#5 Valley Haggard

Valley Haggard was nominated for our 40 Over 40 project by Tim McCready, a writer and musician living in the Richmond area. Because his nomination was so lovely and because it made me immediately want to sign up for one of Valley's classes, I'm going to let him do the talking:

Valley Haggard’s “Life in 10 Minutes” classes use creative nonfiction as a potent tool for emotional healing. Nobody who comes to a class for the first time—and then keeps coming for years (many do)—shows up week after week to learn about the craft of writing. They come because Valley has created a space where strangers tell the truth of their lives on the page, share what they write, and listen quietly to others’ stories.

In her classes, Valley shares her belief that the act of recording one’s experience in writing is an act of transformation. Even the most overwhelming experiences—when contained on the page and shared with an empathetic group—become at least a little more manageable. Sometimes, as though by magic, writing about some burning personal difficulty instantly turns down its flame. The writing Valley facilitates “skips the smalltalk,” as she puts it. She leads her students down the path of telling truths known by their hearts, which—once expressed on paper— leave the writer feeling more whole.

Valley is herself a fearless writer. Her books “The Halfway House for Writers” and “Surrender Your Weapons” are full of candid accounts of her own struggles with addiction and loss. She leads by example. But she’s also funny, and Life in 10 classes—for all the heavy material that gets churned up in them—are usually joyous events. It’s as though sitting in a group of people all telling the truth about their lives is inherently uplifting, even when the individual stories are not.

While Valley’s teaching is not about writing technique, her students all become better writers. I’ve seen people who at first class meetings could write nothing but, “I am drawing a blank” change over time into tellers of haunting, hilarious, and poignantly humane tales. In each class, students write for three 10-minute sessions and then read what they’ve written in turn. There is no imperative like that of a ticking clock and a built-in audience to motivate someone to write! A lot of ink gets spilled in class—it starts to flow, and then the flow keeps coming. The more one writes, the better a writer one becomes.

In addition to classes at the Life in 10 studio, Valley has taught this model in shelters for the homeless, at colleges and medical schools, recovery groups, public libraries, churches, and in people’s living rooms. Everywhere she goes, those who participate in her groups feel better—more whole, more grounded for having written with her. - Tim McCready