Last Saturday, I held a Post-Election Community Writing Circle at the Hugo House. We packed a room with some sitting on the floor against the walls. We were people of many ages, genders, races, and emotions. Everyone wrote, nearly everyone read aloud, and many of us cried. We listened to each other; we clapped for each other; we expressed our anger, fear, grief, hope, determination, and courage. It was powerful, necessary, and cathartic. I hope to facilitate more events like this in the future. The need for them will not go away. In fact, the need for community dialogue, expression, rejuvenation, connection, activism, and healing will only grow in the years to come. We need to keep coming together in all of our diverse ways.
I am happy to share with you the prompts and format that I used—whether you would like to write alone, write with a few friends, or hold a community writing circle of your own.
For those hoping to hold a group session, my main advice is to encourage people to write from prompts openly without censoring, and to feel free to digress or write anything they need to write. After writing (usually for 10–15 minutes per prompt, time allowing), you can ask who wants to share from their free-writes. Going around in a circle and allowing folks to read or to “pass” is a more inclusive way to make space for the quieter among us to speak, as opposed to just asking for volunteers to jump in. In general, you need to allow at least as much time for people to read from their free-writes as they are given to write, but this may vary greatly depending on how safe the group feels to share. Ensuring confidentiality and permission to cry without apology if it happens (because it will) is also essential to establish from the get-go.
After people read, I highly recommend a method wherein you do not comment on, dialogue around, much less debate each other’s words, but instead reflect back to the reader any lines that you heard that stuck out or resonated with you. Echo the words back as closely as possible to what you heard, without saying more about why those words resonated. This method of feedback not only supports deep listening, but also maximizes the opportunity for more people to feel heard. This method also allows for more time for everyone to write and to share. If you find the group is going over your anticipated time for each prompt, you can always do a round of sharing wherein you “hold all comments”, with the exception of the facilitator who should always remember to say, “Thank you” after each person reads.
A writing circle held in this format honors everyone’s voices—or choice to remain silent—without judgment. Hearing each other’s words inevitably inspires and informs our own writing and thoughts, so without “conversing” in our normal ways we manage to have a profound and authentic dialogue.
Below is the hand-out I made. Feel free to adapt it to your group’s needs or contact me with any questions.
Post-Election Community Writing Circle
1. Exploring Our Emotions
a. I feel…
How are you feeling? This election cycle and this week has been stressful, polarizing, and traumatizing for many. Let’s begin with an open-ended free-write wherein you can feel free to write about any aspect of how you are feeling, right now, today. Try not to censor or judge yourself as you write; just keep your hand moving. There is no right or wrong way to feel or to respond; feel free to digress—go where your mind takes you. If you feel like you need to re-ground yourself in the prompt, write “I feel…” again and start anew.
b. Pick one of the following emotions to explore more deliberately through your writing; if you find that you want to write about several of these feelings intertwined, or a different emotion altogether, that is fine too.
Fear: I am afraid of/for/that…
Anger: I am angry at/I rage against…
Grief/Despair: I mourn/I grieve/I am mourning…
2. Finding Hope and Resilience
No matter how we are feeling today and how much optimism we can or cannot muster, it can be helpful to reconnect with and to affirm the core of our love, hope, and strength. Pick one of the following phrases to begin your free-write, but feel free to incorporate several of them if you’d like:
I am grateful for… (affirming all the positive and all the small gifts that are still within and around us)
I hope for… (what are your dreams for our country/world, your ideals, intentions, and prayers)
I find solace in… (e.g. various communities, creature comforts, rituals, practices, safe spaces…)
I believe in… (e.g. your faith, convictions, values, community, life’s work, moral compass…)
I will work toward… (e.g. self-care, building networks with others, speaking out, activism, support of others who are more vulnerable, growing compassion…)
No matter what, I will continue to… (e.g. love, speak my truth, find joy, fight, hope, breathe…)
Anne Liu Kellor has received support from Hedgebrook, 4Culture, and Jack Straw, and taught creative nonfiction since 2006. Her essays have appeared in publications such as Waking Up American (Seal Press) and the Los Angeles Review. She teaches Writing about Spaces In Between this Winter quarter.