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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Prose Poetry in a Smoky Time

I was sitting at my dining table this morning with a cup of coffee looking out over the still smoky and haze-ridden sky we had experienced on the Olympic Peninsula for a week because of fires in Eastern Washington and in British Columbia. Sometimes we couldn’t see the islands so close to our shores here … 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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Nahid Rachlin on Her Writing With Generous Excerpts from Her Memoir

This past weekend, I was in conversation with fiction writer and memoirist Nahid Rachlin about her books and writing career. for my radio show on KPTZ “In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life.” It had been over a decade since she and I had last held an interview, printed in The Writer’s Chronicle … 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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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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Endings: From Seeds Planted in the Openings

We have to leave a story, of any length, both satisfied and wishing the story stays with us—having fallen in love with the protagonists or having been at least drawn close to their situations, we want to carry the characters inside of ourselves, as if they are friends we know we won’t see again, people … 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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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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Anna Quinn’s Novel The Night Child Holds Lessons for Writers

In The Night Child, Nora Brown, descends into the kind of fragmentation that results when traumatic events have been repressed, her world becomes anxious and dark. In Anna Quinn’s skillful hands, both the world inside of Nora (who is no longer able to repress terrifying memories) and the world of loving people in her adult … 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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A Talk for All Writers

Listening to successful children’s book writer Patrick Jennings during an interview with him for “In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life,” I realized again how much authors of books for young readers have to teach all of us who write. Listen to my recent interview with Patrick, in which he reads from his … 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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A Must Read for Personal Essayists: “Learning to Drive” by Katha Pollitt

This is a revised and updated article based on one from 2002 when I first read “Learning to Drive: A Year of Unexpected Lessons” by Katha Pollitt, published in The New Yorker magazine. I hope you’ll read the essay and go on to read my discussion of it, which includes an excerpt of review of the film (now … 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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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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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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