Their Stories / Our Stories: A Creative Writing Workshop for Parents of Special Needs Kids

Allow me to introduce my friend and fellow Delaware writing tribe member, Shannon Connor Winward, and tell you about a unique and timely workshop she is offering soon–and why.
shannonShannon is a gifted poet and prose writer, and she’s also the dragon mother of a special needs child. Parenting is an experience that can’t be corralled into a rulebook, though many people try. As writers, the parenting experience becomes fodder just like the rest of our lives, but honest writing about parenthood can mean examining the downs more than the ups.  The most painful writing I have ever done has addressed my difficulties as a parent; the most positive feedback I have ever received as a writer has been after publishing pieces about my difficulties as a parent.
Multiply the above when your child has special needs and the world sometimes feels like a wilderness.
Shannon has taken the generous step of putting together a workshop aimed at parents and caregivers of special needs children. Details about Their Stories / Our Stories: A Creative Writing Workshop for Parents of Special Needs Kids and registration can be found here.
If you are, or know, a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or friend of a special needs child, and you or that person wants to learn how to tell your stories, please attend this workshop. It is a project from Shannon’s heart, which is big indeed.
Below is a Q&A with more information about what to expect, and the background for the event. I hope you will attend, and if you are also a member of the Delaware writing tribe, spread the word.
Question 1: Who should attend this workshop and what can they expect to learn from it?

Their Stories / Our Stories is a creative writing workshop specifically for caregivers—so parents, grandparents, family members, and anyone who shares their life with special needs children (of any age).

As a writer, I believe that everyone has a story inside them that wants to be told. But as a special needs mom, I know that we don’t always give ourselves space or permission to tell those stories—we’re busy, we’re tired, we’re focused on others.

My idea with this workshop is to create a safe, supportive space where caregivers can explore writing as a form of self-expression and self-care. It doesn’t matter if you like writing poetry or long letters or just venting on social media… it doesn’t matter if you never tried to write creatively before at all! The focus will be on fun, community, and finding our own unique voices.

Question 2: How do  you balance the writer you with the mom you, in particular in deciding how much to share about your child with all the world?

Aah, the quest for balance. It is the eternal struggle! Especially when your child has a diagnosis. Or three.

For me, it’s about triage: figuring out what’s most important in any given moment. I can put down my pen to go to IEP meetings and doctors’ appointments, that’s fine, but maybe the laundry doesn’t absolutely have to get done today.  Or this week, even. If I don’t write at least some of the time, I start to feel myself shutting down; I can’t be as good of a parent or advocate for my kids if I’m not tending to my own oxygen mask.

The question of how and how much to write about our children is a complicated one. The simplest answer is it depends: it’s a personal equation that should take into account the family, the child, what’s being written, for who and for what purpose, etc.

When we were first navigating my son’s diagnoses, fighting to get him the supports that he needs, I felt very isolated. We faced prejudice and misunderstanding. There weren’t many people I could talk to, and I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. But I was a writer, and I already had a blog, so I blogged about it. It was a kind of therapy for me, for sure—but I also made a conscious decision early on to chronicle our experiences. I wanted to help educate people who have no clue what this life is like, and I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for other families going through the same struggles. To that end, it’s always been important to me to be as open and honest about our lives as I can. But I aim to do that without thrusting my kid under a spotlight or a microscope, or betraying his own agency. Again, it’s a balancing act.

 Question 3: Why is now an ideal time for Their Stories/Our Stories to be heard?

Today’s sociopolitical climate is one of tension and uncertainty. It  impacts all of us, regardless of whether someone close to us carries a diagnosis.  That said, special needs families endure stressors and challenges that are unique, often misunderstood or even invisible to the larger community. It’s vital that we communicate and  support one another, and it’s vital that we speak our truths. These are things I hope to foster with this workshop. I want to encourage folks to pick up a pen—or a mic, or a soapbox. Whether it leads to changing laws, changing the way society sees us, or just helping someone get through the day, it’s all good. I want people to let their stories out.

Shannon’s bio:
shannon and childShannon Connor Winward is the author of the Elgin-award winning chapbook Undoing Winter and winner of a 2018 Delaware Division of the Arts Emerging Artist Fellowship in Fiction. Her stories, poetry, and creative non-fiction have been published widely in places such as Literary Mama, Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Online, The Pedestal Magazine, Thank You For Swallowing, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science, and elsewhere. In between parenting, writing, and other madness, Shannon is also a poetry editor for Devilfish Review and founding editor of Riddled with Arrows, a literary journal dedicated to metafiction, ars poetica, and writing that celebrates the process and product of writing as art. Shannon’s first book-length collection of poetry, The Year of the Witch, was just released by Sycorax Press. website:

Fall into Writing

Delaware poet Jane Miller and I will tag team exercises to guide poets and prose writers toward an exploration of senses, language, voice, and metaphor. The Judge Morris Estate is an elegant and historical setting, perfect for launching a new season of writing with friends and peers. Please join us!Fall into writing

This workshop is presented through the generosity of the Delaware Division of the Arts and the Delaware Division of State Parks.


Coming Soon at a Workshop Near You

“Near” if you are in Delaware, that is.

This spring, I will be participating in three programs at three different venues in the Delaware arts and culture scene:

Event #1:

Mindfulness for Creative Women at Newark Arts Alliance

Friday, February 16


Join us for an exploration of ways to be aware and present in the moments of your life, and how to use that awareness to jump start or enhance your creativity. The class will participate in short meditation, journaling, and visual prompt exercises. The goal is to leave with a plan on how to make each day richer and deeper through the habit and benefits of creative awareness.

Friday, February 16. Time: 7–10pm Ages: 18+ Cost: $35 M |$40 NM Register here.


Event #2

Winter into Spring Writers Workshop at the Judge Morris Estate

Saturday, March 3 – 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

JME front
Day long Writer’s Workshop for new and experienced prose writers with Delaware Division of the Arts Masters in Fiction Fellowship Winner and author, Ramona DeFelice Long. This workshop will allow writers to create and share work with an end of winter/coming of spring theme. Registration fee covers light lunch, beverages and snacks. One hour break for lunch.
$15/person. Registration required by Tuesday, February 27. Call 302-368-6900 to register.


Event #3:

                     World War I and America Writing Workshops                              at the Delaware History Museum

March 3 – May 5, 2018

World War 1

In March through the beginning of May, the Delaware Historical Society will offer six writing workshops to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The First State at the Front: World War I and the Road to Victorious Peace exhibition will be open through November, 2018, at the Delaware History Museum in Wilmington. The series will begin on March 3 with an opening event  and the first workshop offered by Dr. Samuel Hoff. I will offer workshops on April 7 and 21. More info to come on my workshops in the weeks ahead.

This workshop series is offered through the Library of America’s World War I and America program,  a “two-year initiative that aims to bring veterans and their families together with the general public to explore the continuing relevance of the war by reading, discussing, and sharing insights into the writings of Americans who experienced it firsthand.” The program is offered with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.



Coming Events and Workshops

2016-fall-eventsOne of the perks of being awarded a fellowship is the opportunity to offer free public readings and workshops. (And you have funds set aside for promotional postcards!)

The following are my coming events for October and November, 2016. Some require registration, but all are open to the public. Continue reading “Coming Events and Workshops”

To Free or Not to Free

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgWriting for free is a Gordian knot of should I or shouldn’t I for writers. Do we devalue our work, and by extension ourselves, by submitting to publications that don’t pay for the work they publish? Are a couple of copies adequate payment and, if so, do I declare that on my tax return? Is “exposure” worth the hours put into an article, story, or blog post? Continue reading “To Free or Not to Free”

Event: Teen Writing Workshop

teen wrirtng worksop

4 Ws and an R

hedwig snowWho, What, When, Where, Why and How….Anyone who has ever worked for a news outlet is familiar with the 5 Ws and an H. My college training was in journalism, so I find myself looking for this familiar set of letters in news stories, and in fiction too. If you are a working writer planning out a story, addressing these six points of your plot is a good starting place.

Another good starting place is a new year. Three days into a cold and snowy 2014, and I am thinking about a new set of letters, and how they can help me address the various points of my working life.

For me, the letters are 4 Ws and an R.

WRITE – The most obvious, but sometimes the most difficult to schedule. Carving out a couple of hours a day for my own writing is a must for 2014, so I have taken my own Sacred Writing Time Pledge. But I also want to share my work so “Writing” also means submitting, being critiqued, reading at open mics. And more blogging, maybe?

WORK –  My editing calendar is a colorful blast of penciled-in client names, online classes, speaking engagements, conferences. Thank you, world, for giving me this work I love to do! This year, I have a new notion or two to expand my work life and offer useful services to my writing friends and clients. Stay tuned.

WALK – Face it, without the daily walk, I’m grumpy. No one likes grumpy. Walking builds a stronger body, but I’m fortunate to have a Walking Friend who is a non-writer. I’ve already written about her value to me, and her patience with my sometimes skewed thinking. I wonder how many writers depend on physical activity to work out plot problems and/or explore story ideas? If you are lucky enough to have a reader friend who will listen to your writerly ramblings, hug him or her for me.

WORKSHOP – I love to teach! But I also love to be taught. If I (or you) ever begin to think I (or you) know all there is to know about writing, it’s time to retire, and maybe buy a few pounds of humility. Writers are generous with their knowledge and experience. Conferences are full of useful and practical courses, and if you can’t travel, the online workshop world is right at your keyboard. I take courses, too, and am always on the lookout for classes to take. Recommendations are welcomed!

READ – I write in the morning, edit all afternoon, and in the evening I like to chill out and rest my brain. But at bedtime, I still need that hour of reading.  Is it possible to sleep without sliding into the zone without a story? Not for me. For 2014, I’ve dusted off my reading diary. How many books will I read for pleasure this year?

Write, Work, Walk, Workshop, and Read – my 4 Ws and an R.

What letters work for your life?

Happy 2014!


Fall 2013 Courses and Workshops

Upcoming Courses and Workshops

Interview Your Story Workshop

Dates: Sunday, September 8 – Saturday, September 21
Where: Online via Yahoo Groups
Subsidized cost: $35
Open to: Members of SinC Guppy Chapter
The workshop will guide the author in examining his/her story in series of daily Q &A sessions. There are three basic Question areas: The Story, The Storyteller, The Audience. The goal of the course is to allow the author to examine his/her story in great depth. A secondary goal is to help the author articulate what this story is about, why he/she is the perfect person to write it, and identify and write to the perfect reader for this story. Daily Topics below:
Sunday:      The Crime
Monday:     The Sleuth/s
Tuesday:    The Story World/Setting
Wednesday: The Quest and Emotional Journey
Thursday:   Theme
Friday:        Plot Points and Structure
Saturday:    Secondary Characters and Storylines
Sunday:     catch-up
Monday:     Suspects, Cops, Clues, Red Herrings
Tuesday:     Story and Character Arcs
Wednesday:    Resolution and Aftermath
Thursday:     The Author
Friday:         The Audience
Saturday:     Putting it all Together
Sunday:       catch-up

Writing A Novel: You Can Do It! series

Writing a Novel: You Can Do It! will be offered by the Harford County Public Libraries, Havre de Grace Branch in Havre de Grace, Maryland
This 4-part writing session is offered in advance of 2013 National Novel Writing Month in November. The sessions are free and open to the public, but registration is required. All sessions will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays. To register, call 410-939-6700.

Monday, Sept. 16: Session One, Intro to NaNoWriMo presented by Lauren Carr
Monday, Sept. 30: Session Two, Preparing for a Month of Intensive Writing, presented by Ramona Long
Monday, Oct. 7: Session Three, Settings, Dialogue & Mind Games, presented by Lauren Fox

Monday, Oct. 21: Session Four, Structure: Beginnings, Middles & Ends, presented by Ramona Long

Scene Writing Workshop 

This online workshop is sponsored by the Mary Roberts Rhinehart Chapter of Sisters in Crime. To register, visit their website.

When:  Sunday October 13, 2013 – Saturday October 26, 2013 (2 weeks)
Where: Online via Yahoo Groups

How Much: $50 for Members, $60 for Non-Members

This course will examine the nuts, bolts, and necessities of good scene writing, addressing questions such as:
  • What is a scene?
  • What should a scene accomplish?
  • What are different types of scenes?
  • How do scenes move a story?
  • How do scenes work as set pieces?
  • How do you write an effective scene?
  • How do you insert subtext into scenes?
This workshop will be devoted to understanding, planning, and writing different types of dramatic scenes. The topics will include scene structure; scene goals; working with a scene checklist; and types: romance, action, fight, sex, introductions, contemplation, etc. Although there will be exercises, a work in progress or story idea would be helpful, so authors can work on scenes from their WIPs.
This workshop will better serve writers of some experience as opposed to someone who has never written before. However, anyone who wants to learn about scenes and scene structure would benefit. A work in progress or, at the very least, a concrete story idea would be necessary, because this is a hands on workshop. We will discuss the different scene types, and I’d ask students to search within their drafts for types of scenes as examples. If that’s not possible, participants may have to write a new scene for the class.

The Basics, in 3’s

In a few weeks I will be teaching a workshop on the basics of creative writing to a group of young people. The workshop is expected to cover story, structure, character, plot and theme–you know, the basics of creative writing.

I will have one hour.

Cramming years of acquired knowledge and experience into a mere 60 minutes is a daunting task, but I did pick up a thing or two in my years of volunteering in schools and hanging around children.

When trying to teach a broad topic, use a number.

People like–and remember–numbers. This is why you see so many articles titled “Six Ways to Make Your Garden Grow,” or “Four Secrets to Conquering Belly Fat.” Notice how those are nice low numbers. If I have to do more than six things to make my garden grow, I’m throwing in the trowel. And four secrets? How many people can keep even one secret? Four is plenty. A person has to be motivated to keep four secrets.

So, not only do I need a number, I need a low number. Luckily, the basics of creative writing has a built-in appropriate number: the number three.

Why three? Why is three so special to creative writing?

Think about it.

How many basic story types are there?  Three: Man versus Himself. Man versus. Man. Man versus Nature. These break down into smaller parts, but every story can fit into one of these broad categories.

How many story lengths are there? Three: Novel, Novella, Short Story.

How many short story types are there? Three: Short, Flash, Micro.

How many acts in the Three Act Structure? Act One is the beginning, when the author needs to set up the story and hook the reader; Act Two is the middle, when the author has to dig in to make the story complex, logical and suspenseful enough to hold the reader’s interest; Act Three is the end, when the author provides a climax and resolution so the reader feels satisfied and entertained.

How many Point of View options are there for a writer to tell a story? Three. First Person, where “I” tells the story; Second Person, where “you” tells the story; and Third Person, where “He/She/It” tells the story.

How many dimensions in a well-drawn character? Three: Physical, which tells us about his outside appearance; Sociological, which tells us about his background and current life situation; Psychological, which tells us what’s happening inside his head and heart.

How many parts of a story? Three: Conflict, Crisis, Resolution.

Looking at stories in terms of three wrangles it into manageable pieces. Basics. If a young writer walks out of my workshop holding up three fingers and muttering, “Conflict, Crisis, Resolution,” I’ll be thrilled.

I only wish I had three hours.

Did I forget anything? If you were taking a course in the basics of creative writing, what three things would you like to know?

Tell me about it.