What We Can Learn from Writing a Group Story

(Participating writers, scroll to the bottom for our book winner!) Ok, I'll admit it. When I was in school, I hated group work.

I was shy. I never knew if the other kids were going to do their share of the work. The assignment usually felt contrived (I remember one exception in calculus, but I think it was interesting because the teacher was interesting. She sewed her own clothes, wore a different outfit everyday, and bounced around the room with an energy that was contagious.)

Group writing, however, feels different—there's a mystery in wondering where the next writer will take the story. Yesterday, I asked you to write a story with me because it seemed like a good way to practice beginning and then letting go, but mostly I wanted to see what would happen.

I wasn't disappointed. 

First, our story is a cliffhanger! It left me wondering, what happens next?? And the way to keep a reader reading is to keep them asking questions (although, we have left our readers hanging, so if anyone wants to finish it off please do!)

Second, it's a little awkward in places. As we switch from writer to writer some of the details get confused, and as a reader I pick up on that. First I think there are ashes in the box, and then there are mementos. The timeline isn't totally clear.

But guess what? That's a normal part of the writing process—even when we write alone. The point of any first draft is to discover the story. As we figure it out, our brain commonly starts to switch things up on us. Those ashes in the box become mementos, and we're not even aware of the switch until we go back and read our work.

At that point, we get to ask ourselves, what is this story about? Is that main point better illustrated by having ashes in the box, or mementos? We sift and winnow through the details on the page to rewrite the story and make it stronger.

So bravo! You've written an intriguing story and illustrated some nice points about the writing process. With now further ado, our story:

THE BOX A WritingStrides Story by Kristi, Fisher, Julia, Autumn, Chelsea, and Alissa

Seta had gone into the closet once, nine months before, to show Bethany the box where it sat on the shelf. They were on their second bottle of wine.

“Don’t you want to put it somewhere nicer?” Bethany asked.

Seta didn’t respond. Just turned off the light, walked to the kitchen and corked the wine.

Now, a thin layer of dust coats the grey plastic box. She pulls her sleeve over her wrist and wipes it clean. For a moment, she feels guilty for keeping it there. Then she picks it up.

It seemed lighter now, not heavy with pain and regret as it had been a year before. She self medicated with wine for months, but no one judged her for it. He had been been her one true love, and she knew it. Everyone knew it.

“I don’t know what to do with it, ” Seta responded.

As the words came out she realized she wasn’t just talking about the box. It was everything – her pain, her grief, her upended world – what was she to do with it. Like the box, it had been sitting there. Waiting for her.

Seta carries the box to the kitchen table. She sets it down, fingering the plastic latch that holds it shut and looks out the window. It’s dark outside and she sees nothing but her own reflection.

Turning from the table she puts on the kettle to prepare a cup of tea. The day she and Bethany collected the items for the box is still vivid in her mind, though it was now more than twenty years ago.

She knows what’s inside. There was a time she held and stroked and touched each item carefully a few times a month, and then a few times a year. She can’t remember now the last time it was opened but she suddenly can feel the silk of the feather and the cool smoothness of the stone as if they were in her hand again. She makes herself wait for the tea to be ready, but she is anxious to open the box again.

Seta wondered, why today? The smell of him filled her room this morning. Weighing her down heavy like a bear skin on a Medieval bed. She could taste it, taste him, the salty buttery sweetness of his skin. In the ten precious seconds in between the dream and waking, heaven existed. She was relieved and loved and whole – not the half left behind. Even in this neither state, she felt it start to slide away. She frantically commanded her brain to dive deeper or at least stay put. Just a few more moments. But, just like a thousand mornings before, her eyes opened wet with tears in the predawn darkness.

The box was once her mother’s. A precious wedding gift. She remembered what her mother had told her when she was five years old. “Now Seta,” her mother said, pointing to it across the room where it sat on top of an oak dresser. “When you get married it shall go to you, sweetheart.”

Those words sent vibrations throughout Seta’s body. Her mother had been gone for nearly ten years. She missed her, missed her deeply. She had shoved it in the closet one day, nearly forgetting all about it.

“You won’t believe me if I told you, Seta,” her mother’s voice echoed.

Tears sprung from her green eyes. The fight, she thought, her hands trembling. The fight.


**Kristi won a copy of Tough Love: A Wyoming Childhood, by Kate Meadows. Congrats! Email me your address (WritingStrides [at] gmail [dot] com) and I'll get it in the mail.