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.

A Revision Success Story: Developing “The Longest Walk” by Arla Shephard Bull

Writing It Real member Arla Shephard Bull worked back and forth with me on developing an essay that was important to her to write. She had decided to use the third person as a way of distancing herself enough to approach the topic of a painful family trip. Despite a question she had about that … Continue reading
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Clear the Debris of Abstraction and Sentimentality

As the Presidential candidates for nomination continue to gather followers with predictable phrases, and pundits attempt to predict who the will be the frontrunners, I am reminded of the importance of writing toward felt insight. We need to leave abstracting and sentimentality behind if we are to find insight and make deep connections with ourselves and others through our writing. … Continue reading
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In Conversation with Three Very Different Writers

Every few months, I sit with sound engineer Charlie Fleishman at the studio of Port Townsend, WA’s all volunteer FM station KPTZ.org and record conversations with four writers. Each of these Sundays includes telephone conversations with writers from anywhere in the country and in studio conversations local writers.  Each program plays two to three times … Continue reading
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A Love Story: Interview with Phyllis M. Washburn on her book Good Morning Sam

Phyllis Washburn sent me a copy of the book she’d written, Good Morning Sam, which includes many of her husband Ralph’s photos. In photos and words, theirs is the story of the mute swan Sam, whom they named when he accepted them as part of his natural world. Over the years, the couple saved Sam … Continue reading
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Before and After: Shaping a Personal Essay Using the 3-Step Response Method

The back and forth you’ll read this week on the development of an essay-in-progress demonstrates the power of my three-step response method for helping writers revise. Years ago, Marjorie Ford sent me an essay-in-progress that she was having trouble developing to her satisfaction for meeting an upcoming anthology submission deadline. After I received her first draft, we immersed ourselves in the three-step response, back and … Continue reading
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Carol Smallwood, Poet, and Anthology Creator Extraordinaire, Tells Us How She Does It

As both an accomplished writer and a career librarian, Carol Smallwood knows a lot about what women ask when they wish to learn about the writing and publishing process. Over the years, I’ve received email invitations from Carol asking for contributions to anthologies whose subjects have rung true as extremely useful for women writers. I … Continue reading
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How We Write the Heroine’s Story: Interview with Author Jody Gentian Bower

Jody Gentian Bower’s new book, Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story, is sure to change some minds about the path of women’s literature. I am pleased to post the following interview with Jody. I know readers will find both her thinking and her commitment to the process of creating her … Continue reading
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Haiku Poets Focus on What Matters Most: An Interview with Robert Epstein

Robert Epstein has invested years in conceiving and writing books, among them a series of impressive haiku anthologies. This National Poetry Month, I am delighted to post an interview with him that gets to the heart of how haiku connects us to the sacred and demonstrates what we come to poetry for — to understand and to share … Continue reading
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Sand Spirit Cards — A Tool for Writers

Before embarking on a third revision of A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief, an intense book-length personal narrative, I worked with writer, photographer and shamanic practitioner Pam Hale Trachta for guidance in knowing what I wanted to do in developing my manuscript. Because it is about my son’s death in … Continue reading
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Clearing Out Publishing Brain Fog

Some of us write and don’t allow ourselves to even think we will publish because it seems out of our reach; others of us worry about publishing way too early, and, therefore, don’t write what we might. Writing comes first, of course, and that means writing what you have in you to write and need to write. When … Continue reading
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Cognitive Therapy for Writers: Behave Your Way Into Writing

When it comes to writing, we so often undermine our efforts by thinking that we are not disciplined enough, educated enough, smart enough, skilled enough, or wise enough to call ourselves writers. We must find ways to change that thinking if we are to allow writing an important place in our lives. It matters that we … Continue reading
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Writing Poetry for a Clearer, More Centered Self

Writing poetry, no matter what genre you usually work in, is truly an experience of re-creating a self. In writing poems from experience and from meditative and reflective moments, we are the makers of something that helps us come to know ourselves and have increased intimacy with ourselves. From this intimacy comes the creation of … Continue reading
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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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