Writing Circles

IMG_20160107_112507235 Fifteen years ago, on a frigid January morning, I checked off my first New Year’s resolution for 2001: I joined Story Circle Network, a national organization dedicated solely to women with stories to tell. Soon after, I was assigned to an online writing group with eight other women from across the country.

Each month our facilitator gave us a topic prompt and we wrote short life stories that related, then posted them. After reading each member’s story we’d write positive, helpful feedback to the author. Our facilitator also provided highly supportive encouragement, not with writing skills, but with focus on the importance of telling of our stories. The Story Circle Network in cyberspace soon became a nurturing place for me where I shared vignettes from my life from my growing regular writing practice. I noticed my writing confidence rose as well as skills. Most importantly, though, I realized I’d entered a space that was the perfect environment for growth: safe, supportive, and with a community of women with whom I had much in common.

Then I joined a second circle with a slightly different focus and began writing monthly life stories there, too. In both circles we wrote a mix of stories: happy, sad, bright, dark, humorous, and serious. At the end of a year I had written twenty-four stories or vignettes, as I think of them now. Through the months my loose-leaf story notebook grew full and I bought another. And then another. And another.

It took some time to discover the powerful layers in women’s writing circles. A shy, introverted writer in 2001, I found at times that I could relate to a story written by another member, that we shared something in common, that her story about losing her dog strongly connected with feelings I’d experienced when my pet died. Other women began to connect with some of my stories and I discerned that as women, our stories are both unique yet have elements of rich connection with each other. Many of our stories were universal.

We can do so many things with our stories: start a blog and find others with common interests, make a book of stories or recipes or family traditions for our family and friends, seek publication in periodicals, write a book, and much more. What’s important, I feel, is that our stories remain long after we’re gone. Perhaps you are fortunate to have your grandmother’s stories. I wish I had both my grandmothers’ stories.

If you are a writer or interested in writing, I hope you belong to a writing group similar to those I was fortunate to discover. If the group or circle is positive and supportive, in time, several amazing things happen. If you belong to a group that is not supportive, hopefully you can find another that is. If not, you might consider starting such a writing group yourself.

I am extremely enthusiastic about the riches of women’s writing circles. So much begins right there. Thus, should you ever want to start a writing circle, wherever you live (thanks to the internet), I’d be happy to help in any way. Simply let me know.


About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
This entry was posted in Mystery, The Writing Life, Womens' Writing Circles. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Writing Circles

  1. Happy anniversary, Mary Jo. This prompts me to figure out my own SCN anniversary – my research task for the day. I strongly agree with your statement “as women, our stories are both unique yet have elements of rich connection with each other. Many of our stories were universal.” and with the layering of stories through ongoing sharing in a circle. An incredible resource!


  2. Linda Hoye says:

    What a lovely post, Mary Jo, and a testimony to the riches we mine when we tell our stories. I’m glad you joined SCN all those years ago; I’m pleased I followed suit a few years later; and I’m blessed that our paths crossed. Hugs.


  3. Love your writing, Mary Jo. Your voice is strong. I feel as if we are sitting across from each other in your living room, sharing a cup of tea. Wonderful!


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