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.

How to Overcome Writing Procrastination

This week I got a note from a student who said she was looking forward to taking my advice about writing more this year if she could only figure out how to stop working 60 hours a week. I had another student who took a month off work to write important application essays for graduate … Continue reading

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Interview with Writer Katrina Hays

I met Katrina Hays this past summer at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writers’ Writing Workshop’s (RWW) graduation day discussions and ceremony. I was there to talk about how students in the graduate low-residency writing program could choose to work on Writing It Real articles to meet a required “outside experience.” Last year, Tarn Wilson from … Continue reading

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Interview with Margaret D. McGee

Shortly after reading Margaret D. McGee’s gentle, focused book Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment, I emailed her with some questions about her writing and about publishing in the spiritual genre. She graciously wrote back, and here is the content of the emailed conversation that developed: Sheila I enjoyed the … Continue reading

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Finding the Sacred Through Careful Attention

When author Margaret D. McGee moved with her husband David into a house in the woods on the Olympic Peninsula, she started keeping a nature journal. As she formed the practice of writing short entries a few times a week, she realized that paying attention to nature outside her house was beginning to change her … Continue reading

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Interview with the Author of What I Thought I Knew

What I Thought I Knew is a gorgeous collection of life-, love- and spirit-affirming personal essays. In the preface to her book, Barbara Stahura says it this way: Sometimes, I wake up early in my grown-up bed, windows open around it, and hear the distant whistle of trains. It is then I remember that little … Continue reading

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Making Historic Time Real

Recently, I heard from author Linda Collison in response to a Writing It Real e-mailing. Linda and I had met years ago during a visit my husband and I made to the Big Island in Hawaii. She and her husband were friends of the couple who owned the bed and breakfast we stayed at. Linda … Continue reading

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Why Do You Write? How Do You Write? – Part 2

After Rodney Merrill received my answers to his questions about writing and my motivation to write, he sent me an interesting letter about his writing process and his knowledge of what those who study writers say. And he asked me more questions. I tried my best to answer the new questions. It isn’t often that … Continue reading

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Why Do You Write? How Do You Write?

Last fall, doctoral candidate Rodney Merrill sent me a questionnaire about my approach to writing. He was surveying many writers while researching for his dissertation in the area of social constructionist views on writing. I was very taken with his inquiry and ideas and answered the questions. Soon, I interviewed Rodney so Writing It Real … Continue reading

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Thoughts on How to Structure an Essay Collection

When Judith Kitchen, who is Assistant Program Director of Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop, suggested I might want to read a paper by graduating MFA student Hilary Schaper on organizing a collection of personal essays, I was delighted. I enjoyed reading the account of how Hilary studied the structure of such a collection. Believing … Continue reading

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Sudden Writing

One way to tackle subjects you may not feel up to handling is to learn from the strategies of writers who tell stories and/or evoke issues through the use of dialog alone. Their stories are often very short, striking the heart swiftly. The work does not require a lot of set up or description. Instead, … Continue reading

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The Flower That Splits the Rock

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant by Emily Dickinson Tell all the truth but tell it slant— Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth’s superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind— Sometimes, we fear … Continue reading

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An Interview with Nahid Rachlin, Part Two

[This week’s article continues the interview Sheila did with writer Nahid Rachlin for the May, 2008 AWP Chronicle. Part one Sheila What advice do you have for those writing from painful political and family backgrounds? Nahid My advice is that they should give themselves time to understand it all and not be in the state … Continue reading

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An Interview with Nahid Rachlin

This article originally appeared in the AWP Chronicle, May, 2008 Nahid Rachlin has published four novels, Jumping Over Fire, (City Lights), Foreigner (W.W. Norton), Married to a Stranger (E.P.Dutton), The Heart’s Desire (City Lights), and a collection of short stories, Veils (City Lights). Penguin published her memoir Persian Girls in Fall, 2006. Her individual short … Continue reading

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In Our Hands by Arnold Arem, M.D.

“In 1833, British anatomist Sir Charles Bell published a book whose premise was that the very existence of the human hand proved the existence of God.” So opens Arnold (Arnie) Arem’s book In Our Hands: A Hand Surgeon’s Tales of the Body’s Most Exquisite Instrument; from the get-go, we understand that we are in the … Continue reading

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The Perfect Rock

“After Marisa’s first seizure, when the two of us were in the hospital, the nurse told me I was doing a great job, and that I was a wonderful mother.” I read the opening of Betsy MacWhinney’s essay and immediately worried about her daughter. However, as I read further through the essay, my feelings of … Continue reading

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Grooming

Mary Zelinka opens her essay “Grooming” with a statement that lets us know up front that she is going to tell us an emotional story: “I wanted to hate Papa Burke, but by then I loved him too much.” I do not yet know who Papa Burke is, or what his relationship is to the … Continue reading

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Becoming a Woman of Color

“Becoming a Woman of Color” by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor offers a satisfying and moving read. A lyric essay in structure, it is built in sections that each begin with a command: Imagine, Remember, Picture. The symmetry between beginning and ending the essay with the word imagine and the repeated commands of remember and picture sandwiched between … Continue reading

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Using Journals in Nonfiction Writing: Three Excellent Examples

Those of us committed to seeing personal experience in print often consider our journal entries a valuable source and form for literature. Usually, we are thinking of mining our own journals and compiling selected entries, but the three books I discuss this week show us how we might use other people’s journals in creating books. … Continue reading

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Whit Press Founder Claudia Mauro Empowers Community Through the Literary Arts

Last year, poet Susan Rich, a Writing It Real in Port Townsend Writers’ Conference faculty member, told conference goers that she was asked to become a Board member for Whit Press in Seattle. She was pleased about helping a press specifically dedicated to benefiting community groups through the publication of books. This winter, Susan suggested … Continue reading

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Get Your Writing Going this National Poetry Month

With poetry, we mourn the passage of time, celebrate connections, yell out at injustice, cry from the pain of unrequited love and exclaim our joy in love and gratitude.  Over the years, I have known I would start poems because of seeing the wet outline of my husband’s swimming trunks through his slacks as we … Continue reading

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