"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Telling stories… better

By on May 28, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
Donna Luebber reads aloud a newly-crafted, wry reminiscence of rock-clearing while fellow writers smile in recognition. She said she’d loved writing years ago, but then life got complicated — now she’s happy to share her work regularly.

By Susan Lagsdin

You might hear, “I don’t quite know how to write the ending,” or “I’m really nervous about reading aloud,” or “I’ve marked a few typos for you — the rest is great,” but something you’ll never hear from the folks in the Wenatchee Senior Writers Group is “I don’t have anything to write about!”

Their problem is not paucity of ideas but finding time to write them all. 

With decades (a group accumulation of maybe 30,000 days total) of jobs, adventures, tribulations and joys stored in the memory bank, the content is there to draw from, so these writers can concentrate fully on how to shape their stories, what genre to choose and what voice to use.

The writing group meets twice every month at the Wenatchee Valley Senior Activity Center on Maple Street. Jim Tarbert, who says he landed the job of group facilitator “because I have a very good voice, and I’m not bashful,” ably leads the Tuesday morning sessions. 

They give each other positive “critique” rather than negative “criticism,” a fine point of distinction that keeps their responses to each other’s work supportive and kind.

Their process is simple: By 9:30 everyone signs in. If they want to share their writing that day, they pick a numbered poker chip that designates the order of reading. When their time comes, they hand out print copies and read their piece aloud.

Whether the members bring a much-revised draft or a brand-new endeavor, the range of writing is wide. 

On a recent Tuesday the group heard a short nostalgic scene of an injured toddler being carried to the doctor’s home circa 1941, an essay on preparedness based on a hypothermic misadventure on a snowy hike in the wilderness and a comically agonizing description of a couple clearing their land of endless rocks in the bloom of youth and later as retirees.

Some listeners comment with proofreading and editing advice, others chose to write responses and hand back their copies. 

Coffee, cookies, and a little socializing (who’s been where and done what, who’s not there and why) soften the edges of the standard writers group protocol.

Whether the focus is on fiction, technical writing or poetry, the wisdom of maturity allows them not only to trust their own writing voice but to be sensitive to that of others, and a willingness to learn is as a strong a currency as writing expertise.

Attendance in the group is flexible (12 on some days, six when life gets complicated), and though some are charter members, a few joined only a few months ago. 

Dr. John Gallanis said, “The first time I read my work aloud I was more nervous than I was for my first surgery,” but he went on to win awards in two Write On The River competitions. 

Retired research biologist Everett Burts credited the group for “helping me turn my writing from boring to interesting.” 

Donna Luebber, who came back to writing after years away, especially values “the encouragement and suggestions.” 

Ron Griffith, who helps air the group’s work on LocalTel’s Sharing our Stories program, has written two very different memoirs: one about the Vietnam war and one about long-haul trucking.

Joe Matt said, “I write just to get things off my mind,” and he creates rhyming poetry to do so. Susan Shell, who has no family in the area, says she loves the sociability of the group; former Wenatchee World employee Jean Smith now shares lively scenes from family history. 

Dale Crouse, who said he’d been told all his life his writing was bad, is learning to love it again, and newest member George Sikora said at every meeting he learns something new about improving his own writing.

Their leader Jim, now 81, first joined the group in 2005, hoping to formally publish his Scottish family’s history. He found his fellow writers had been relying on a downtown printer and spiral-bound paper editions, which spurred him to research more cost-effective online publishing options.

He taught those strategies to the group, creating a written tutorial that changed their literary lives. Now some members savvy with the process boast continued publication as a personal writing goal, and their occasional group publication (like 2018’s Holiday Tales) looks slick and is definitely sellable. 

Jim, who lives with his wife Sue in East Wenatchee, followed his own family genealogy with Lake Chelan Revisited, stories based on his childhood home, and subsequently 10 fiction novels available on Amazon. 

No life experience goes unused for this prolific writer: a technology teacher, surveyor, avid builder, fisherman, leather crafter and taxidermist, Jim has explored and hunted from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle and across Africa.

Not slowed much by age, on long vacations he still loves to roam the many steep hillsides of his Hunter, Washington ranch property seeking out shed deer horns. In addition, he said, “I write every day, I’m in several writers groups, I work out at the gym and I continually resist the urge to go out and build something.”

He adds, “Writing is the last thing I expected to be doing at this stage of my life… I get a great deal of pleasure watching people improve their skills and gain the confidence needed to publish their first book.” 

Jim knows that trying out a new art form at a later age is pretty scary, but he offers nervous writers this bit of wisdom: “Hey, I actually flunked second grade. What did I learn? They’re not going to shoot you for failing.”

In his element among hundreds of books at the At the Wenatchee Valley Senior Activity Center, Jim Tarbert leads enthusiastic writers in a bi-monthly critique group, now in its 21st year, that’s designed to motivate and encourage all kinds of writing. 

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