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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading as a Writer Reads — Taking a Lesson from the Writing in Just Fall, a Novel

I am an avid fan of Jane Friedman’s blog on writing and publishing. She is informative and up-to-date, presenting her expertise with scope and clarity. This week, I read her interview with screenwriter turned novelist, Nina R. Sadowsky.  I was impressed with the author’s words on how a background in screenwriting informed her novel writing. … Continue reading

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

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

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

Writing Our Own Stories Helps Others Write Theirs: Essay by and Interview with Joan Leof

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:

Sheila
Over what span of years did you write the essays in this collection?

Joan
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).

Sheila
How did you use them in your own work with other writers before publication?

Joan
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

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

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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