Everyone has a story to tell, said writer Sharon McCracken, and sharing your memoirs as you write them helps you see if you left anything out.
"Is there something more we'd like to hear more about? Something we don't understand?" explained McCracken, who facilitates the Words in Bloom writing class at the Pleasanton Senior Center. "We care about people and their stories."
Words in Bloom meets from 9 a.m. to noon on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Anyone is welcome to drop in.
McCracken makes copies of the writers' contributions at the beginning of each session so everyone can read along as they share.
"It's just amazing, all the different stories people tell," McCracken said.
A woman from India wrote about a childhood experience when her family lived in a three-story house and found a python among some logs on the ground level; she recalled helping her father relocate it.
Someone else shared her childhood remembrances of moving to the panhandle during the Depression. She recalled putting sheets over the windows during dust storms, and how, during happier moments, they would go down to the creek for a picnic.
"I could sit and listen to her stories forever," McCracken said.
Some people explore traumatic experiences from their past. One person analyzed her siblings and why they turned out the way they did to help her understand them.
"One lady wrote her own obituary because she wants it done a certain way; she didn't want to leave it up to her kids," McCracken said. "And I have a couple of people who write excellent poetry."
McCracken usually has a handout for each class, such as writing for emotional impact, advice about plotting, an analysis of good writing or possible magazine markets for a first-person stories.
"I've handed out tips for starting your memoir, and we talk about that," McCracken said.
They also discuss dialogue, setting, place and climax.
"The main essence of any fiction is there is something to be learned; it is a growing experience," McCracken said.
One man, who is in a wheelchair, wrote a book many years ago about a car accident he was in as a teenager that left him disabled. The Senior Center writing class has motivated him to reach out to teens to share his story and the dangers of drinking and driving.
"There are things people share that were hard to live but in the telling of them, it is very healing," McCracken said. "Like being molested as a little girl. Or the accident."
"Everybody has a story, and in class we have the joy and freedom to share your story," she continued. "It's really fun. We're learning. We're growing."
Sometimes the class analyzes the elements of a good story and talks about expressing emotions.
"We talk about the senses -- how do you talk about something you smell? You have to use simile and metaphors, you have to liken it to something you relate to," McCracken said. "It's fun because everybody laughs, and they are saying, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"
After she'd facilitated the class for more than 100 hours, McCracken was nominated for the Volunteer of the Year Award, she said. But she doesn't teach the writing class to receive monetary compensation or awards.
"It's such a wonderful class," she said. "I've never had so much fun."