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)

 

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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.