The True Power of Writing Life Stories
Hi! I’m Corinne. I help people write their life stories. I’m a teacher, writer and editor.
Though I’ve been writing my whole life, it was only recently that I discovered the true power of writing life stories. In 2011, my husband and I founded a non-profit organization to help disadvantaged rural children in South Africa. After several iterations, we found a way to provide real benefit to the kids. We created an after-school program and a centre for early elementary school children. I took particular interest in a small group of gifted children in the 5th and 6th grades. They were sorely unstimulated by the regular curriculum.
One of the things we did together was to write stories, and I had the privilege to learn of their pain, their joy, their disappointments, their hopes, their despairs and dreams. I realized that deep within, those children, whose culture and environment couldn’t be more different from my privileged suburban American life, were just like me. Through their story writing and sharing, I also saw healing and greater self-awareness and growing confidence.
The centre and its activities were eventually taken over by a local farmers’ association, and my husband and I moved on to a small town called Sisters in Oregon, USA. There, professionally, I continued with my own business as a freelance editor and translator.
But I will never forget my time with those children, and the impact that writing their stories had on them.
It took me another half year before I stumbled upon the Birren Center for Autobiographical Studies. This time, I was the student; I had reached a stereotypical writer’s block. I had so many stories in my head (especially from S. Africa), but I just couldn’t get them on paper. I signed up for a course at my local library with the hope of getting a kick in the backside to write.
There I was, a “writer” in a group of hopefuls. Most others had experience in writing for their work but never had done fiction, creative non-fiction, or “life writing” before. Once again, I found myself among those who probably learned the most. That course opened up a new world for me, and I was soon back to loving writing. Frankly, the course came at a crucial time. I was feeling a bit adrift and seeking new direction. That course, the teacher, and my fellow students (now friends) helped me to re-find myself and my purpose.
Building New Purpose
Skipping ahead, sometime after, I got my own certification as an instructor of Guided Autobiography (GAB). Over time and experimentation, I’ve morphed my own courses by combining many GAB techniques with my own knowledge and experience as a long-time writer, editor, curriculum developer and lover of life.
My Writing Life
The written word has been an integral part of my life since I was eight years old and wrote a fairy tale for my sister. Throughout school, English class and the required writing were the things that gave me joy. In retrospect, I see how they provided me with MY own way of communicating and understanding myself and the world around me. In my free time, I was an avid fantasy writer and diary and journal-keeper.
Having been told by my parents that it’s impossible to make a living as a creative writer, I got my bachelor’s degree in journalism. I was ready to save the world. After realizing that that wasn’t likely to happen, discovering I did not have the guts and grit to be a top journalist, I went on to work in public relations, marketing, teaching English as a foreign language, and corporate administration, training and, eventually, consulting.
It was serendipitous that I found my way back to writing when I was invited to join a team to produce a three-book series on Vienna, Austria. From then on, I was back to writing and editing as a freelancer which gave me the freedom to move to S. Africa.
And, the rest is history. While I consider myself a wordsmith, I often lack the words to express how much joy I get from helping people write their life stories. Sometimes, when I get to read or hear the stories they share, I’m thrown back to the days of childhood, sitting on my father’s lap while he reads me a story – wide-eyed with anticipation. It truly is a privilege to do what I get to do.
At the beginning of my venture into teaching writing life stories, I was giving purely live face-to-face courses. With there only being 24-hours in a day, I soon discovered that it wasn’t possible to reach as many people as I wanted. COVID came at a good time for me and after a lot of searching and learning (again!), I have discovered a way to teach more people, without sacrificing quality and connection. I am now building on-demand classes which are combined with a private online community and live interactions between me and my students.
I’m so excited to build a community and safe space where life story writers can share and learn and grow together.
Investing in the future
From 2011 – 2016, my husband and I took on one of our most fulfilling challenges: we founded an after-school program for rural disadvantaged children in S. Africa. Today, it continues under the auspices of a local organization.
My smaller efforts have included supporting prison educational programs, human rights and animal rescue. Due to COVID-19, I’ve suspended active involvement. I look forward to returning to service and to being able to offer my followers opportunities to get involved if they wish — service to others provides great personal satisfaction, great challenges, and great life stories.
PROFESSIONAL WRITER AND EDITOR
20+ cumulative years
print and broadcast news writing, public relations, marketing, book and magazine writing.
CURRICULUM DEVELOPER, TEACHER, TRAINER AND COACH
7+ CUMULATIVE YEARS
coaching would-be writers, corporate training for upper-level managers, teaching and curriculum development for disadvantaged rural children in South Africa and teaching English as a 2nd language to adult professionals.