Writing Life: From Theory to Practice

By Ines van Rahden and Sabrina Völz

Storytelling is as old as human civilization itself and fulfills a human need. In societies, in which education is becoming more commodified, students do not only want to be relegated to the position of consumers and regurgitate memorized facts. They have often told me that they want some control over their studies and the chance to produce meaningful, creative work. In one of my project-oriented seminar on life writing, students – including Ines van Rahden – got the chance to do just that. You can listen to her story, “24 Hours behind Bars,” at the end of this blog.

After students become familiar with life writing techniques and ethics, they produce their own non-fictional life narratives as well as experience peer-editing and a writer’s workshop, in which they read their stories aloud to the other seminar participants who provide them with constructive feedback. After several revisions, they use the free software Audacity to produce lively read audio versions of their stories that are later compiled into a class audiobook. Some students even give their finished products to family or friends as birthday or Christmas gifts.

While students in the past have written a touching story about a romantic relationship, their loving grandmother, or a humorous childhood memory, it has not stopped others from telling about their parents’ divorce, a painful breakup, their own fight against eating disorders, or the death of a close friend or family member. In the latter cases, instructors need to make sure that the students have enough distance to their topics since they will be reading their stories aloud to the class. While it may be difficult to relive and write about some of these experiences, students often have exceptionally vivid memories of them ­– a guarantee for high-quality storytelling. And yes, we have been moved to tears on occasion.

Life writing has become my most professionally and personally rewarding class to explore with students. Not only are they intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to do their best work, the results are truly amazing. Sometimes life writes the best stories.

Photo credit: Aranka Szabó

“24 Hours behind Bars”

by Ines van Rahden

24 Hours behind Bars (click to listen)

 

Ines van Rahden has four rabbits, six chicken, two daughters, and one husband with whom she lives in a beautiful small town between Hamburg and Bremen. She has loved writing for as long as she can remember. Ten years ago, her passion became her profession, and she began publishing articles in various newspapers and magazines. Her work as a journalist has taken her many places and had a great impact on her life. The most vividly remembered is that long day in prison.