Sheila’s Presentation About What She’s Learned from Writing, Istanbul, December 2019

I visited Istanbul for almost a month recently, and while I was there, I spent a morning with members of Writing It Real member Yesim Cimcoz’s Yazi Evi (Writing House–you can read Yesim’s essay on the project’s beginning and growth here.) She videotaped my presentation, done in the form of questions and answers. In the … Continue reading

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Your Writing Is Your Worthy Friend

We know that writing requires a kind of sacred attention to what we see, hear, taste, touch and feel in our surroundings and memories. It can be difficult, though, to linger in those places when time flies swiftly by. It is my hope that by naming our writing as a true friend, we will be … Continue reading

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Writing Between Paragraphs An Essay Forms

This week, wanting so much to write on the day that would have been my son’s 44th birthday, but not knowing how to put my heart-filled words on the page, I reread “Canoe” by Sherrie Flick, a story in 446 words about a daughter grieving her father. Those words ultimately inspired an essay for me … Continue reading

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Writing About Grief, Writing to Protest and Take Action

Three mass shootings within seven days. Since January 2019, 979 people injured and 246 dead in such shootings. Waking up each morning to learn what new trick the current administration has for lowering morale in our country and treating people like rodents (that word, “infestation”). The rise in the number of cases doctors in our … Continue reading

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A Note from 40 Years of Teaching Myself and Others to Write

Sometimes I go to sleep with my heart full of sadness. A student’s poem that day about a bicycling daughter killed by a bus as it made a turn, someone’s essay about losing her son to a strep infection that went to his heart, and someone else’s essay about grieving the mother she had and … Continue reading

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Listening to How a Poem Sounds Helps You Write Both Poems and Prose — Meaning is in the Sounds!

[The following article in honor of National Poetry Month appeared in slightly different form in March of 2003.] John Keats created the term “negative capability,” the idea that a poem holds within it one thing as well as its opposite. For example, when we eulogize someone’s death, we also celebrate their life. When we ache … Continue reading

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Flash! It’s a Great Form to Practice!

What is flash writing and why do authors like to write flash pieces? It’s quicker to write than a novel or memoir. It’s a challenge to see how much you can say with a short word limit, up 500 to 1500 or under 300 for microfiction (6 words, 50 words, 101 words, 150 words, 250 … Continue reading

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Staying in a Committed Relationship With Your Writing

According to Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, commitment means “the state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to an ideal or course of action.” Emotionally or intellectually are good words for the writer to fuse. To keep on writing requires both an emotional and cognitive desire. A writer feels pleased and almost propelled to … Continue reading

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Writing Toward a Clearer, More Centered Self Involves Poetry But Don’t Be Afraid!

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, you become the maker of something that builds increased intimacy with your truest self. From this intimacy, you grow by creating a self that is more … Continue reading

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Author Magazine Editor Bill Kenower Interviews Sheila Bender on Creativity and Writing

In this video, I talk for ten minutes with Bill Kenower about my beginnings as a writer and what I know now about the craft and about the value of a life path in writing. Bill asked me some intriguing questions, which I am happy to have answered. I hope you feel inspired to contemplate your … Continue reading

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The Past is Always in the Present, A New Year’s Greeting

About the size of my palm, the orange glass turtle with stout yellow feet has been with me since 1972. We started out in Matawan, New Jersey, where my 7th-grade class presented him to me as a goodbye gift–I was moving to the West Coast with my husband, a transferring medical student. The turtle was … Continue reading

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The Light Had Been Shining

When I was in third grade, my teacher asked me to write a Chanukah play to be presented along with a Christmas play for the kids in my class. I am not sure how she identified me as a writer. Perhaps we wrote stories for class and she liked mine. How did I even know … Continue reading

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Moving an Essay Toward Completion — Pam Robinson’s “Table of Plenty”

Pam Robinson’s entry into the fall 2011 Writing It Real contest is an essay about her memories of her mother’s cooking and life on a farm. As I spend time harvesting onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, various beans, Asian pears and soon apples and second crop radishes from my own garden, I resonate with the harvest … Continue reading

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On Labor Day: What Writers Might Celebrate About Their Vocation

The first Labor Day was celebrated by some on September 5, 1882, when Knights of Labor leader Peter J. McGuire requested that the first Monday in September be a day of rest for American workers. A parade in New York City’s Union Square honored the working people of America. Thousands took the day off to … Continue reading

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To Love the World and Let the World Love You: August Advice for Writing Poetry

August is the Gregorian calendar month named after the Roman Augustus Caesar, the man responsible for spreading the Roman Empire over the earth. He wrote about his great accomplishments, writings some think of as the typical age-old boastings of a politician. However, others wrote after his death that upon innumerable occasions he donated money to … Continue reading

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Stay in the Physical World: How Using Sensory Detail Builds the Inner Story

Creative writing requires that we create experience through our words. We can’t just say a day was amazing, or it was depressing, or that a character felt ecstatic about something without our readers becoming disengaged. If we do that we have created distance between ourselves as writers and our material and, eventually, between the story … Continue reading

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Patricia Hampl, My To-do List and Fiddler on the Roof

I am so enjoying reading Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day. Early in the book, page 18, she records one of her many to-do lists. She says first that she admires Montaigne, know as the father of the personal essay, for his ability to be rather than strive. He didn’t think of himself … Continue reading

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It’s Not that You Make Things Up — You Notice Things, Patricia Hampl in “Timelessness”

It’s summer, oh, those lazy days. When was the last time you had one of those lazy days? If you are lucky, there were one or more of them and not too long ago. But with the political turmoil in our country, the social networking scene, most of us working and/or volunteering, family needs, home … Continue reading

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To Follow Your Words, Not Your Keys, Home

Years ago, a poet friend of mine, Jim Mitsui, ended a poem with an image of people “following their keys home.” That image has lingered with me as a lesson about what the writing life saves us from, which is the dullness of always expecting the expected, and what it requires of us, which is … Continue reading

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Style Is the Wardrobe, Hairdo and Makeup a Storyteller’s Voice Wears

[This article originally appeared online for the Eleven Stories online writing program.– Ed.] My mother called me after the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to talk about the bride’s gown. The daughter of a ladies coats and suit designer, my mother grew up immersed in New York city’s fashion district. She called Markle’s … Continue reading

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Endings Part II–Twists, Surprises, and Morals

Here’s the second part of the series I created for Kahini’s Eleven Stories program. I hope you enjoy the short stories as you follow along on the included documents as I read. And, of course, I hope you enjoy my discussions of these kinds of endings: twists, surprises and morals, oh my!

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An Approach to Writing Flash Nonfiction

Flash prose, sometimes called flash literature, is creative writing between 500 and 1500 words. This term includes further subgenres prose poetry, short essays and vignettes. Like the longer essay, or something now called short memoir, the flash personal essay evokes experience and arrives at discovery through the writer’s telling. Because it is short, it maintains a firm focus … Continue reading

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Sheila Bender Offers Tools for Writers on Breaking Their Silence

Earlier this month, I spoke with Linda Joy Myers of the International Association of Memoir Writers as a guest on her podcast series Breaking the Silence (the player link for you is below). I spoke about tools for getting to your subject when you feel unable to address your material. That happens when you are … 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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Omniscient Narrator–Have fun with the all-seeing!

I’ve made a short video for a program called 11 Stories that has “aired” for the people in that program. I am sharing it with Writing It Real members this week. In the video, I give a lesson on the third-person omniscient point of view in writing.  I think those of you writing flash nonfiction or fiction … 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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The Flash Sequence: A Form for Saying the Unsayable

The flash sequence uses poetic leaps of association for examining the impact of difficult-to-articulate circumstances. Sometimes it is accomplished in journal entries, other times with meditations about place, or people or objects. Sometimes it is composed of collections of scenes. Whatever the container of the sequence, the form is undoubtedly a psychological exploration, often of … Continue reading

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To Explain How a Poem Grows

This winter’s holiday school break, my grandson, now 15 and a half years old and equipped with his driver’s permit, took a two-week intensive driver’s education class. I certainly felt the passage of time as I remembered using an image of my son Seth receiving his driver’s license as I wrote a poem for him … Continue reading

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It’s Writing It Real 2018 Contest Entry Time!

Whether you are writing poetry, fiction or nonfiction, our first contest of 2018 is for you. The theme is: “A New Season.” And that can mean season of the year, turning over a new leaf, of one’s time in life, of one’s health and fitness, or of one’s way of thinking, It can mean taking on … Continue reading

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Write Your Own Manifesto

For several years now, I have been interviewing writers, editors, writing program directors and publishers for ?In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life,? my regular program on KPTZ FM radio. At Writing It Real, we archive the programs, after they have aired, to maintain permanent links to all of the interviews. Over the … Continue reading

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 On Finding Deep Power

What have writers shared about unleashing one?s best and most insightful creative work? G. Lynn Nelson, a professor of English at Arizona State University believes we must undo some of what we have been taught about language and use language in our journals as it was once used-to evoke mystery. In Writing and Being: Taking … Continue reading

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What’s the Writer’s Job? Getting Going and Keeping on Going

When I teach in person, people sometimes show up having purchased a copy of the recently updated edition of my first instructional book on writing: Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down, which I co-authored with Christi Killien Glover. Their interest prompts me to include exercises from that book during our class time together. This week, I’d like to … Continue reading

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Sheila Reads Her Poems for National Poetry Month

For National Poetry Month, tonight I am reading from my own poetry at the link below. For me poetry is an everyday experience and so there aren’t any huge production values or perfect lighting in this video. Just me sharing my poems and talking to you about what I hope poetry accomplishes for humanity. You can … Continue reading

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Finding Starts in Personal Essay Writing: Part 3

Mining the Three Freewrites: Whether you have done these freewrites ( see Part 1 and Part 2) ?in the course of one writing session or over several days, find out what the freewrites have to tell you about an essay you might write by combing through them and jotting down images and phrases that interest … Continue reading

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Finding Starts in Personal Essay Writing: Part 2

[The following article appeared first in “The Heart and Craft and of Life Writing.”] Last week’s article included a freewrite to get you going toward writing on a topic that surprises you or allows you to get into a piece of writing in a way that is new to you. If you haven’t done freewrite … Continue reading

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Finding Starts in Personal Essay Writing: Part 1

[The following article appeared first in “The Heart and Craft and of Life Writing.”] It  might not be obvious that those of us who write personal essays can benefit greatly from not knowing what we have to write about.  That is surprising to people who think of the essay as researched knowledge with a professorial, … Continue reading

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The Way I See It

“The Way I See It” is the “Prologue” from Writing Personal Essays: Sharing and Shaping Your Life Experience, Published in print and digitally by Sheila Bender’s Writing It Real, March, 2017 [Note: I wrote a slightly different version of this essay for the 1995 edition of my book. Everything I realized then remains important to … Continue reading

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Acknowledging the Value of Your Writing: Exercises for Week One and Two of Four

I have been teaching a class called “Writing is a Friend with Extraordinary Benefits” for a couple of years now through Women on Writing. I have been extremely engaged in what my students write and thrilled by the evidence that by writing from certain models the writers have reaffirmed their belief in the value of writing. After … Continue reading

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A Writer’s Role Models: Canadian Author Miriam Towes and Her 15-Year-Old Character Elfrieda

This week, I have made a video for Writing It Real’s Weekly Article. In it, I share a passage from Canadian author Miriam Toews’ novel All My Puny Sorrows in which a talented 15-year-old piano player exercises her genius against the unwelcome authoritarianism of the Mennonite elders, who “willy nilly” as the girl’s mother says, … Continue reading

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Toward Beginning A Year of Writing Poetry (Or Improving Your Prose Through Poetry)

For January: Dreams and Repetitions In this month of the inauguration of a new president of our country, it seems particularly appropriate and important to study the orators of our great nation who called out for freedoms we enjoy. Reading the words of Dr. King, Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama, we can experience the power … Continue reading

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Understanding Your Writing and Your Need to Write

How does one muster the courage to keep writing even when no one has asked for her to write? How does a writer handle restlessness and disappointment? The author Ralph Keyes writes in The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear that when he started out as a writer, he had no idea that courage … Continue reading

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My Sure Fire Methods of Self-Sabotage (and What I’ve Done to Turn Them Around)

We’ll soon be thinking about the New Year’s Resolutions we want to make for 2017. For those who write, at least one of those resolutions will likely be about finding more time to write. I know that’s what I’d like to find in 2017. It’s not enough, though, to resolve to find that time. I … Continue reading

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A Passion for Writing Might Save Us in These Times

What are we writers to do in a nation where so many young and old seem to have gone mad, publically shouting and bullying, using crude names for those of the female sex and for people of non-Christian religions and for people of color — here in a country where over decades we?ve: Passed legislation … Continue reading

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Deepen Your Writing: 20 Prompts Using Point of View

Many of us writing memoir are used to writing from the first person (I) point of view. Others of us write fiction in the first person, often as an autobiographically-based main character. Some of us write in third person (he or she) when we want to tell an autobiographical story but feel too close to … Continue reading

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We Write to Feel and to Make Others Feel What is Genuine

When someone asks (or you ask yourself) why you write, I bet that many of the motivations you think to cite are on this list: • to understand your experience, • because you have a story in your heart, • because you can’t keep yourself from writing, • because you hope at least one other person on the … 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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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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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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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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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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Beach House: How do writers get the conscious mind to meld with the unconscious?

What follows is Chapter Five from the forthcoming updated edition of Writing In A New Convertible with the Top Down: A Unique Guide for Writers. In 1992, Christi Killien Glover and I began an exchange of letters to explore and articulate our writing processes. We wanted to help new writers invest in the magic of … Continue reading

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A Lesson About the Value of Writing from Henrik Ibsen’s Play Peer Gynt

Flying home from Scandinavia in late August, a little uncomfortable in the cramped airline seat, I was remembering stretching my legs on a trip I’d made to Norway years before. That time, I accompanied my daughter to a linguistics conference. She was still nursing her second baby, and she wanted to take him with her … 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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On Writing Personal Essays: Rest Assured, It’s More Than “Only” the Personal

As personal essayists, we sometimes worry whether people will be interested in what we have to say since our material is “just” personal experience. That worry exists alongside its cousins “Who am I to write about this or to tell my family’s secrets?” and “What if my experience rubs people the wrong way and is judged harshly by others, especially people … Continue reading

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Writing Dispatch from Denmark: Northern Jutland Pantoum

I am in Denmark for the month of August visiting my daughter and her family. She and her husband are here working, and the international school my grandsons attended is out for the summer. My job is being nanny, but it’s more like company, for the boys. An enthusiastic traveler, Emily makes sure weekends are full. On my first … Continue reading

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An Ode to the Author of Blue Willow

I was reading a magazine article recently in which authors wrote about pivotal books they’ve read. What book would I name, I wondered. Immediately, I saw myself at my fourth grade desk in the 1950’s at Franklin Elementary School in Union Township, New Jersey. I am unwrapping a book I ordered from the Scholastic Book … Continue reading

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Digesting World News

This essay originally appeared in Writing It Real August 2006. The question I was exploring is still one many of us ask when we consider the world’s situation: Where is our writing in all this? How should it matter? Every time I open my computer, I look at the upper right-hand corner of the screen to … Continue reading

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Are You Worrying About What’s Happened to Your Creativity?

Our creativity is an eternal light. It burns even when we are not paying attention to it. It doesn’t need relighting so much as finding where it lights our path.

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On the Courage to Create

Creativity in one’s thinking and in one’s art is unsettling, both to the artist and to audiences. The courage to create must be born again and again.

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Where Does Creativity Start?

You may think that being creative requires that you have an idea for a finished product. But an important attribute of creativity is that it produces what it will, not necessarily what you were thinking it ought to. You may think creativity requires completing laborious hours of work. But many people experience creativity seeming to … 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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A New Year’s Vow: Believe What You Have to Say Is Worth Writing

Whether we live on farms or in city apartments, grow up in logging camps or in suburban homes, move all over the world or remain in just one town, take on unusual jobs or work at home, we too often get to thinking that whatever we would write would not be important or interesting enough … Continue reading

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Our Writing Minds Depend on This

Writing depends on our willingness to observe closely and our ability to allow ourselves to engage emotionally with what we are observing. So often, though, we don’t remember to take time to look around rather than look only at our screens because of the mad crush of email, texts, instant messages, facebook posts, tweets, and … Continue reading

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On Writing for Weddings

In writing a wedding speech, we reflect upon our lives, our hopes and dreams and the hard work of relationship.

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A Keynote Address Using Personal Experience

As the writers among our circles of family, friends, colleagues and associates, we are often approached to write addresses and eulogies, toasts and speeches. On September 19, 2013, I presented the keynote address at Providence Hospice of Seattle’s annual Pediatric Luncheon. It is a fundraiser for the organization’s work with grieving and terminally ill children and … Continue reading

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In May I Rush to Use Sensory Details

As adults, we are so used to summarizing and editorializing. We have learned that abstractions are considered “smart” in writing and having opinions makes us sound even smarter. That’s what our teachers wanted from us on papers and on essay tests. But creative writing, whether that is in poetry, fiction, personal essay or in longer … Continue reading

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Five Tips for Inspiring Quality Writing from Life Experience

Tip #1 — Find An Occasion Poet Stanley Plumly says that poems must weigh more at the end than they do at the beginning. As with poetry, the personal essay and memoir supply a vehicle for writers to find out what matters and to feel the weight of what matters. As writers, we take ourselves, and … Continue reading

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Our Dreams Choose Us

After I began studying with poets at the University of Washington in the early 80’s, I had a closet in my bedroom under my house’s eaves converted into a writing nook with a skylight. Sitting there at night, I could see the stars and sometimes the moon. During the day, sunshine and Seattle’s famous clouds, … Continue reading

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You Are My Heroes — A Letter to Writers

You may have taken time away from writing while preparing for the holidays, but now’s the time to jump back in to reach your writing goals. This week’s article from the Writing It Real archives first appeared in 2006. If offers support for taking the place of writing in your life seriously and a writing … Continue reading

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The Holiness of the Heart’s Affections

The following article about trusting our need to write was first published in Writing It Real on December 25, 2003.  As this year draws to a close, it seems timely again to remember that as artists, we must overcome  whatever lack of courage  we harbor and meet the world’s sadness as well as its joy with … 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 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-fiancĂ© unfolded. Bearing witness to their emotional defenses and behavior as well as the ineffectual and sometimes cruel expressions … 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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Trim Twist Demonstrator

Have you ever come across a call for submissions for a themed anthology or special issue of a magazine and thought, “Oh, I have something I could write that would fit”? Combing the submissions-wanted section in Poets & Writer’s magazine and signing up with Creative Writing Opportunities to receive daily emails about literary magazines and … Continue reading

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In Celebration of Behind Us the Way Grows Wider: Thoughts on a few of my poems

Last week, Pixelita Press published Behind Us the Way Grows Wider, a collection of my poems from 1980 to the present. To celebrate, I am sharing some of the poems and my commentary about them. As the title suggests, the book starts with my earlier poems and continues through my latest poems. Here is one … Continue reading

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Two Old Dogs and a Reverent: 15 Musings on Persona

-1- I am reading Garth Stein’s novel Racing in the Rain. I am drawn in by the narrator, a dog named Enzo. As I read, I remember two other works in which dogs narrate–Billy Collins’ poem “The Revenant” and Eugene O’Neill’s essay, “The Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O’Neill.” In all of these … Continue reading

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Some of My Favorite Answers For Writers

A good interview calls forth the best from an interviewee, and I am pleased that I have had such opportunities to articulate the thoughts and experiences that shaped me as a writer and writing teacher.  Here are answers I’ve reread recenting and find worth repeating to others as well as to myself: I was honored … Continue reading

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To Write is to Observe: Learning This Again on a Trip to Turkey

To Write is to Observe: Learning This Again on a Trip to Turkey In Mid-May, I took a trip to Turkey with 11 women writers. Susan Bono and I gathered participants who met together for four days of touring Istanbul. Our Turkish counterpart, writer and teacher Yesim Cimcoz and her student Fusun Centinel put together walking … Continue reading

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Four Tricks that Keep a Writer Going

Don’t Think. Write! Many authors who write about writing say, “Don’t think. Write!” I am one of them. But I also think it is fair to say to those who write, “Don’t think. Play!” If you allow yourself to play when you come to the page, you are more likely to create a unique world … Continue reading

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Carrying the Raindrops – Journey to Writing Poetry

Just after she’d learned to walk, my 15-month-old daughter and I spent a cloudy afternoon at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.  Her favorite animals were the birds that wandered the grounds because she saw she could send them into flight by toddling towards them.  A day later, we saw ourselves in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  A reporter … Continue reading

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A New Year’s Greeting

Dear Writers, It’s New Year’s time, time to reflect and encourage ourselves to set goals we long to achieve. For me, it’s also the time of year that marks the anniversary of the snowboarding accident that took my son’s life. At the end of December 2000, friends and family gathered in Seattle and in Port … Continue reading

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On Writing Grief

At times of loss, those of us who write have a strong tool to use in working through our emotions. Whether our loss is a pregnancy, a child, a spouse, a parent, a marriage, our health, a job, an opportunity or a location, writing can help us find a sense of our new selves, selves … Continue reading

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Writing About A Road Not Taken

Most of us regret having taken actions regarding life decisions because of fear or confusion or not wanting to disappoint others. How our lives would be different now if we had seized the opportunities life presented is something we can’t know. And we may be perfectly happy in our current lives even as we retell … Continue reading

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Building My Writing Life

In classes and at writers’ workshops, people often want to know how they can make their lives writing lives. Many ask how they can begin to earn income from writing. The answers to both questions vary, depending on what kind of writing they want to create, whether they want to write for print publications or … Continue reading

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What Good Talking!

The first time I taught a seminar in keeping a writer’s journal, I was stuck with the fact that everyone around the table said they enrolled partly to develop discipline as a writer. They came to class believing that learning the discipline of keeping a journal could be a foundation for being a “real writer.”  … Continue reading

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Letter to Christi on December 27, 2010

In 1992, my colleague Christi Killien and I published Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down with Warner Books. It is a book of correspondence between the two of us about writing, the craft tools we’d learned and the way our ideas and words came from our personal experiences, especially those with our children. … Continue reading

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What is Poetry?

William Wordsworth famously defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and Emily Dickinson explained the sensation of poetry this way, “If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.” Today, Mark Flanagan writes for About.com that poetry is “the … Continue reading

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What is Creative Writing?

These last few months, I’ve been researching for a book I’m writing for McGraw-Hill’s education department. It’s called Creative Writing Demystified and is meant for use in high school and college classrooms. Creative writing is a broad term that covers a lot of ground, and when I share this title with writers I know, they … 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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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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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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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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Trusting Scrappiness

I have been reading Sebastian Matthews’ book, In My Father’s Footsteps: A Memoir, about growing up the son of the late poet William Matthews. I was fortunate to have William Matthews as my thesis advisor at the University of Washington. Years after my graduation from the program in creative writing, I edited a book about … Continue reading

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As the Dark Days Move into Light

In October, my publisher’s essay spoke about the way I wrote and read poetry to help me after losing my 25-year-old son Seth in a snowboarding accident on December 27, 2000: When I finished one particular poem, I saw that not only did I hurt from profound helplessness to keep Seth from dying, I also … Continue reading

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Thoughts Upon the Birthday of My Son Seth, 1975-2000

My son Seth Bender, to whom Writing It Real is dedicated, would have turned 31 this October 1. He died in a snowboarding accident December 27, 2000, the year he was 25. In the months following the tragedy, the only connection I could feel strongly was to the sun. Certainly, it could have been because … Continue reading

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Digesting World News August, 2006

Every time I open Yahoo on my computer, I look at the upper right-hand corner of the screen to type in what I am searching for and avoid looking at the left-hand area with its news images of death and destruction. When I listen to radio news or watch news on television, I feel too … Continue reading

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You are My Heroes

It isn’t an easy path to write from personal experience. There are no guarantees that editors will want to publish what we have to say and no guarantees that we will successfully find a way to say it, publication or not.  What is guaranteed is that committing words to the page and revising our writing … Continue reading

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Writing is Like Junking

During the winter holidays and New Year’s season, I usually search my files for writing I’ve done on previous holiday seasons, just to see what I was thinking in other years. Looking through my files this past week, I became interested in writing I did a decade ago, when I was exchanging letters with Christi … Continue reading

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A Note to Students of Writing

I once created a daily writing exercise for myself by opening the dictionary to random pages and, eyes closed, circling my finger until it landed on a word.  “This is something like throwing the I Ching,” I thought.  I read the definitions of the words my fingers landed on and wrote the words at the … Continue reading

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Near the Light

We benefit from writing about how something important to us became a passion. Reliving the decisions leading up to reshaping our lives around our passions and reflecting on how our efforts changed us, we learn more about our journeys.  When we read accounts of others following their dreams, we experience the exhilaration of overcoming obstacles … Continue reading

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Try Your Hand at Fiction

Summers in Port Townsend, WA, an arts organization called Centrum hosts a ten-day writers conference.  It is a sensational time, with nationally known poets and writers teaching participants who are serious about writing. Highlights include craft lectures and readings in a small auditorium across from tennis courts at the State Park entrance.  Almost twenty-five years … Continue reading

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The Holiness of the Heart’s Affections

I recently came across the following quote from German philosopher Karl Jaspers whose work influenced theology and psychology: Truth, he wrote,  “only appears in time as a reality-through-communication. Abstracted from communication, truth hardens into an unreality.” For those of us who write from personal experience this means that our words supply the necessary blood, tissues, … Continue reading

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Behind the Scenes

This essay first appeared in slightly different form in The Diarist’s Journal, Volume II, Issue #2 The first week of my first graduate poetry-writing workshop at the University of Washington, our teacher William Matthews came to class in paint-stained clothes.  A new arrival at the University, he was just moving into his house on Seattle’s … Continue reading

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