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.

Writing Between the Lines: A Personal Essay Writing Idea

I receive news headlines online from the Washington Post. It is unusual for one of their tech headlines to capture my interest, let alone to inspire a creative writing idea. But yesterday, a headline about a tech book review caught my eye because of the book’s title: The Human Face of Big Data: How information … Continue reading
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Community “Book-Excerpt” Book Club – Considering the Work of AE Russell

Once a month, we’ll post selections from an author’s work for the Writing It Real community to contemplate, consider and remark upon as writers. I’ll follow each month’s excerpt with questions to spark comments from Writing It Real readers. We’ll all grow as a result of considering the associations, thoughts, understandings and arguments that arise. … Continue reading
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A Holiday Letter

After a request from a Writing It Real member to write more on the topic of composing holiday letters, I decided first to write my holiday letter and see what lessons came. I started with the scene of a recent night’s wakefulness and let that scene lead me to associations concerning some of the events … Continue reading
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Want to Start a Fresh Essay? Write From What is Unsolved

If you have been having difficulty finding topics or ways into the areas that you most want to explore in your writing, try the following exercise I developed from reading Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet to refresh your approach to writing personal essays. You may want to send your results in as entries to … Continue reading
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A Writing Lesson from the Journaling Ideas of Author David Mas Masumoto

This time of year we cope with a lot of activity. Social engagements and gift shopping, worrying about how to spread a gift buying budget around and the need to travel distances or entertain out-of-town family sweep away our writing time. Sometimes, our very sense of ourselves as writers disappears. Ironically, this very same time … Continue reading
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The Enneagram and Me: Writing Is My Spiritual Practice

In 1988, while I was living in Berkeley with my husband Kurt, who was on a computer network assignment, I came across a book: The Enneagram: An Ancient system for Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life,by Helen Palmer. I couldn’t put the book down as I read descriptions of nine personality types and found … Continue reading
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Glimmer Train Comes Through

Earlier this year, I submitted a story to Glimmer Train, a fine literary magazine that boasts, “Each quarterly issue presents about 260 pages of literary fiction—eight to twelve brand new stories by luminaries and fresh new voices making their way into print. A feast of fiction!” My story wasn’t accepted, but receiving the editor’s copyrighted … Continue reading
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Three Waters for Success

According to a Japanese Shinto tale, Enchin, a priest from Nara, was told in a vision to look for the clear water origin of the Yodo River. After a long search, he stumbled upon a place deep in a forest where mist, like a belt of white clouds, hung over a waterfall at the foot … Continue reading
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Love Letters from a Fat Man by Naomi Benaron

Author Stuart Dybeck was the final judge for the 2006 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. I imagine his delight when he read Naomi Benaron’s original and moving collection Love Letters from a Fat Man. How could he not have chosen the volume as the winning manuscript? From its title story, which comes first … Continue reading
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Good Neighbors Bad Times by Mimi Schwartz

When writer Mimi Schwartz hears a story during a trip to Israel that corroborates the one her late father used to tell, she is compelled to conduct an ambitious research project about her father’s birthplace, a village where, he said, Christians and Jews lived cooperatively for hundred of years, a village where Christians remained supportive … Continue reading
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Today is Under Construction

Built of timber over the years from 1601 to 1626 as a residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns, the Nijo Castle in Kyoto is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I walk in the July heat toward the building’s large winged roof with my daughter Emily, one of her graduate students Laurie, and my eldest … Continue reading
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Collect Tidbits, Meditations and Musings

In this exercise, we are going to build an essay, piece of fiction or a poem with inspiration from fiction writers Ron Carlson and Lisa Shea and poet Bill Matthews. You’ll start, without knowing where this might lead, by imitating the style, grammar and strategies these writers used in the journal excerpts they contributed to … Continue reading
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Suzan Huney’s “Choice Bits”

At a writing conference workshop on developing the personal essay, Suzan Huney read the draft of an essay spawned by thumbing through her address book.  Her musings on the people she found in her book led to memories of her grandmother’s address book and then to consulting it directly. As she continued her drafting process, … Continue reading
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