Tell It Slant: Author Brenda Miller on Writing Creative Nonfiction and a Generous Excerpt from the Book

Introduction to an Excerpt from Tell it Slant (Available from Powell’s and Amazon as well as your favorite bookseller). By Brenda Miller In 2001, when Suzanne Paola and I began talking about writing a textbook for creative nonfiction, no such book existed. We had been cobbling together our own instructional materials for years, and together … 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 the Emotionally Important Scenes

A Princeton professor I once read while for some reason I had no pen or device to record his name and the name of the article wrote that when we read a novel we are speeding up time as one book can contain may days, months, and years. But when we write, he said, we … Continue reading

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Writing in Letter Form (Epistolary Writing) Keeps You Going

I am reposting an article form the 2012 archives with exercises for using the epistolary form to stay inspired and to keep writing. I had been a reader of letters to Ann Landers and other newspaper columnists to whom the public wrote well into my teens. Even after my own children were grown, I continued … Continue reading

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Beating Artlessness to Heal and Save Ourselves and Hopefully, Our World

Emma Lazarus’ 1893 sonnet engraved on a plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty has been made famous again this week. The New Colossus Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs … 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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Tattle Phone, a Writing Exercise

A few months ago, I was listening to Ira Glass on NPR while doing an errand. He was talking with David Kestenbaum about a preschool experiment in which kids were encouraged to say their complaints about unfairness into an unconnected red telephone in the classroom rather than to the teacher, who was tired of the … Continue reading

We All Have Opinions: The Argument and Persuasion Essay

Following the opinion pieces by Amy Hewes posted over the past two weeks, here is instruction on writing the argument and persuasion personal essay. It appeared in Writing It Real in 2014. I look forward to hearing from you in the comment section about your own experience writing in this form and about how this … Continue reading

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Writing to Explore Influence and Admiration, Part 2

Many of us know the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night“ by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who is pleading in his famous villanelle that his father not easily give in to death.  The archetype of the father is strong in all of us, even if our own fathers remain enigmas to … Continue reading

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Writing to Explore Influence and Admiration, Part 1

Writing a litany of praise for anyone to whom you owe gratitude for life lessons will work in interesting ways if you take on the seemingly unpraiseworthy as if it were praiseworthy. You will get interesting results that push your writing past easy sentimentality or blinding anger to the important waters of insight. Praising What … Continue reading

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Learning from Others’ Pieces Written in the Second Person

A participant in my recent online class,”You: Writing in the Second Person” shared a website with us: Dead Housekeeping: Moody Home Tips, which features a string of short pieces in the second person contributed by writers on subjects as disparate as how to feed the yellow cat, how to have a house guest, and how … 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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In a Season of Lists, Write a Litany to Help Yourself Keep Writing

It is holiday time and amidst the tornado-like whirl of shopping, decorating, traveling, baking, cooking, and gathering with family, friends, colleagues and community, of offering help in shelters and churches, it may seem hard to write. And even harder still to write to discover what is at the bottom of our hearts and minds. The … Continue reading

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A Joke and a Limerick: Two Kernels for Good Writing

The two flash stories I am sharing this week offer you kernels for writing clever stories yourself. A Story with a Joke at Its Center Click over to “World’s Best Joke” https://www.passagesnorth.com/archives/issue-34/worlds-best-joke/ by Allen Woodman, one of my favorite short, short stories. I came across it in a book of flash fiction called Flash Fiction Funny edited … Continue reading

I Can’t Get Enough of Flash Memoir!

Writing Flash Memoir is great exercise for writers. I’ve been experiencing this in my own writing and editing and in the classes I have been teaching online and in-person. Getting to the point and writing tight while still relying on details to move the reader into the story and move the story forward to its poignant, … Continue reading

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Taking Inspiration from Allen Ginsberg’s Poems to Have My Say

Tuesday, as I waited for election returns, I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” written in 1955, so full of despair at what he had seen around him. I wondered what I would howl when I found out whether or not Democrats had gained a majority in the House of Representatives and, therefore, become able … Continue reading

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A Gander at Propaganda

“The Institute for Propaganda Analysis: Protecting Democracy in Pre-World War II America,” an article authored by Zachary Reisch and kept in the Bryn Mawr Institutional Library, offers clarification about the exploration of propaganda in our country. “What is democracy?” Reisch asks and he goes on: This is the question that liberals in late 1930s America … Continue reading

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A Wonderful Genre: Models and Lessons to Help You Write Flash

For the past month, I have been teaching an online class in writing in the flash subgenre. Last Saturday, I taught an all-day in-person seminar on the genre. So, this week, I am sharing some of my lesson ideas and links to model flash pieces, which I hope will encourage you to try your hand … Continue reading

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Hiring the Journal Keeper (and/or the Writer Within)

  …the heart…and the learned skills of the conscious mind… make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Mary OliverA Poetry Handbook Whether you are someone who sets out to write poems, essays, stories or articles or keeps journals, the thinking and analogy I make in this excerpt from my … Continue reading

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Double Issue: Writing Exercises to Inspire You to Write

Here is a collection of writing ideas to keep you going for days as our schedules start to fill with fall commitments and shorter daylight. Let the Seasons’ Personas Inspire You to Write It’s the change of seasons now. Some of us feel crisp, chilly air as September wanes. Others of us may find other … Continue reading

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The Change in the Trees, How Strong the Wind is Blowing

As I update an earlier book of mine, A Year in the Life: Journaling for Self-Discovery, I will be sharing some of my favorite writing exercises with you over the next few weeks. Here’s the first of several lessons I am enjoying revisiting: A Lesson From Morrie and Rilke Many of us have read Tuesdays … 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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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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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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Enliven Your Fiction or Memoir by Weaving Complications into Your Story

Here is an article, originally posted in 2003 that deserves our writing attention again. In The Writer’s Idea Workshop, author Jack Heffron sets himself the task of letting his readers know what to do after a first draft is on the page.  In his manuscript, he writes: As we move deeper into the project we’re developing, … 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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Recipes for Living Our Lives

We all have favorite recipes we’ve used for food preparation and sets of instructions we have followed to succeed in putting something together. What recipes or instruction sets might we write up concerning what we have learned in negotiating other aspects of our lives: instructions for facing disaster, surviving loss, or failure? What would we … Continue reading

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For Writers, “Finders Keepers” Can Mean “Finders Re-arrangers”

[This article appeared in slightly different form in 2014 — ed.] As writers, our ears are tuned for measuring the quality of the words we hear around us. Sometimes, our ears catch speech we think is pure poetry or could be if read that way. We find that with a little rearranging these words express more humor, more … 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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A Writing Exercise to Help You Arrive at Deep Material

Many say that the hardest part of writing is moving from daily activities to being able to create work that transcends the daily. There are ways, though, to launch new writing that unexpectedly gets you to your deepest material while allowing you to make the shift easily. What follows is an exercise that is meant … Continue reading

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Writers’ Strategies, Questions, And a Writing Exercise

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing memoirist and novelist Pam Houston. At the time of the interview, her book, Contents May Have Shifted, was Port Townsend?s Community Read. I did the taping on behalf of our local library. In this podcast, Pam talks about her writing and, in particular, the writing … Continue reading

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Cider Mills and Burning Leaves: Writing Fall

For us in northern states, fall brings shorter daylight, leaves to rake and cider mills to visit where we sip fresh apple cider and eat sweet doughnuts. We fill a nip in the air. In warm climates, fall begins the season of visitors with full hotels, gift shops and restaurants. Around the country Thanksgiving dinners … Continue reading

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Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait on the Wall, A Writing Exercise

Years ago one of my writing students wrote this line in class, “Ms. Failure paints her self-portrait, then hangs it on a wall in your world without asking permission.” He was speaking, he told us, of a time when he was “not facing the realities of the world.” His imagined self-portrait both set him straight … Continue reading

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Writing of the Body: Metaphor Making is Food for the Soul

In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes about a client he saw in counseling who was having problems with food and dreamt that her esophagus was made of plastic and wasn’t reaching her stomach. Moore says: The esophagus is an excellent image of one of the soul’s chief functions: to transfer material … Continue reading

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What is Epistolary Writing? Why Write in Epistolary Form?

The word epistolary comes from the Greek epistol?, which means “letter.” Writers use the letter form in writing personal essays, poems, creative nonfiction and fiction because the form provides a ready-made container to hold an exploration of events and experiences. Writing in the letter form quickly builds intimacy with readers because a letter is addressed to someone … Continue reading

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Hide & Seek: Using Childhood Games for Writing Prompts and Metaphors

In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum writes about hiding in a pile of leaves in his front yard and not being found by the game’s seeker. He likens this hiding-too-well as a kid to a doctor who was dying of cancer but never told anybody because he didn’t … Continue reading

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Writing as a Walker in the City (Or Anywhere)

Writers write. That’s the definition. And sometimes, we-who-write feel cranky and rebellious toward our job. That can lead to not writing and then to becoming upset with ourselves for not writing, for not being writers. For the prompts I share this week, I’ve taken inspiration from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”  and from the poet … Continue reading

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Reading Tarn Wilson’s The Slow Farm as a Writer Reads

For this video lesson, I have selected three passages from a memoir I love and admire, Tarn Wilson’s The Slow Farm.  I discuss them as a lesson on using details and sensory information to evoke the point-of-view of a memoir’s protagonist–the writer’s. Here Tarn is using her point-of-view as young a child. We learn at … 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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Continuing: A Short Study of Writing Memoir As an Accumulation of Short Pieces

It may seem hard to imagine how to write a life in short pieces rather than with a more traditional narrative arc, but it works. Here are excerpts from memoirs-made-of-pieces that I like very much: Excerpts from Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How to Like It. Excerpt from Kim Stafford’s 100 Tricks Any Boy Can Do: … Continue reading

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A Three-Part Study Guide to Writing Short Memoir

Part One To get a feel for short memoir, you might enjoy reading from Writers’ Digest magazine’s column called “5-Minute Memoir.”  Here are links to a few of the columns: Writing from the Mat Hidden in Plain Sight The Beauty of Bones Here is a column I wrote for the October 2012 issue: Writing Grief … Continue reading

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Admiring and Learning from Flash Writing by Jim Heynen

I have been an eager reader of flash stories by Jim Heynen for years. I’ve read The Man Who Kept Cigars Under His Cap, One-Room School House: Stories About the Boys, The Boy’s House: New and Selected Stories as well as his newest collection Ordinary Sins: Stories. You can visit this web page to view … Continue reading

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A Useful Review for Employing the Five Senses in Writing Scenes

In writing, we only feel included as readers when our senses are involved. As we read with our senses involved, we learn more about ourselves and others by encountering the way the others record surroundings through their senses. As writers, we have a fuller picture when we allow our characters and ourselves as speakers to … Continue reading

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Finding the Motto Writer Within

We are motto (and affirmation) happy in our culture. We circulate phrases from manufacturers and social service organizations from “Just do it” to “Just say no,” from “You deserve a break today” to “I brake for animals.” After I studied creative writing in graduate school and was publishing poetry, I was just starting to use … Continue reading

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Burying the Dutch Oven: A Writing Exercise for Discovery

A writing colleague of mine once shared in an essay that when she angrily broke up with a beloved college boyfriend under duress because her father didn’t like him, she took the Dutch oven they used for cooking and buried it in the backyard before she left. The topic of the essay was finding him … 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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Acknowledging the Value of Your Writing, Part 4

Creating Self-Understanding Despite Fears of Revealing Your Own Shortcomings and True Experience Before we see what writers have said on the issue of fear about revealing oneself through writing, try this exercise: Select four or so pieces of your writing. Look for nouns that you used more than you knew you did. Circle these words … Continue reading

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Acknowledging the Value of Your Writing Part 3 of 4

Healing Through the Dark Emotions From journal writing to writing finished plays, memoir, poems and fiction, writers evoke and examine encounters with the dark emotions incited by misfortune, abuse, divorce, severe lack of confidence, fear of difficult and horrifying situations in our world, as well as the loss of a loved one or of a … 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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Writing About Painful Topics

My friend, the essayist Brenda Miller, wrote the introduction to my memoir A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. “I understood then,” she wrote, “that grief can be a channel in which you swim alone, where you can also find your brethren as they flicker along beside you, their bodies gliding … Continue reading

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Help Writing Scenes That Engage the Reader (and the Writer)

In 2005, I posted an article with excerpts from Riding in Cars with Boys by Beverly Donofrio’s and A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries by Kaylie Jones along with exercises based on their writing. I am reposting the following short excerpts along with the ideas I had aimed at helping you launch new writing of your … Continue reading

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Writing the Eulogy

As my mother?s 90th birthday approaches, my husband and I have sorted through photographs from nine decades of her life. He is making a photo essay book to be given to her this Sunday and shared with guests at the party we are making. As we sorted, I reached into a manila envelope and to … Continue reading

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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What It Takes – An Exercise to Keep You Writing

This time of year, we are often flooded with memories of our childhoods, especially of winter holiday times. Some of the memories may be of difficulties and some may be of times filled with excitement and joy. Happy or sad, peaceful or filled with anxiety, these memories can lead to vivid writing. In drafting writing … Continue reading

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‘Tis the Season for Lists

[Note: I originally posted the following article in December, 2007. It’s holiday preparation time again and lists keep us sane. They can also keep us writing! Try the exercise I am suggesting based on writing lists poems. Try it more than once during this season of shopping lists, invitation lists and gift lists.] You might … Continue reading

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Openings That Make You Continue Writing

Often, we feel we can’t start writing because we are not inspired. Or we feel that we have become “flat” as writers when we look at what we have written. Here are 10 writing prompts inspired by the opening lines of novels, films and a short story. I believe that working from any of these … Continue reading

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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Focus on Emotions Using the Epistolary (Letter) Form

The late poet Richard Hugo was for many years head of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missoula in Montana. In 1977, during a time of insecurity and writer’s block, he published a small volume of poems entitled 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, in which he addressed his poems to contemporary poets and to people of importance to him. … Continue reading

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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What the Teacher Was Thinking

Whatever our role in life, however well we perform in it, there is always the not knowing if we are doing it right, if what we are trying to accomplish will be accomplished. Sometimes that situation offers us a prompt we can use for writing. As a writing teacher, I spend many of the minutes … Continue reading

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23 Prompts for Revising

Author Joyce Carol Oates says, “The pleasure is the rewriting.” Author John Irving says, “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.” I enjoy revising and … Continue reading

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20 Memoir and Personal Essay Writing Prompts

Exploring your life on the page is daunting whether you are writing short memoir (the personal essay) or a book-length manuscript. Where does one start? How does one choose the highlights for the story’s exploration? How does one find surprises? Here are 20 ideas to find a point of entry and to organize your memoir … Continue reading

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Rants and Raves — A Great Writing Strategy from Karen Lorene

“If I’d only known what was in this book forty years ago, how much more money would I have made and how fewer problems would I have encountered?” Karen wonders. Isn’t that true for all of us in our lives—if we knew what we know now we could have done better at what mattered to … Continue reading

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Writing the Dear Mom Letter with Deborah Berger

 Deborah Berger asked women to write letters about what they never told their mothers.  Ultimately, she edited a selection of the contributions, along with profiles of their authors, into Dear Mom, Women’s Letters of Love, Loss and Longing. In her introduction to the work, she writes, “We are always linked to our mothers: both to … Continue reading

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Finding Form

Tarn Wilson delivered this paper for a panel on “Hydra-Headed Memoirs & Well-Connected Essays” at the 2015 Nonfiction Now conference. I am delighted to have her permission to post her words for Writing It Real readers. Tarn’s lovely memoir is The Slow Farm. She uses her experience writing it to inform other writers about her … 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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If You Want to Write…

This week, Judy Reeves, author of the new book, Wild Women, Wild Voices, shares her thoughts on writing practice. Here article serves as a good review for all of us who are busy concentrating on revising and publishing and may have begun to overlook the idea of what a writing practice is and offers. She … 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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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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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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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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Writing the Interruptions

In her book, Marry Your Muse, Jan Philips writes about a day at a mountain cabin when she and her partner were spending time writing. Jan’s cousins, ages 10 and 12, showed up at the door. When Jan told the girls that she and Annie were very busy writing, the girls said they understood, that … 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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You Could Be Writing, Not Waiting to Write: Four Very Portable Short Forms

Before appointments, when a meeting hasn’t started, when a bus hasn’t come, when a friend is late, when you have finished something and still have time before the next thing in your day, when you arrive early to work — do you write or reflexively check your email or text a friend or leaf through … Continue reading

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It Wraps Back on Itself: Writing the Roundel

This, my second week in Denmark visiting my daughter and her family, I continued with my idea of writing more poetry in form. I flipped through the book my younger grandson, who had used it in third grade, had given me, A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, and stopped on … 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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The Interview: A Way to Write More Complex Characters in Your Memoir

Often when I try to write about my mother the same details surface. In my childhood memories she is always busy either working or participating on different committees; when she is home she is tired and does not like to cook. Now that I am an adult, my mother and I talk on the telephone … Continue reading

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Writing Prompts To Anchor Summer

Originally published in in the summer of 2005, this article is filled with writing exercises inspired by the summer holidays. I think they will come in handy again to help you keep on writing, even though summer is loaded with traditional holiday social demands and active outdoor recreation. Learning the history of holidays can provide writers with prompts that … Continue reading

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Writing Your Way in the Back Door: The Painting as Entry

Christine Hemp offers us her thinking about how we may find our prose and poetry’s true subjects followed by a writing exercise for practice and two sample poems. [This article and exercise were originally published in Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, from Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, edited by Sherry … Continue reading

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Celebrating and Learning from Poets — Final Four!

As April and National Poetry Month come to an end, we finish our series of poets on their poems. Stan Rubin, Michael Spence, Nicole Persun and Nancy Levinson have each offered us a poem along with their thoughts about writing it. I follow their work with writing prompts based on their contributions. Stan Sanvel Rubin … Continue reading

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Celebrating and Learning from Poets — Another Batch of Three

This week I am posting poems by three more poets whose work I have been following. Each has offered words about the creation of the particular poem included. And, as before, you’ll find writing ideas from me based on each of the poems. Let these poems live inside of you for a bit after reading … Continue reading

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Celebrating and Learning from Three More Wonderful Poets

We present three poets, offering one of their poems along with words about its creation. My writing ideas are each based on one of the poems and are useful whether you are writing poetry or prose.

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Celebrating and Learning from Three Wonderful Poets

It’s National Poetry Month and I am celebrating poets I know whose work I have been following both in their books and by attending readings in my town and surrounding areas. Each of the next weeks, I will publish a poem by each of three of these poets along with their own words about their … Continue reading

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Celebrate National Poetry Month by Writing Poems! Yes, Even If You Think You Can’t!

National Poetry Month started yesterday. This week’s article is an oldie but goodie, originally published in 2007 and updated for 2014. In Port Townsend, the daffodils have been up several weeks. As usual out here, it looks like we’ll get rain this next week and certainly lots during the month of April, but I remind … 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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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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New Year’s Thoughts and Advice From My Correspondence With My iPad Mini

December 31, 2013 Dear Mini, Today marks our six-month anniversary of being together!  Six months! And you, my love, remain ever fresh and surprising, ever so original! We haven’t parted for even a day since that July afternoon when I gave in to the gleam in your eye and brought you home. I want to … 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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A Coming-of-Age Vignette, Sage Advice, and the Writing Exercise They Inspired

When you read the following excerpts from Rhonda Wiley-Jones’ memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, you’ll likely remember incidents from your own youth when you learned important things about yourself, perceptions that allowed you to see yourself in new ways. I’ve included a writing exercise to use … Continue reading

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Writing a Eulogy Starting with a Remembered Trait

When asked to write a eulogy for a family member you cared for, you may find that your memories and those of others who knew the person you are writing about might span a lifetime but with gaps. Thinking of a physical trait you strongly associate with the person who has died and opening the … 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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On Writing the Eulogy

As writers, we are frequently the ones asked to write eulogies for friends and family members. Even if we are not asked, we may feel moved to write eulogies to honor those we loved and then to share our writing with a literary audience. Reading author David Reich’s eulogy for his father and considering the … Continue reading

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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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If You Write Prose, You Can Write Poetry

A few years ago, Kathy Lockwood, one of my distance learning students, was having trouble writing poems because she was moving. She had to clean out and reduce her belongings, pack things up and move on, though she and her husband weren’t exactly sure where his work would be taking them. When she called for help, … Continue reading

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Look, Listen, Touch, Smell, Taste: 7 More Ideas for Your Writer’s Journal

There is a pleasure in the thought that the particular tone of my mind at this moment may be new in the universe; that the emotions of this hour may be peculiar and unexampled in the whole of eternity of moral being. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, April 17, 1827, Charleston, South Carolina How can you … Continue reading

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Writing Important Life Occasions

Our lives present us with births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries, and other beginnings and endings. The following prompts excerpted from A Year in the Life: Journaling For Self-Discovery can help us focus our attention on our joy or grief and keep us from the stumbling block of thinking too hard instead of just writing for awhile. Birthdays … Continue reading

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Visual Art Helps Us Write Grief’s Wisdom

I am pleased to post an excerpt from my new book, Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief, now available on iTunes and Kindle. A year ago, when Beth Bacon of Zoyo Branding, asked if she could publish a digital book for me, I knew immediately I wanted to create a book from teaching material I developed for those … 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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TIL – A Strategy for Travel Writing

My daughter Emily took a trip with her husband, children, and parents-in-law to India, where her husband has many relatives. During the three-week trip, I was very happy to be able to follow her travels through photos and writing she shared on Facebook. Her Facebook posts took a form that made me think of William … 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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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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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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Sparking Young (and Older) Writers’ Minds Using Abantu

What is Abantu? Years ago during a summer writing workshop at Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, WA, poet Robert Hass (who went on to serve as a recent U.S. Poet Laureate) taught students a short couplet form that he had read was an oral tradition among the Bantu people of Africa.  In class, he recited … Continue reading

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In Conversation with Midge Raymond, Author of How to be an Everyday Writer: Tips and Prompts

This week author and publisher Midge Raymond, whose newest book is How to be an Everyday Writer: Tips and Prompts, offers us some of her quickie prompts and answers questions about her career and writing. Sheila Midge, you have succeeded in publishing collections of short stories and novels and you have wonderful nonfiction essays out there. You’re … Continue reading

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The Letter Form: To Say It in Writing is to Hear It

Recently, Samantha Smith, a middle school student from our town, placed as a Washington State champion in The Library of Congress’ national contest Letters About Literature. Each year, students are asked to write a letter to their favorite authors, living or dead. The winning essays from each state are sent to Washington DC and national … Continue reading

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Images Are What Pop for Readers, Not Telling: Exercises to Increase Your Expertise

Most of us find it hard sometimes to believe that the specifics of what we see, taste, touch, smell and hear relate our inner perceptions and feelings (or those of our characters) without explanation. We may be writing with specifics and then, without realizing it, begin to explain and annotate, argue and attempt to persuade … Continue reading

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Dreaming a Job, Defining as Essay

On a writing retreat, I read through a manuscripts-wanted listing in an arts commission newsletter and noticed a magazine asking for short essays by women on work. I thought about my work roles and how I felt about them–mother, teacher, co-owner of my husband’s computer networking business, poet. How I wished that my “job” as … Continue reading

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Writing Better Holiday Letters

The holidays are a time of turning to traditions that symbolize our love and connection to our families, friends, communities, earth, and the divine.  With the pragmatism characteristic of Americans, many of us have made holiday card sending into a vehicle for mailing yearly catch-up letters.  These letters allow us to perform the task of … Continue reading

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Writing For Thanksgiving–Rituals and Memories

Each year in the US, the period of time from the last days of summer through the end of December seems more and more like an overgrown garden. It is hard to perceive the holidays separately from one another. There are no pathways between them, no mulch to keep them apart. How can we sort … Continue reading

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Writing with Feeling, Grounded By Place

Our connections to the important places of our lives are deeply personal, based on unique experiences and relationships. At the same time, the feelings that bind us to those places can be shared and understood by most everyone because they are tied to universal human experiences and longings — to the comfort of home, the … Continue reading

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Mining Words and Word Histories for Writing Personal Essays

It wasn’t all that long ago that I finally developed the habit of not relying on context alone to understand a word new to me, but instead began looking it up and thinking about the dictionary definition. This way, I have added many words to my vocabulary from textbooks and articles: “synecdoche,” “vatic,” “orphic,” “hagiography,” … Continue reading

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Inspiration from “Back in Eugene: Three Vignettes”

At this past April’s Writing It Real in Port Townsend Writer’s Conference, participant Janet Love read the following vignettes to the group. She had the idea of developing a piece about exploring her life since moving she from northern California to Eugene, Oregon by being sure to mention one of her three children in each … Continue reading

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Music of the Spheres

This week we are proud to post our second place winner in the recent WIR writing contest. Music of the Spheres By Charles Blondino He sits into the leather chair large enough for three of him. “I just learned to play this,” he says and lifts his guitar. We both watch the fingers of the … Continue reading

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Write as Tukwilla’s Youth of Arrival Write

“…poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” — Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton Many people say they don’t enjoy poetry or they don’t find it accessible. But they didn’t have Merna Ann Hecht for a teacher. She teaches her students how they can find the small stories that tell the larger story through poetry. As a poet, … Continue reading

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Worth 1000 Words

Creative nonfiction writer and novelist, Judith Kitchen shares with us a fruitful exercise she created for those of us searching for new ways to use photographs to inspire our writing. A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. . . — Susan Sontag, On Photography Traditionally, photographs have been used in nonfiction … Continue reading

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I Just Do Not Understand You

[This week we offer a second exercise from Dinty W. Moore, author of The Accidental Buddhist and Crafting the Personal Essay and editor of Brevity magazine. –ed.] Too often, we write about other people because we think we know something about that person, or because we feel that we can weigh in with intelligent correctness … Continue reading

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Just Add Water

[This week we are proud to present the first of two exercises that Dinty W. Moore, author of The Accidental Buddhist and Crafting the Personal Essay and editor of Brevity magazine, uses to help his students work in creative nonfiction. –ed.] Many writers habitually compose memoir-based nonfiction as if someone had once ruled “all childhood … Continue reading

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Ekphrastic Poetry

[This week we are starting a series of postings with poetry and creative nonfiction writing exercises offered by writers who teach. No matter what genre you favor, try the exercises they describe, and you will most certainly surprise yourself with new and interesting writing. — ed] The term ekphrastic comes from the Greek ekphrasis—ek “out … Continue reading

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To Keep Our Senses Open

It isn’t easy for us to write up to the standards we demand of ourselves when we are writing about those we love who are no longer with us. The more we wish to honor them and the life we resolve to live by incorporating their spirit into ours, the harder it seems to write. … Continue reading

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Small Things Hold Great Meaning

Writing poetry does take a certain frame of mind–one in which the poet realizes that small things hold great emotional meaning. We have to trust that whatever comes to mind and heart can help us begin poems. The following exercise is meant to help you find topics for poems and see how well you can … Continue reading

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Using Lyric Techniques in Your Writing: Part Four

Giving Attention to Sentence Construction and to Locution In this last installment of the series on paying attention to the sound your words make on the page, we will discuss the use of interesting (to the ear) sentence variety and phraseology. When you write, write. When you revise, pay attention to what you might do … Continue reading

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Using Lyric Techniques in Your Writing, Part Three

This week we’ll examine more techniques of making meaningful sound on the page to carry emotion and momentum. OnomatopoeiaThe term onomatopoeia comes from the Greek for “word-making.” It means the employment of one or more words to imitate, echo, or suggest the sound of the thing or action described. Such words include “bang”, “click”, “fizz”, … Continue reading

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Using Lyric Techniques in Your Writing, Part Two

Remember Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven“? Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. `’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at … Continue reading

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Using Lyric Techniques in Your Writing, Part One

An essential element for good writing is a good ear: one must listen to the sound of one’s prose. — Barbara Tuchman Sound itself… is surely a signifier of mood, and thus of message… –Mary Oliver Paying attention to the music in our poetry and prose helps us build the emotional content and meaning of … Continue reading

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The Craft of Fiction, Part Nine

What is tone? It can seem a hard element to isolate, but we definitely know it when we read it. Compare these two descriptions of the same event: The protest erupted into violence today as police attempted to keep the entrance to the building secure. When they reached the building, the police unleashed their forces … Continue reading