and ultimately left alone to express oneself) or being rejected and criticized?

Now listen to Aysiah reading her first writing of the court scene that she imaged aloud a week earlier.  Listen in a relaxed way without trying too hard to pick up everything she has put into that short space of time.  As you listen, let your mind wander back to when she first described the scene.


Where do you think she rushed too much?  Where would you like her to slow down? 


(Later on, you will see how beautifully she rose to the challenge.) 

Modeling Positive Feedback 

A Time to Introduce the Herstory Tools 

If you had to pick just one place to ask her to elaborate and create a fuller scene, which place would you pick? 

What was the moment when you really became engaged with her story and wanted much more?  Where did the background and details get in the way of when you were right there, and where did you want many more details?  

In the scene you have chosen to help Aysiah expand, can you think of a way that she can stay in the moment and weave the background in? 

We often talk about Thereness as opposed to Aboutness.  Imagine you are talking to Aysiah about the scene you have chosen.  How are you going to dare her to take you There?  This is a perfect time to engage the whole group in helping Aysiah describe what it really was like. 

Looking at the Strength and the Spirit of Each Storyteller

Moments of Power and Beauty 

What parts of Aysiah's story would make even a cold-hearted reader care about her?  Where do you see her spirit and strength shining through?  Working from your memory of her story, find a few moments you could echo back to her,  and help her expand them and work on them more.


Even though you are working with one person's story, you are teaching the whole group the concept of Thereness as opposed to Aboutness.  You are reinforcing the notion of writing from a place of resilience and strength.  

The first feedback you give will set the stage for the trust that you wish to establish, so it is important to dignify each reader with a meaningful challenge, while being careful not to overwhelm them or make them feel inadequate.  

We like to think of opportunities and obstacles, rather than problems that need to be fixed.

Now pause for a moment and notice the way that Marcellus advised Aysiah to stay in that moment when she was being so harshly sentenced in court.

Opportunities and Obstacles

Following Marcellus' advice to Aysiah, we invite you to take another few minutes to replay the video of Aysiah reading, stopping and starting it wherever you wish as you jot down the bits of information that feel like opportunities to you, and those that get in the way of your developing a sense of connection with her as a person in that opening moment when you are just getting to know her own the page.  


We invite you to take a sheet of paper and make two columns,  while you play with your list.  

As you study your list, do you see any patterns that touch on the nature of what causes empathy and what causes distance?  


Did you notice how the minute Aysiah started to tell one story, suddenly another, and yet another story was Nesting inside it?  

You will see the same pattern with Marcellus (and with most of us, as we turn from free thinking to writing)  as he rushes to fast-forward the Stranger Reader into the Aha Moment that came up in his first working session.  


As you watch this video of his first reading aloud, remember his sense of “homecoming” to his truth, as he returned to that moment when he realized that his newborn son bore his name.

A lot of the work you will be doing will involve breathing deeply into whatever the people in your writing circle have shared.  So we ask you to sit very quietly with Marcellus’ first reading to see which parts of it waft back to you.  

As you do this, you will notice that the opening is very sensual and vivid, once you have gotten past the first sentence which throw out a series of facts…  


"Coming from Nassau to Rikers Island where I was being held because

I had an assault on the CEO case…"  


Marcellus has taken the advice he gave Aysiah, to be fully in the realm of sensations.  The wish for a shower is real, and then a phone call, but then, before we know it the Aha he came up with in his oral imaging is stated and over before it has begun.

If you were the puppeteer... 

What opportunities he has given us:

  • In the ride home from court?

  • In the scene of coming back to the jail, with all of its smells and sensations

  • In the shower

  • In the phone call

How would you help him to build to the moment when the tears start to flow?    

As you begin to talk about what you imagine, based on your memory of his oral imaging from the session before, you are not imposing anything on him that he hasn’t come up with himself.   

What might he be thinking of as he returns from the court? 

Might he delete the facts about the accusation from his first sentence, to let the reader get to know him in a different way?

Maybe you want to suggest that he play around with the order, so that the shower can come after the phone call, and memories, hopes and dreams can come along with water, until the tears start to flow.  

This kind of playing with what we will be calling Book Time opportunities in a way that allows the story to be developed slowly enough for a reader to care, allows the writer to find the feeling moments and discover them newly, as if for the first time, the way they had happened in real life.  

As Marcellus began to plan for his next writing session, focusing on the shower scene, he began to get excited and happy.  











Marcellus became more and more excited about weaving the sensations and songs in true THERE-NESS, even as he got the idea of creating a next scene and a next, to put together the pieces of the day that changed his life.  

In this case the facilitator made a choice to admit that she didn’t have a clue what naming the baby Tupac would mean?  It is important, when you facilitate workshops to not allow for references without evocations, even if you understand them.

Once the fact emerged that Tupac was a singer who was violently murdered, who sang songs for justice, Marcellus had a plan for how the he would begin to sing Tupac’s song quietly in his head as the shower water ran down and he thought of the sorrow of his son begin born to a legacy of violence and pain.

Now, we will let you jump ahead to see how the shower scene evolved over many working sessions as he practiced in his bathroom (the only quiet room in his house on that particular day), to read it aloud for a carceral justice conference at a university.  

Leaving Each Writer with a Clear Task 

Marcellus and Aysiah left that session when they first shared their writings, daring each other to make the scenes come more alive.  Although for simplicity’s sake we are demonstrating this only with one father and daughter, who already are wishing to learn more of the soul behind the stories they both know too well, this kind of cross-daring in writing circles of strangers happens over and over again, if you guide each new writer toward a concrete “assignment” to develop those scenes that are the trail markers on the larger journey of the larger stories that they wish to tell.


Aysiah had packed her first writing with enough for a book, while Marcellus potentially could develop his shower scene to span many memories and pages and wishes and dreams.  For them it was important to find book time moments within what they had already written that could be expanded, one at a time, so that their writing time ahead could be focused.  

But now turn to A.D.'s story of childhood “Alone and Broken” and read only the first scene.  It was written with the fullness we are asking for from Aysiah and Marcellus, and shared with her writing circle in jail.  A.D. had a whole different way of approaching her writing, so that each scene would come out whole.  So that in working with her, the group would dare her to continue with the desire to know what would happen to this character they had come to love.


What is important to know is that there is no single correct way of starting a new piece of writing, that the process of each writer can inspire the others, with equal respect for each way. 


Finally we will ask you to read a story that was written in a men’s prison in Colorado.  It is very complete, as it comes to an ending no reader will ever forget.  Knowing that it can stand alone,  imagine you were working with that writer on a longer term basis, and wanted to help him to create a next piece.  How might you go about it?

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