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October 2011

Reporter: Gail Kittleson

Gail KittlesonGail Kittleson writes fiction and nonfiction to empower women. She splits her time between Iowa and Arizona, husband and grandchildren. She teaches expository writing to college students and memoir writing to women.

Editor: Marjorie Vawter

Marjorie VawterMarjorie Vawter is a freelance editor, contracted author, assistant to the director of the Colorado and Greater Philadelphia Christian writers conferences, and the ACFW Colorado Area Coordinator. She lives with her husband, Roger, and cat, Sinatra, and is mom to two adult children and daughter-in-love.


Workshop 4: Adversity: Writing It, Writing Through It, Writing About It

Allie Pleiter“The adventure begins right where you are. You are here,” said Allie Pleiter (right), in her ACFW workshop on how to use adversity in your writing. A subtitle for her workshop says it all: “How you get your work done when it all goes south.”

First a writer must get out alive when trauma strikes. For Pleiter, the trauma plunged her into a world of questions. Her 13-year-old son was diagnosed with Stage Four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In such a situation, she said, we must figure out what we need and what we want in order to answer the question, “What is possible, or impossible, right now?”

Communication: Who hears what and when?

Answering this question divided her world into four sections: the inner circle, the outer circle, everybody else, and going public. When do I write or speak about what I’ve experienced? This question revolves around our personal healing. Pleiter provided specific examples of ways one can keep writing during difficult times. For her, editing was possible, but creative endeavors such as plotting were not.

How to write about your experience

First, we analyze what’s universal about it. We edit our intimate voice by “getting that out of our systems.” In writing, we use sensory details to trigger emotional memory and prepare ourselves for unexpected consequences, good and bad. If we write about something, it will matter, and we want our pain to matter.

“It’s all material, and writers are trained to find the worst moment,” Pleiter said. We can discipline ourselves to think differently by seeking a “new normal,” by sensory calm farming. To do this, use scent (the most powerful mood changer), music, and touch. For example, putting on pajamas automatically drops one’s pulse.

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