The Most Promising Fictional Characters are Obsessed

“Our most promising fictional characters are obsessed,” says Meg Files, Writing It Real correspondent and author of Write From Life: Turning Your Personal Experiences into Compelling Stories. “They’re looking desperately for love or passion or parents or fame. They’re searching for answers to questions they can barely ask. Their obsessions offer writers a way to … Continue reading

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What is Poetry?

When I walked into an independent bookstore recently and saw Apprentice of the Flower Poet Z. on a table of new fiction paperbacks, I picked it up because of its title and then read the first of the back cover blurbs: “A splendid satire of literary life…Annabelle is the perfect naïf, the babe in the … Continue reading

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An Idea to Launch Essays

Three days ago, the weather grew suddenly cold where I live in Port Townsend, WA, and for the last two mornings there has been light snow and frost on our roofs and on the ground.  This is not typical weather for Western Washington, so when I arose and saw sudden snow falling fast and sticking … Continue reading

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Niche Dating Essay Yields Results

Last Valentine’s Day, I read an essay in The Seattle Weekly by Marilyn Meyer, a friend of mine who had raised a family in Seattle the same years I had and who, having survived remarriage and divorce a time more than I, was single again.  Dating was getting harder as she got older, and at … Continue reading

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Keeping a Writer’s Journal

I am currently teaching an online course entitled Journal Like the Pros for Writers.com. Each week, participants use prompts and examples I send to them to comb their memories and observations and put words on the page that surprise them with wit, charm, and poignancy. The entries the participants send affirm the idea that when … Continue reading

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Prompts Inspired By In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, edited by Kitchen & Jones

Janice Eidus, author and Writing It Real correspondent, currently teaches creative nonfiction for the University of New Orleans and uses writing prompts with her students based on the essay anthology In Brief, a book I discussed in my December 16, 2004 article. This week, she shares those prompts with us, and I offer a demonstration … Continue reading

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An Interview with Humorist Judy Gruen

I have been enjoying humor writer Judy Gruen’s essays since she published her first collection of them, Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy, and began an Internet newsletter to deliver her humorous column, Off My Noodle, to a wide audience. She has since written a second book entitled, Till We Eat Again: Confessions of … Continue reading

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Revenge of the Chihuahua

These essays first appeared in “Off My Noodle“. Revenge of the Chihuahua by Judy Gruen I have always had a secret hankering to take bold and dramatic action to further the cause of liberty. Sadly, I have had few opportunities to foist my valuable opinions on the public. Heck, I haven’t even served on jury … Continue reading

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A Read Through Judith Kitchen’s Work

After reading In Short and In Brief, two anthologies of short personal essays co-edited by author Judith Kitchen, I re-read her collected essays in Only the Dance and Distance and Direction, and then her novel The House on Eccles Road. As I went to my bookshelf, I plucked Distance and Direction down first and returned … Continue reading

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Two Essays by Judith Kitchen

Yellow by Judith Kitchen (Reprinted by permission of the author from Distance and Direction, Coffee House Press, 2001, this essay first appeared in the Great River Review.) Lately the rush hour traffic begins before you have to put your headlights on. The season’s turned. I’m thinking back to summer solstice, thirty-five years ago, in Denmark. … Continue reading

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Insights into Endings – Part 2

After reading essayist and editor Judith Kitchen’s observations about effective essay endings for last week’s article, I turned to In Brief, the second of two creative nonfiction anthologies Kitchen co-edited with Mary Paumier Jones and published with W.W. Norton. In the introduction to this 1999 volume, Kitchen and Jones write that in addition to an … Continue reading

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Insights into Endings

In “Endings,” an instructional essay for the literary journal Fourth Genre, Fall, 2001, Judith Kitchen asserts that in a piece of creative nonfiction, “the building of thought is what interests the reader.” “We look as much for how an author approaches a subject,” she writes, “as for the subject itself.” In reading and writing essays, … Continue reading

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In Short – An Inspiring Essay Anthology Edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones

“It is a matter of proportion,” Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones say about the criteria they used for selecting essays for an anthology entitled In Short and published by W. W. Norton in 1996.  Noticing that nonfiction writers they admired were frequently writing very short prose, they realized that what mattered in an essay … Continue reading

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An Inland Navy

In last week’s article I reviewed Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Failure: A Bartender, a Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth. Near the end of the book, when Goldberg’s elderly father, who’d been operated on for colon cancer, sits down to hamburgers with her at a restaurant, my back bristled.  In my opinion, the author … Continue reading

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A Story of Two Fathers and the Daughter Who Loves Food Too Much

Reading popular writing guru Natalie Goldberg’s newly published memoir, The Great Failure: A Bartender, a Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth, Harper San Francisco, 2004, I am drawn to the speaker’s many descriptions of the two influential male figures in her life, her bartender father and her now deceased Zen teacher. When she writes … Continue reading

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Excerpt from Writing and Publishing Personal Essays by Sheila Bender

This week I am sharing an excerpt from my new book Writing and Publishing Personal Essays, just out from Silver Threads in San Diego. The excerpt demonstrates the power of extended metaphor for writing the essay. **** Telling It How It Never Was to Find Out How It Is One of the exercises you can … Continue reading

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Birthday Memories Offer Kernels For More Writing

This week, in the last of four articles presenting writing generated from Writing It Real exercises, I have included the work of three subscribers who sent me results from the exercise I proposed in Remembering Your Birthdays, August 19, 2004.   After reading Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I felt certain that … Continue reading

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Instructional Exercise based on Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine

Just before most of us turn our clocks back, and we are well into fall, I’d like to share two subscribers’ results from the exercise I proposed in “Put Summer on the Page,” July 8, 2004. In that article, I excerpted words from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and discussed a writing strategy that facilitates collecting … Continue reading

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Villanelles by Writing It Real Subscribers

It seemed to me that if we copied Thomas’ technique of speaking in paired commands, we might write well.  Although I didn’t expect readers to necessarily write tight villanelles as a result of the exercise (I actually suggested repeating the lines throughout an essay), two Writing It Real subscribers sent me the villanelles they’d created … Continue reading

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Writing It Real Subscribers’ Braided Poem

In May, I posted an article called “Coaxing Imaginative Awareness,” in which I reviewed Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser.  After reading the review, some Writing It Real subscribers teamed up to work on creating braided verse inspired by the results of these two poets.  One of these teams, … Continue reading

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