Joan Leof’s collection of essays Matryoshka: Uncovering Your Many Selves Through Writing Personal Essays and Questions for Reflection is intended to share her personal experience essays in a way that encourages others to write from their experiences.
After reading her collection and asking Joan’s permission to reprint one of her essays for Writing It Real members, I emailed her questions I hoped she’d answer for writers of personal experience. Here are her words on writing from personal experience:
Over what span of years did you write the essays in this collection?
Half of the essays are new, written in the last three years. Five were published in the 80s-early 90s. Four are spin offs from material in the memoir I wrote from 2007-2011 (Fatal If Swallowed).
How did you use them in your own work with other writers before publication?
While I don’t share the actual essays with writers in my groups until each is originally published, I always refer to the creative process that guides me. That includes keeping a SEED LIST of ideas. This can be anything from one word, to one paragraph, a theme, issue, newspaper clipping – anything that sparks something in me as having potential. I emphasize having trust that the idea will sprout in its time and take on a life of its own. For instance, something that’s been on my SEED LIST for decades finally became an essay recently with an ending that I could never have imagined. I had to “live” the ending before I could actually complete the story. Keeping open to recycling options is also encouraged. A previous essay could be tweaked and resubmitted. Or it could be reprinted as is somewhere. A theme or description can be extracted for a new essay. Continue reading
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
“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
Robert Epstein has invested years in conceiving and writing books, among them a series of impressive haiku anthologies. This National Poetry Month, I am delighted to post an interview with him that gets to the heart of how haiku connects us to the sacred and demonstrates what we come to poetry for — to understand and to share … Continue reading
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 awe, more despair, or more of the irony and quirkiness of … Continue reading
…reason works better when emotions are present… –Rollo May, The Courage to Create There are times in your life when you desire to persuade others to take action or change their thinking. Letters to the editor and op-ed sections of newspapers and magazines contain writings from personal experience motivated in this way. Using personal experience in persuasive … Continue reading
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
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
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.
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
Sandra Hurtes created a blog, felt she had a book there, and engaged in the process of selecting and shaping the entries and adding to the material to create a book-length account of herself as writer. The result is the very recently published The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obesessions, Digressions, Epiphanies, which has already garnered praise and … Continue reading
Writing It Real member Betty Shafer met five of the Lost Boys of the Sudan during a time that she was mourning personal losses and considering a major life change. Entwining their story of tragedy and survival during an historic upheaval with reflections on events in her own life, Betty arrives at clarity, strength, and … Continue reading
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
When my daughter Emily Bender was writing a Valedictorian speech to be delivered at her UC Berkeley graduation, she was nervous about having something worth saying. With all of the demands of her life as a graduating senior, she had mulled the speech over but not found a way of tying things together. The she … Continue reading
In an essay William Matthews wrote as a contribution to my anthology The Writer’s Journal: 40 Writers and Their JournaIs, later reprinted in Keeping a Journal You Love, the late poet suggested that a journal “encourages scrappiness. Things needn’t be finished, just stored, the way one might ‘store’ a five-dollar bill in a trouser pocket in the closet … Continue reading
In a local bookstore, I came across What Patients Taught Me: A Medical Student’s Journey, a memoir by Audrey Young, MD, about how her medical school training in a special University of Washington program facilitated her growth as a person-centered physician. I read the book’s preface standing there by the staff picks. During her rotations … Continue reading
The Work of Marc J. Sheehan, Jefferson Carter, Lana Hechtman Ayers and Marilyn Stablein As I wrote last week: I think of poetry as my “home page.” It is where I land when I want to deepen my appreciation, my observation, my understanding and my memory of the worlds I inhabit. Reading and writing poetry, … Continue reading
The Work of Susan Rich, Janée Baugher, Peggy Shumaker and Ellaraine Lockie I think of poetry as my “home page.” It is where I land when I want to deepen my appreciation, my observation, my understanding and my memory of the worlds I inhabit. Reading and writing poetry, I click over to the world within … Continue reading
I was introduced to Diane Lockward’s poetry as a member of a Yahoo group dedicated to poets helping one another publicize their work. I read and very much enjoyed her collection What Feeds Us. A 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize winner, the volume is as witty as it is heartbreaking. Diane’s poems draw her … Continue reading
As the publishing industry moves online, you may have ordered books on your computer or gone on your local library’s website to request books or an inter-library loan. But would you ever consider reading a book on a computer or subscribing to your favorite magazine’s electronic edition? Each year, a greater portion of the books … Continue reading