Osher Institute at SDSUIn the spring of 2013, some 25 students assembled for the first day of class in Kathi Diamant’s Memoir Writing course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Diego State University (OLLI at SDSU). By the last day of class, several had decided they didn’t want the fun, or their writing growth, to end. They started their own group. In homage to advice Diamant had given students – to limit the use of “ing” and “ly” in their writing – they named themselves the INGly Writers Group.

“Many of us had discussed it to try and make it happen, and Kathi encouraged us,” said member John Castell, “We invited everyone in our class at the time, then we set a date for our first meeting and invited Kathi to help us get organized and offer her expertise. Some were invited later who were a positive fit for the group’s dynamic.”

“I loved Kathi’s classes and bonded with many of the class members immediately, even though most of them were closer to the age of my daughter than they were to me,” said Margie Prestwood, who was one of the first to join. At age 93, she’s also the group’s most seasoned member.

At any given time, there are eight to 10 active members, and the entire group consists of Castell, Prestwood, Janet Gastil, Barb Huntington, Milly McCoo, Laura Bottaro-Costner, Eddie Heubach, Linda Hughes, Bill Latta, Kris Limont, Karen Malfara, Christa Rieth, Karen Simons, and Suzanne Williford. The group meets the second and fourth Thursday every month at Limont’s house.

“Members share updates regarding their writing projects, classes, or upcoming events in an informal meet-and-greet for about 15 minutes,” explained Castell. “A member volunteers in advance to facilitate each meeting. He or she can offer a 10-minute writing prompt or informational reading about the craft of writing or how to submit work for publication. Members who are prepared with written work to read are counted, and the remaining time gets divided equally for the reading and feedback process.”

The group uses BigTent.com – an optional free online tool where OLLI students and instructors can communicate outside the classroom – to post written work prior to meetings so members can provide early feedback and/or be prepared for in-person meetings.

“Some stories are longer – 1000-plus words – so online gives us a chance to really sit down, read and provide useful feedback,” said Castell.

Did meeting and writing regularly yield any breakthroughs or unexpected benefits?

Bottaro-Costner: Yes. It allowed us the benefit of a deadline which went away when the Osher class ended. Deadlines infuse an important energy into writing for most of us, and the INGly meetings provided that essential additive. All the while we honed skills and built confidence. Unless one self-publishes, the chances of getting published are slim. Knowing that group members will hear your words is a real motivator.

Castell: Yes. Regular meetings create a kind of “deadline” to meet and thus the motivation to write and finish new works. The continued practice of writing, learning the craft and the reading/critique cycle has yielded much richer, stronger and provocative writings from every member. We challenge each other’s writing choices and learn to strengthen our personal language of expression. Plus, the valued friendships and bonds of trust that have been built are pillars in the ongoing strength of our group.

Huntington: Getting me off my duff.

Latta: Taking the Osher courses on writing and working with the INGly group gave me the confidence to take on the task of co-authoring a professional book on psychotherapy. The meetings that I attended were very beneficial, because everyone was dedicated to becoming a better writer and helping each other.

Limont: Absolutely. For me having a deadline for writing helped, and we have all learned and grown a lot over the last two years. And despite developing a hatred for the word “arc,” I have finally done a complete story with the arc.

McCoo: Yes. It’s useful to hear the critiques of others who love reading and writing. They give useful ideas about how to make my writing clearer and more accessible. It’s useful to find out whether what I’m trying to communicate is being understood or misunderstood by others. Sometimes, they see more value than I do in my writing. It’s a great way to practice my skills.

Prestwood: I’m working on my memoir and have about 20,000 words down with more to go. I find it difficult to always join the group for the bi-monthly meetings because I have a severe hearing loss. That’s the main reason I’m so grateful for BigTent. I have no words to properly express my gratitude to those who take the time to critique what I write. This is an invaluable tool for me, one that I never had before.

When did you discover OLLI and what keeps you coming back?

Bottaro-Costner: My husband and I began taking Osher classes in the spring of 2010. I return because I always find courses that let me entertain material from the perspective of a life lived vs. undergraduate wideeyed discovery. Art history and philosophy classes come to mind. The writing classes were an unexpected avenue to new acquaintances and a sharing of life experiences.

Castell: I started taking classes in spring 2013. I return because of the strong course materials and the dynamic instructors and speakers. It was a gift to meet and learn with Kathi Diamant. She brings such a passion for writing.

Latta: I keep coming back for the variety of classes and the professor/student interactions.

McCoo: Only since early 2013 when I took the first of two memoir courses by Kathi. She also introduced us to the value of attending writers’ conferences, which are invaluable ways to meet people with similar interests and to interact with brilliant writers. I continue to take Osher classes in various areas of interest.

Prestwood: I found Osher when their catalog came to my house about four or five years ago. After that first semester, I was hooked. The sessions were interesting, informative, and the instructors were excellent. The next year I talked my Social Security-age daughter, Linda, into being an Osher student. How many of us get to go to college with our children? I keep going back because I like how I feel when I’m there. I live close enough to SDSU to walk up there, so I feel I get my exercise and sharpen my mind at the same time.

“It has been a joy and honor to work and grow along with this highly creative and talented group of writers,” summed up Castell.