This article is written by Lyn Barrett, author of Crazy: Reclaiming Life from the Shadow of Traumatic Memory. She is the founder of Dissociative Writers where she facilitates writers workshops for people with dissociative disorders and teaches a beginners class on memoir. She has been interviewed by public radio stations and podcasts around the country and by Safe Communities Survivors’ Voices series. A retired teacher, school principal, and pastor, Lyn was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder in 1992 while she was climbing up the career ladder. After considerable therapeutic work, she now lives a happily integrated life with her husband in the high desert of Southern New Mexico. You can connect with Lyn on her website at www.lynbarrett.com and learn more about her writers workshops at www.dissociativewriters.com.
I wrote my memoir and planned to publish it. I needed a platform. The truth was that no one knew me, and I mean NO ONE. Who was going to read this precious gem I had spent hours, days, weeks, months – yes, years! – polishing? My brand-new website was up and running, but no one was looking at it. My lead-magnet was front and center on the home page, but no one was downloading it. Who would know about, let alone read, my soon-to-be-published story? This is the conundrum many fine authors face: their skills and talents lie in writing, not marketing; spinning a story, not building a following.
Forming a Writers Workshop
Then the brainstorm hit. I was attending a writers workshop at the time and experiencing the support writers get from sharing their work with peers. Years ago in another life, I had taught a writers workshop to seven-year-olds and had this past experience to draw on, albeit with much younger writers. My memoir was about recovering from a serious mental disorder, and I suspected others with the same condition might want to write their stories too.
“I’m a teacher,” I thought. “I can invite people in the same circumstances to join a writers workshop where it’s safe and supportive. There must be others out there who want to write about their stories. I’ve created something out of nothing before. I can do this.”
Thus began a writers workshop for people with dissociative disorders. I advertised it on my barely visited website. I advertised it on Facebook groups for people with dissociative disorders. I advertised it at a conference for people with dissociative disorders. A friend who founded a non-profit invited me to speak at a virtual event and I advertised it there; the non-profit continues to advertise the writers workshop today.
A Platform or a Movement?
My goal was to build a platform. I had no idea I was building a movement instead. Over the last year, one hundred people passed through our writers workshops, with around thirty forming the core group. Out of this group, some writers contributed guest posts to my blog. Some volunteered to lead a workshop on writing at a conference for people with dissociative disorders. Some took on the leadership of a loosely formed group we now call Dissociative Writers. Some volunteered to organize, edit, format, illustrate, and produce a self-published collection called Creative Healing: An Anthology of Poems, Prose, and Art. Some threw a virtual launch party for my memoir and several months later, hosted a virtual book discussion.
While lots of participants were involved in this potpourri of possibilities, all of them wrote powerful prose, poetry, and performance pieces that grew out of their painful pasts, all learned how to trust themselves in their writing, and all grew to trust others as we bonded over shared experiences. Our mission is to provide a safe group to support one another in our writing as survivors and people with dissociative disorders and to encourage the creativity that helped us survive to tell our stories. Building on that, we’ve added new facilitators, new workshops, and are exploring new ways to support each other as writers. We are growing because writing helps people heal, and we are healing because telling our stories is a critical part of creating our futures.
Niche Writers Workshops of Every Stripe
What does this mean for you, a new writer with a dynamite book, but no platform to speak of and little support from a writing community? Why not create your own niche writers workshop designed specifically for the people you hope will read your book? If you write about religion or spirituality, form a group to explore the depth and power of those themes through writing. If your book is self-help, you can be sure many people will put your suggestions into practice more effectively if they write about their experiences and share them in your writers workshop. Is landscaping and plant management the core of your writing? Help your followers develop their visions through planning, sketching, experimenting, writing about the ideas you propose, and sharing their successes and failures with the rest of the group.
In a writers workshop, you will find that you gain as much from the experience as your participants. At the same time, I promise that your participants will become your followers, your followers will become your cheerleaders, and your cheerleaders will become your most loyal readers who spread the word and create the buzz that sells your books.
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” ~ Maya Angelou
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