Sheila Bender

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.

Four Prompts That Work for Getting Past Intention

One of my favorite writing mantras is from author Ron Carlson: “Don’t think, write.” Another is my own sentence, “Intention kills the meaning-making.” What I’ve found is that coming to the page with a sense of anticipation about not knowing what will arrive fosters the rising of deep meanings from the midst of the images … Continue reading
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Poet, Author and Writing Community Builder Esther Altshul Helfgott on Two New Books and Her Writing Life

Esther Helfgott’s life-long writing habit helped her weather her husband Abe’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and the grief of slowly losing their thirty-year partnership. Using writing as a tool to handle this profound life change, she created the moving memoir, Dear Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Diary & Poems. When her husband Abe died, she began writing the … Continue reading
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What Have We Here: A Conversation with Susan Bono About Her New Collection of Essays

For writer and small press publisher (Tiny Lights) Susan Bono, the last thirty years have mostly been about trying to stay ahead of a husband, growing kids, aging parents, and an eccentric old house, in spite of detours, deadlines, unexpected changes, and inevitable losses. But through it all, she’s been taking notes. In her collection of … Continue reading
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Letter to My Son

Writing It Real members and students know my love of the epistolary (letter) form in literature and the many examples of it I offer as writing models. During the holiday season, a time of letters from those near and far, I am especially inspired to write to my son, Seth. At the letter’s end, I … Continue reading
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20 Dialog Building Prompts

Dialog moves a narrative along in fiction, personal essay, memoir and poetry, too. Playing with ways to experiment with dialog will help you build your dexterity with this aspect of the writing craft. And playing with the prompts might have you creating some new writing you’ll want to expand. Write a conversation between three people–one who … Continue reading
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20 Character Building Exercises

When we write fiction, we need to get inside our characters’ beings. When we write memoir, we need to learn more about our own character as well as the character of people who have influenced our experience. But sometimes we need a pathway to find fresh material. Here are 20 exercises for getting to know our characters and … Continue reading
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Keeping a Writer’s Journal? 21 Prompts to Help You

Keeping a notebook of short descriptions, thoughts, overheard conversations, quotes and even complaints and worries will keep us in the writing mode, even when our days are filled with other activities and concerns. I have been reading a wise and inspiring book called The Journal Keeper, A Memoir, by Phyllis Theroux. The author put together journal entries … Continue reading
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Why Write? My Answers in an Intervew with Mark Matousek

Writing is, to me, a friend with extraordinary benefits. This Thanksgiving, I offer a link to an interview for which I am grateful. Mark Matousek chose to interview me on writing as a healing activity. He asked me the kind of questions that allowed me to dig deep and talk about why writing matters. I hope listening … Continue reading
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Play with 20 Scene Building Prompts

Last week, I wrote about doing a scene-writing exercise short story writer and teacher, Ron Carlson, invented. This week, I am posting 20 ideas I’ve put together for practice writing scenes that will help you develop dexterity in presenting your story, fiction or nonfiction, with the kinds of phrasing and details that absorb readers. Try … Continue reading
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The Physicality of Writing Scenes and Characters

As writers, we are aware of the dictum “Show, don’t tell,” but sometimes what we think of as showing turns out to be only another way of telling and avoiding showing. On this subject, I often quote fiction writer Ron Carlson’s words in his book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story: Outer story, the physical world, is … Continue reading
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