About Sheila Bender

Sheila Bender has worked with people who write personal essays, poetry, nonfiction books, stories, writer’s journals, and application essays since 1980, helping them acknowledge a place for writing in their lives. Learn about her instructional books, memoir and poetry at About Sheila.

Author Experiences with Book Titles

Have you had a difficult time finding a title for your work? Needed help from others or resented help from others when you thought your title was just right? Here are 12 stories by 12 writers about how titling worked for them. I think you’ll enjoy the read and realize that there are two kinds … Continue reading

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More on How to Write the How-to Essay (and Why)

I’ve been teaching the how-to essay again and reading models. I love how the how-to format offers the personal essayist a structure that inspires poignancy, honesty, and humor. Here is an excerpt from my book Writing and Sharing Personal Essays. And for after you’ve read about this style essay and the sample essay in the … Continue reading

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Endings: From Seeds Planted in the Openings

We have to leave a story, of any length, both satisfied and wishing the story stays with us—having fallen in love with the protagonists or having been at least drawn close to their situations, we want to carry the characters inside of ourselves, as if they are friends we know we won’t see again, people … Continue reading

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To Follow the Right God Home

I wrote this essay a year after my widowed mom moved from the home she had shared with my dad after his retirement. It was a new time in our lives, my mom widowed, my husband and I stepping up to help her during a time of health problems caused by ignoring her needs while … Continue reading

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‘Tis the Season for Lists

[Note: I originally posted the following article in December, 2007. It’s holiday preparation time again and lists keep us sane. They can also keep us writing! Try the exercise I am suggesting based on writing lists poems. Try it more than once during this season of shopping lists, invitation lists and gift lists.] You might … Continue reading

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Wash and Shine the Fruit of Your Labor

I believe that we write in three stages–we act as playful inventors on the page, move on to the task of shaping our experience, and finally edit what we have written. Although these stages sometimes overlap a bit, on the whole, they are best thought of as separate. Just as we must never short circuit … Continue reading

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Get Real Response to Your Writing from Anyone

We too often receive unhelpful, even harmful, response from first readers of our early drafts. We may feel our writing is being ripped apart or our readers are more interested in fixing punctuation and grammar than in our subject and feelings. Or we may hear, “That’s nice,” which is deflating and doesn’t really help us move deeper into our … Continue reading

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All Done Not Writing

This week’s article is a reprint of one that first appeared in 2003. Time flies; when we look back, the lessons we have learned seem to shine brighter. My grandson Toby turned 17 months old this October 1.  He has been talking for months and he loves words.  “All done Mommy phone,” he says when my … Continue reading

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Writing Prompts To Anchor Summer

Originally published in in the summer of 2005, this article is filled with writing exercises inspired by the summer holidays. I think they will come in handy again to help you keep on writing, even though summer is loaded with traditional holiday social demands and active outdoor recreation. Learning the history of holidays can provide writers with prompts that … Continue reading

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Submissions Wanted – Venues for Publishing

Here’s an ongoing list of places seeking submissions. Check back frequently for more listings and please add in any venues of which you are aware. We all appreciate learning of opportunities for sending our work out for consideration.

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Celebrate National Poetry Month by Writing Poems! Yes, Even If You Think You Can’t!

National Poetry Month started yesterday. This week’s article is an oldie but goodie, originally published in 2007 and updated for 2014. In Port Townsend, the daffodils have been up several weeks. As usual out here, it looks like we’ll get rain this next week and certainly lots during the month of April, but I remind … Continue reading

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What I Was Thinking

This article first ran January 24, 2008, after a visit from my grandsons. Their visit over this past Martin Luther King three-day weekend had me thinking again about the way watching children’s reactions to our adult judgments and commands can help us become kinder to our writing and our writing selves, so we can better … Continue reading

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Where Have You Published Lately?

Go on! Brag a little or a lot. Include your blog url, literary journals, anthologies, books, plays produced–wherever we can find your writing. By learning where one another publishes as well as reading your work, we learn. Let us help you build an audience! 

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Sparking Young (and Older) Writers’ Minds Using Abantu

What is Abantu? Years ago during a summer writing workshop at Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, WA, poet Robert Hass (who went on to serve as a recent U.S. Poet Laureate) taught students a short couplet form that he had read was an oral tradition among the Bantu people of Africa.  In class, he recited … Continue reading

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Accepting the Personal in the Personal Essay

Accepting the Personal in the Personal Essay In this week’s “Revision Diary,” I am offering an account of how writer Mary Ann Payne and I worked from a journal entry to a finished essay.  Mary Ann told me that often when she tries to write an essay from a journal entry, she is unhappy with … Continue reading

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In the Presence of Wonder

Today as my co-instructor and I taught a course called “Teaching Poetry to Help Students Meet Literacy Standards,” something remarkable happened, something that often happens with poetry. I’d like to tell you about it because talking about what happened will help those of you who write from your heart affirm the value of what you … Continue reading

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A Special Birthday

Last night I attended a late showing of Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon’s movie Moonlight Mile. An audience of young and old sat absorbed and silent as the drama of two parents and their deceased daughter’s ex-fiancé unfolded. Bearing witness to their emotional defenses and behavior as well as the ineffectual and sometimes cruel expressions … Continue reading

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More Than Your English Teacher Ever Told You

When an irate reader wrote the editors of Writer’s Digest Magazine because of “incorrect” grammar I used in a poem, I was concerned.  I had written “my sister and I” after a verb:  “the ones my father gave my sister and I.”  The reader, a retired English teacher, said the magazine had certainly scraped the … Continue reading

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Let Your Writer Self Be With You

“Issues of productivity,” “sitting still with loneliness and boredom,” “compartments of time.” I mulled these phrases over.  A close writing colleague was suffering from writer’s block and had written them to me in a letter.   As I thought about what I consider the source of writer’s block, I dialed my cousin.  I often make phone … Continue reading

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Hula Girl

On a cool, partly sunny Port Townsend summer day, I met with a writer’s group whose members have continued to gather and respond to each other’s writing years after meeting each other in a five-week essay writing course. After a lunch of soup, salad and strawberries that we dipped into chocolate (a favorite writing food … Continue reading

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