Last updated on March 12th, 2019 at 06:53 am

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mary Jo Doig, a member of Story Circle Editorial Service from 2008-2012 and Book Review Team from 2004 to the present.

Please describe your work with Story Circle; what the organization is and what it does.         

The Story Circle Network is an international organization for women life writers, founded by Dr. Susan Wittig Albert in 1997. Our website describes our mission:

The Story Circle Network is dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives and to raising public awareness of the importance of women’s personal histories. We carry out our mission through publications, a website, classes, workshops, writing and reading circles, and woman-focused programs. Our activities empower women to tell their stories, discover their identities through their stories, and choose to be the authors of their own lives.

On this site you will find a bounty of resources:  thoughtful book reviews, publication opportunities for life writers, Story Circle writing groups around the country, editorial services for writers, and so much more.

When I joined Story Circle in 2001, I began writing my life stories and sharing them as a member of a SCN Internet writing circle, comprised of seven talented women from all over the country, women I would never have otherwise met. A few years later I began to facilitate a writing circle myself, and also editing the True Words from Real Women section of the quarterly Story Circle Network Journal. In interviewing for that position, I quickly discovered my love of nurturing other women writers and spending time with and polishing their stories.

I write book reviews for our award-winning Book Review site, interview authors, have edited three annual anthologies, helped judge writing contests, assisted with selecting modules for SCN national conferences in Austin, as well as attended several SCN conferences. I’m honoured to soon begin work as the Program Chair for the 2014 SCN National Conference.

Tell us about your own work as a writer.

I wrote short stories in high school and college, some of which were published in my school periodicals. Then my writing transformed to keeping journals as I journeyed through marriage, motherhood, and a varied human services career. In 2000, single again and my children grown, I moved to a tiny cabin in the woods of Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains where I worked by day and lived in solitude the rest of the time. In that silent, stunning, spiritual place I reopened my journals and began writing again, not fiction anymore but stories about my life. In a moment of synchronicity, I discovered and joined Story Circle Network in 2001 and began to network and grow as a writer in many ways. During the past decade several of my stories have been published in newspapers, journals, anthologies, and other periodicals.

Now I’m writing my memoir, a story that has needed time, some distance, and the growing insights that have come with each rewriting. It all started with writing one little story at a time and has the working title, A Patchwork Quilt Life.

What writers have influenced you the most?

There are several. The names that flow immediately to mind are Annie Dillard, Terry Tempest Williams, Annie Proulx, Joan Weimer, Anne Lamott, Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, Christina Baldwin, Anne Tyler, and Natalie Goldberg. They are each outstanding writers and there are so many more.

What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

The stories I edit are generally well written, so I usually do a light punctuation, spelling, or correct tense editing. Strange to say, the two most common things I see are so simple to remedy: assuring the writing is within the word count guidelines and meeting submission deadlines on time.

What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

Story Circle offers a series of excellent online classes four times a year. The present winter module offers classes on Memoir and Lifewriting; Sharpening Skills (for writing vivid description); Networking, Publishing, and Blogging; Writing Poetry; and also an Independent Study Program for one-on-one mentoring.

In my most recent online class, I learned a new writing technique called deconstruction, which builds rich sensory information into writing. The presenters, Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler have since written a book “Writing Alchemy,” about this technique. It’s new and exciting, and I recommend it for all writers. After reading and practicing the first chapter, I saw immediate growth.

My other primary class source is at SCNs National Conference, where the session menu is always so interesting and varied, I wish I could attend nearly all.

What advice would you give other writers?

First, create a regular writing practice and write every day for at least 10-20 minutes, if that’s what you can spare. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you write about, just that you write.

Second, try freewriting, which is stream of consciousness writing. If I run out of words while freewriting, I type the last word I wrote over and over until a new thought arrives. And it always does. I like to start my writing sessions with 15 minutes of freewriting. If I’m working on my memoir I freewrite about the chapter I’m working on and always can mine a good nugget or two to add. For other projects, I let whatever is roaming around in my head flow onto the paper. Some days my freewriting simply clears away mental clutter. It’s invaluable to me in many ways. There’s lots of information about it on the Internet.

Lastly, keep a daily journal. It is the pearl in an oyster for a writer. You can use it to record daily happenings in your life, or you can keep a specific kind of journal. I can easily imagine Barbara Kingsolver kept a journal of the year she and her family committed to eating only meat and vegetables raised locally, or by them, or living without it. That journal would easily transform into her wonderful environmental memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

By Carol Smallwood. Carol co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012) on the list of Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers Magazine; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011) received a Pushcart nomination.