Writing classes, sharing, and awareness

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, I am currently a student in a counseling program. One of my classes this semester is one of the skills classes in the program – at its core, it’s teaching us how to sit with clients, listening, responding, and being with really power-filled emotions and stories.

Add to that a prompting of questions about listening in the writing class arena, and this post is one that’s been brewing for a few days. What follows are some musings, and direct responses to questions prompting my thoughts and reflections about the sharing/listening process in writing class. This, of course, comes with the caveat that a.) I am not a counselor, and b.) I also have begun teaching writing, so listening has shifted slightly (but, really, not much).

Interestingly, as I was rereading this post, I realize that what came out first, when thinking about listening and the writing class experience, was to talk about sharing. That receiving the gift of listening – and knowing my own style and inclinations – helps me to understand how I listen. So, it looks like this will be a multiple post series about sharing, feedback, listening, and dealing with the inner critic in light of other writers.

My first tendency in writing class is usually to share. Every time. There are times when it’s a no-brainer that I will share. Then, there are times I want to play with what it will feel like to not share a piece. Often, that’s me trying to practice silence, presence, or not getting too attached to what I wrote. At the same time, if I’m hesitating to share, that usually comes up during the writing practice itself and during the break. It then becomes a brief question of, “Am I scared to be seen, or simply don’t want to share?” Both are valid responses, and both have their place. Knowing why I’m choosing to (not) share allows me to practice mindfulness and awareness of my actions and motivations. It also allows me to let go of that question while others are sharing and I’m listening.

For example, I have a distinct memory of one class, when I had written a really ripping-my-heart-out-hard-truths-I-had-to-face piece. During the writing, I specifically wrote, “I am not sharing this.” Then, I was able to really be present and honest to what I was writing. And I had the choice to share or not. I also realized, as much as it scared me and I didn’t want to, I needed to. I needed to read the words and face what had come up. I remember it being something I had to read, aloud, in order to make it real for myself. It’s one of the few times I remember sobbing in class. I also remember that I chose not to receive feedback that day, as I needed to sit with my own truth, but felt that it was too raw to be reflected back by others. (Tomorrow, I’ll address my experience in giving feedback during the sharing process.)

If I write something that is particularly powerful for me, like the ripping-my-heart-out example, I often get a feeling of if I do want to share or not, pretty immediately. Sometimes, if I don’t want to read the piece itself, I’m inclined to talk about the process, because writing in a group allows me to share in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the writing itself. In the years I have practiced in a group, it’s been interesting to navigate my own experience, which changes each week, and how I respond to prompts. Sharing the process part to it also allows dialog with others, without my writing being a part of it.

Knowing my own tendencies is helpful, because I’ve learned to ask myself the important question, “Why am I (not) sharing, right now?” As I am now teaching, I’m trying to remain mindful of what my sharing will do, how it will impact (or not) that aspect of my classes.

Stepping back, this may seem like I’m not listening while others are sharing. I realize that this process actually starts during writing practice and that much of the decision making happens during the interlude break. There are also times that I have changed my mind after listening to some other classmate’s writing. Not out of a “they write so much better” or “that was brilliant,” but a sense of place, where I come to want to hold the space – rather than fill it.  (Which is not to say the self-critique isn’t going on too, but I have become more aware of that response. Adding that to my list of blog posts in this series.)

Sharing, for me, is one branch of the listening tree.

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