As we enter into process as Somatic Writers—whether for the first time or as part of a well established practice—the Thirteen Community Commitments provide a coherent framework within which we can honor our stories, ourselves, and each other.
By naming and claiming these shared values, we take responsibility for the integrity and transformative potential of our own processes. By working with and from these commitments each time we come together in community, we renew our intentions for the work, for our personal experience, and for the books we bring into being.
We are inspired in the examination of our values and responsibilities, and in the creation of these Thirteen Commitments, by the critical analysis and insightful solutions offered in The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, by Felicia Rose Chavez, and through the lived experience and ongoing labor of numerous Black and Indigenous authors and activists.
1. Hold healthy boundaries.
This is a trauma informed creative container, not a self-help, therapeutic, or life coaching group.
You are here to tell your own story and to craft it as an offering to the world. We work side-by-side, grounded in the truths that live within our physical and metaphysical bodies, to realize our own creative vision in a consent-based and non-hierarchical container.
We maintain solid energetic boundaries around ourselves and in how we interact with others so that deeply transformative writing can take place. We may experience self-healing along the way, but we are not here to be saved or take on the role of savior for another.
2. Show up with integrity.
When you join a session, bring the best version of yourself you have to share at that time.
We understand that life can get hectic, energy can fluctuate, and we can’t always follow through on our commitments in exactly the way we’ve intended. Show up as you are and know that you are welcome, valued, and under no pressure to perform for the group.
All we ask is that you be present, with your camera on and any potential distractions eliminated, and hold the space with respect during our time together.
3. Build trust through openness and vulnerability.
It can be nerve wracking, anxiety inducing, or even scary to reveal ourselves by sharing our personal stories. This is even more true in a workshop context, where we are opening our work to critique from others.
When we show up with vulnerability and in good faith, however, we make it possible for other people to do the same thing. And when we respond to one another’s writing from a place of humility and openness, we reinforce the integrity of the container and lay the groundwork for authentic peer-to-peer connection.
4. Acknowledge our interconnectedness.
No person is a truly independent creator. No story is the sole property of its teller. Our stories are born out of relationships—however fleeting or long-lasting—and when we release them into the world they take on lives of their own, making new meaning with the readers whose lives they touch.
We honor the relationships that have made our stories possible, even as we find healing in the process of writing them.
We claim our gifts with humility and accept the responsibility—to one another and to our readers—that comes with stepping into our author identities.
5. Speak from a place of generosity.
Before we offer any critique, we ask ourselves whether our contribution will be helpful to the other person, or if it’s simply an expression of our personal preference or opinion. In particular, we reflect honestly and mindfully on any privileges that may be at play in our reaction to another writer’s work.
We carefully consider whether our comment might create or contribute to any power imbalance within the group or on a systemic level, and if it is in alignment with Somatic Writing’s core values of antiracism and non-hierarchical creative community. Not everyone’s work will speak to us, and that’s okay. It is entirely possible to offer helpful feedback even on stories that aren’t our personal cup of tea.
The key is to consider the work on its own terms and to offer constructive criticism that honors the writer’s intention.
6. Offer critique to serve the writer and the work.
The most helpful feedback begins and ends with affirmation. Focus on what was moving, interesting, or compelling in the piece before offering any critique, and then close with positive encouragement.
This way of giving and receiving feedback works with how our brains are wired. It allows us to receive criticism without overwhelming our sensory systems.
We are all sensitive people, which is what makes us great storytellers. By honoring one another’s sensitivities, we hold a container in which real growth can take place.
7. Aim to bring out the best in one another.
Our goal is always to help each other craft the most authentic and impactful version of our stories possible.
It is not to tell each other how we would write it ourselves.
It is neither up to us to tell one another how to interpret our own stories, nor to decide which stories are worth telling.
8. Be specific in your feedback.
Focus on what feels like it is working and why, as well as what feels like it could work better—and why—within the context of the story and as it relates to what the author is trying to do.
Ask questions and be willing to understand the answers, even if they don’t align with your personal worldview, experience, or preferences. Then, give constructive feedback grounded in the author’s stated truth.
9. Always trust the writer.
In a workshop setting, we should always listen to what the author has to say about the problems they’re looking to solve or the questions they’re hoping to have answered.
Remember, we all know our own stories and intentions best, so give the specific kinds of feedback each writer has asked for, in addition to making comments and asking questions of your own.
10. Celebrate the sanctity of identity and voice.
Respect the author’s choices in terms of diction, pronouns, details that are emphasized, and so forth. If something feels confusing to you, or feels like it is taking you out of the story, mention this with openness but acknowledge the writer’s expertise in their own experience and ways of interacting with the world.
While your questions may be valid, your confusion or lack of understanding may also be due to a difference in cultural perspective. Each writer has inherent and explicit authority over the telling of their story.
11. Remember that our stories are valid and important.
Just as we won’t necessarily connect with everyone else’s stories, it is unrealistic to expect—or even to hope—that every other person in our cohort will connect with ours.
It just means that not everyone is our ideal reader.
12. Allow space for silence.
Sometimes, this in itself is a form of respect. It is perfectly fine not to respond if you don’t have anything to say about someone’s piece.
If you want to show love or appreciation without commenting directly, nonverbal shows of support, like snapping fingers, offering silent or visual applause, or use of emojis in the Zoom chat are always welcome.
13. Honor the container.
In order for us all to show up each week with all our vulnerability and in authenticity, it is absolutely necessary that the privacy of the group be held absolutely sacred.
We do not have the consent of other writers to share or discuss their stories outside the container. Nor do we have consent to discuss one another’s goals, challenges, or even successes—even with other members of the group—outside the workshop proper, or the private Slack group. To violate one another’s consent is a serious energetic breach.
What happens in the group stays in the group. This is fundamental to the magic and the integrity of the Somatic Writing process.