Revising Older Poems — It’s Never Too Late to Take Another Look

[This article appeared first in April, 2012.] April is National Poetry Month. Feeling a little badly that I hadn’t started new poems to celebrate the month, I decided to look through old files in a computer folder labeled “archived poems.” I had completely forgotten some of the drafts I’d created. When I read them, I … 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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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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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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A Revision Success Story: Developing “The Longest Walk” by Arla Shephard Bull

Writing It Real member Arla Shephard Bull worked back and forth with me on developing an essay that was important to her to write. She had decided to use the third person as a way of distancing herself enough to approach the topic of a painful family trip. Despite a question she had about that … 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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How a Personal Essay Becomes Fully Manifest

Betty Shafer asked me to read an essay about losing her adult son. It had been a year since she began the essay following an emotional author reading I gave at the Colorado Mountain Writer’s Conference she attended in June 2001. Wishing to include memories about her son John in a book she was making … 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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The Work of an Opening — To Achieve an Engaging, Smooth and Useful Beginning

Julaina Kleist-Corwin’s story is our third place winner in the spring/summer 2013 Writing It Real writing contest. Guest judge Terry Persun wrote to us that he chose the story because he liked the pacing and grew “to know the characters, all the while not knowing which to trust or which he liked better.” He also … Continue reading

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Expect It In The Casino by Diane C. Drury, Our Third Place Winner

The recent Writing It Real contest provided the opportunity for people to write about the world around them, send in a draft, receive my responses for help in revising, and then re-enter a revision for our final judge, Betsy Howell. In selecting Diane Drury’s poem “Expect It in the Casino,” Betsy wrote: Not all memoir … Continue reading

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Accepting the Personal in the Personal Essay

Accepting the Personal in the Personal Essay In this week’s “Revision Diary,” I am offering an account of how writer Mary Ann Payne and I worked from a journal entry to a finished essay.  Mary Ann told me that often when she tries to write an essay from a journal entry, she is unhappy with … Continue reading

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Hula Girl

On a cool, partly sunny Port Townsend summer day, I met with a writer’s group whose members have continued to gather and respond to each other’s writing years after meeting each other in a five-week essay writing course. After a lunch of soup, salad and strawberries that we dipped into chocolate (a favorite writing food … Continue reading

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Boating to Breakfast: Evolution of Mary Langer Thompson’s First-Place Winning Poem

In our spring/summer Writing It Real contest, writers and poets sent in writing inspired by the world around them. That’s a broad topic as we might be looking at the world close up and intimately or from afar. In selecting winners in our spring/summer Writing It Real contest, final judge Betsy Howell wrote of Mary … Continue reading

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Editing Your Story: Tight Editing Helps Writers Find the Gold

Finished writing has to sound natural, but it isn’t “just like talking.” When we talk, our listeners are aware that what we are saying is our story. As authors, we send our words out into the world without our gestures and tones of voice. When people read our words, they have to feel that what … Continue reading

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Shall I Fly Away?

We are pleased to post our third-place winning essay in the Writing It Real Winter 2011 contest. Inez Holger’s original entry into the contest sparked a few questions from me about where I wanted to know just a little bit more. Reading through those questions, Inez polished her essay, which contest guest judge Janice Eidus … Continue reading

To access this post, you must purchase Lifetime Membership In Writing It Real, Generate Four Starts in One Week + Membership, Four Half-Hour Consults + Membership, Flash: Sudden Fiction and Non-Fiction + Membership, Fiction Writing Workshop + Membership, Epistolary Writing Online Workshop + Membership, Develop One Piece Start to Finish + Membership, Online Personal Essay Writing Workshop + Membership, Writing Exercises to Heal Grief + Membership, Sampler Platter + Membership, Lyric Essays Online Workshop + Membership, Poetry Writing Workshop + Membership, One Half-Hour Consult + Membership, Phone Consult: 3750 Words or Six Poems + Membership, Coaching & Mentoring Services + Membership, Write What You Know Online Tutorial + Membership, Book-length Manuscript Evaluation + Membership, Development and Line Editing + Membership, Writing Healthy Starts + Membership, Eight Half-Hour Consults + Membership, Writing Contest + Membership, Befriending the Giant + Membership, Introduction to Scrivener — Plus Membership, Writing for Young Readers Plus Membership, Keep Goin’ On Your Writing over the Holidays Plus Membership, You: Writing in the 2nd Person Online Workshop Plus Membership, Write More Healthy Starts Plus Membership, Summer Reading Summer Writing Plus Membership, In-Class Writing and Responses – Your Writing Will Surprise You! + Membership 11:00 AM, In-Class Writing and Responses – Your Writing Will Surprise You! + Membership 2:00PM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way + Membership 2:00PM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way + Membership 11:00AM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way 11:00AM or Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way 2:00PM.

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Cheating Death

Contest judge Janice Eidus chose “Cheating Death” as a winner in our winter Writing It Real writing contest, saying, “I admire how in succinct fashion the writer authentically captures the painful process of grieving, including the step of moving on.” I am pleased to present the first draft Mary Ann submitted to our no-contest contest … Continue reading

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Five Stars: An Adventure in Amatory Dining

Our guest judge, Janice Eidus, wrote of Alice’s essay: “I admire how the writer uses food as a romantic metaphor in such an original way. Also, the ending is truly an ‘inevitable surprise.’” This week, we share Alice Lowe’s finished essay, followed by an excerpt from the original draft she entered, with my responses. Alice … Continue reading

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Body Language: A Traditional Turkish Bath Experience

This week we are posting the third of our three winners in the fall 2010 Writing It Real contest. Rhonda Wiley-Jones has been a traveler since her teen years and, it seems from her essay, has learned to make good use in her writing of cultural surprises she’s encountered. This article contains the essay she … Continue reading

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“In The Fragments” by Sindee Ernst

When guest judge Anna Quinn selected Sindee Ernst’s essay as our Winter No-Contest Contest winner, she wrote, “A wonderful piece. Writer uses specific sensory detail beautifully to evoke feelings of leaving one’s childhood home and discovering another. Strong ending.” Sindee wrote back: Thank you so much for this great news. I enjoyed working on that … Continue reading

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“The Cheetah, The Spider and Me” by Gloria Orlando Ives

So often as writers we know we have captured something in our drafts and have brought the work as far as we can at the moment, but sometimes we miss seeing what our writing is leading us toward. That’s when we need an outside reader who can help us identify the core energy in our … Continue reading

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“He Was Surprised And So Was I” by Meg Hannah House

Meg Hannah House won third place in this winter’s Writing It Real No-Contest Contest for her personal essay “He Was Surprised And So Was I”. Our contest was designed so that entrants wrote in response to words they came across in print or heard on TV or the radio or overheard in conversations. All of … Continue reading

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The Annual Christmas Dress Shopping Trip

This week, I am sharing my developmental editing responses to another Honorable Mention essay in our Summer 2009 No-Contest Contest. You’ll see Karen B. Call’s original contest entry, my written responses to her work and then her revised essay. You’ll see the benefit of reader response that encourages writers to invite more detail into their … Continue reading

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Tenderness and Meat Loaf

Continuing in our revision diary category posts, this week we are sharing an essay by Jack Shea, one of two essays that our guest judge Brenda Miller chose as honorable mention in our recent contest. My developmental editing comments inserted into Jack’s entry and Jack’s re-entered revision for our Writing It Real Fall 2009 No-Contest … Continue reading

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The Berry Patch

Reading the draft Joyce sent to us for the Fall 2009 Writing It Real No-Contest Contest and the tweaked version, you’ll see an example of the importance of polish editing. Although an essay might be “all there” on the page, rearranging some paragraphs and tweaking the ending can make a huge difference in the effect … Continue reading

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Porch Swings

In this article, we present Lisa Kee’s winning essay from our Fall 2009 No-Contest Contest. Each entrant submitted an essay, which I read and responded to. All entrants had the opportunity to revise their essays after reading my comments and re-submit. Our guest judge, Brenda Miller, author of Season of the Body and Blessing of … Continue reading

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Julie Barker’s First Place Essay Overturned

In this article, we present Julie Barker’s winning essay from our Fall 2009 No-Contest Contest. Each entrant submitted an essay, which I read and responded to. All entrants had the opportunity to revise their essays after reading my comments and re-submit. Our guest judge, Brenda Miller, author of Season of the Body and Blessing of … Continue reading

To access this post, you must purchase Lifetime Membership In Writing It Real, Generate Four Starts in One Week + Membership, Four Half-Hour Consults + Membership, Flash: Sudden Fiction and Non-Fiction + Membership, Fiction Writing Workshop + Membership, Epistolary Writing Online Workshop + Membership, Develop One Piece Start to Finish + Membership, Online Personal Essay Writing Workshop + Membership, Writing Exercises to Heal Grief + Membership, Sampler Platter + Membership, Lyric Essays Online Workshop + Membership, Poetry Writing Workshop + Membership, One Half-Hour Consult + Membership, Phone Consult: 3750 Words or Six Poems + Membership, Coaching & Mentoring Services + Membership, Write What You Know Online Tutorial + Membership, Book-length Manuscript Evaluation + Membership, Development and Line Editing + Membership, Writing Healthy Starts + Membership, Eight Half-Hour Consults + Membership, Writing Contest + Membership, Befriending the Giant + Membership, Introduction to Scrivener — Plus Membership, Writing for Young Readers Plus Membership, Keep Goin’ On Your Writing over the Holidays Plus Membership, You: Writing in the 2nd Person Online Workshop Plus Membership, Write More Healthy Starts Plus Membership, Summer Reading Summer Writing Plus Membership, In-Class Writing and Responses – Your Writing Will Surprise You! + Membership 11:00 AM, In-Class Writing and Responses – Your Writing Will Surprise You! + Membership 2:00PM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way + Membership 2:00PM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way + Membership 11:00AM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way 11:00AM or Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way 2:00PM.

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“Walking to School” by Nancy Kane

“Walking to School” is an essay that is very close to being completely satisfying. I want to share the essay and the comments I sent Nancy in our recent No-Contest Contest to provide the experience of workshopping an essay using the three-step response method I advocate. I believe that as we become skilled at offering … Continue reading

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Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me A Writer by Barbara Sjoholm

Barbara Sjoholm‘s memoir in essays, Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me a Writer, Seal Press, 2006, evokes a 1970s-style Bohemian travel life and will arouse memories in many readers. Those who knew they wanted to write when they were young will remember the way they looked at the world, what they saw and felt. And … Continue reading

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Getting to the Details

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with people in developing their essays. Writing It Real subscriber Beth Einstein entered our spring essay contest and recently took me up on my offer to work with her essay for a Revision Diary article. I thank Beth for her continuing work on her entry (the … Continue reading

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The House of the Seven Gambles – Revised

When I judged Mary Ann Payne’s essay submitted for Writing It Real’s first 2006 personal essay contest as our runner up, I wrote to her with comments about her ending and ideas for strengthening it.   Here is the essay she submitted followed by those comments and Mary Anne’s revision: The House of Seven Gambles By … Continue reading

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Relying on the Lyric

On July 8, 2004, I posted an instructional exercise article, “Put Summer on the Page,” encouraging writers to use the opening of Ray Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine for inspiration in writing their own memories. Recently, I worked with Michelle Vanstrom on the writing she created from the exercise, which yielded a moving eulogy to her … Continue reading

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Medicare Essay

This year Marlee Millman wrote an essay to read to her family and friends who were gathering to celebrate her 65th birthday in her hometown of Chicago. She was excited and wanted to have a speech prepared. She emailed me: Hi Sheila, Here’s the beginning of my essay on meeting Medicare. It’s hard to believe … Continue reading

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An Inland Navy

In last week’s article I reviewed Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Failure: A Bartender, a Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth. Near the end of the book, when Goldberg’s elderly father, who’d been operated on for colon cancer, sits down to hamburgers with her at a restaurant, my back bristled.  In my opinion, the author … Continue reading

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Writing It Real Subscribers’ Braided Poem

In May, I posted an article called “Coaxing Imaginative Awareness,” in which I reviewed Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser.  After reading the review, some Writing It Real subscribers teamed up to work on creating braided verse inspired by the results of these two poets.  One of these teams, … Continue reading

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The Development of a Poem by Betty Shafer

When Betty Shafer sent me the following poem for help in revising it, I read it and found something haunting stayed with me after I read the lines. Look Again We return to find our land barren Weeds choking walls and fences And silent rotting houses. But when we look again we see Ruby red … Continue reading

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On the Development of the Poem “Under Cover of Green”

Shortly after I posted the September 11, 2003 instructional exercise for Writing It Real, subscriber Christine Robinson sent me some writing of hers that resulted from using the exercise.  In this week’s article, I want to show you what she wrote and how she developed the draft, which she thought resembled a prose poem, into … Continue reading

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Revising the Poem “A Different Christmas”

When Karen Rippstein wrote to me that she wanted my help in shaping a poem from a prose piece she had written about a specific Christmas with her daughter, I was intrigued. Most of the people I’ve worked with bring poems or essays and want to stick with the genre while revising.  But after writing … Continue reading

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Suzan Huney’s “Choice Bits”

At a writing conference workshop on developing the personal essay, Suzan Huney read the draft of an essay spawned by thumbing through her address book.  Her musings on the people she found in her book led to memories of her grandmother’s address book and then to consulting it directly. As she continued her drafting process, … Continue reading

To access this post, you must purchase Lifetime Membership In Writing It Real, Generate Four Starts in One Week + Membership, Four Half-Hour Consults + Membership, Flash: Sudden Fiction and Non-Fiction + Membership, Fiction Writing Workshop + Membership, Epistolary Writing Online Workshop + Membership, Develop One Piece Start to Finish + Membership, Online Personal Essay Writing Workshop + Membership, Writing Exercises to Heal Grief + Membership, Sampler Platter + Membership, Lyric Essays Online Workshop + Membership, Poetry Writing Workshop + Membership, One Half-Hour Consult + Membership, Phone Consult: 3750 Words or Six Poems + Membership, Coaching & Mentoring Services + Membership, Write What You Know Online Tutorial + Membership, Book-length Manuscript Evaluation + Membership, Development and Line Editing + Membership, Writing Healthy Starts + Membership, Eight Half-Hour Consults + Membership, Writing Contest + Membership, Befriending the Giant + Membership, Introduction to Scrivener — Plus Membership, Writing for Young Readers Plus Membership, Keep Goin’ On Your Writing over the Holidays Plus Membership, You: Writing in the 2nd Person Online Workshop Plus Membership, Write More Healthy Starts Plus Membership, Summer Reading Summer Writing Plus Membership, In-Class Writing and Responses – Your Writing Will Surprise You! + Membership 11:00 AM, In-Class Writing and Responses – Your Writing Will Surprise You! + Membership 2:00PM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way + Membership 2:00PM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way + Membership 11:00AM, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way 11:00AM or Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor – How Editing Helps You Find Your Way 2:00PM.

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Finished Essay: “When Love is All You Have”

The only thing that distinguished this particular examining room from dozens like it was the huge wall chart of hearts in all manner of disease and disarray.  The rest of the room was familiar and predictable – high narrow table sitting cattycorner, white enamel cabinets with boxes of disposable gloves and canisters of gauze in … Continue reading

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