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 Oliver A 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 … Continue reading

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21 Free Gifts from the Virtual World

After all the gift giving, charitable donations and holiday trips away this time of year, you’ll find the free resources listed below particularly attractive. Each link has inspiration and information to help you fill the well of your creativity. Stock up and let the generosity of writers, editors and publishers help you make and keep … Continue reading

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First You Have to Teach a Lesson

In How I Learned to Drive, Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the main character enters, stands center stage and addresses the audience. “Sometimes to tell a secret, you first have to teach a lesson,” she announces. The lesson the play uses as its central theme is one about driving–the connective tissue of the play is … Continue reading

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Words for the Groups in Our Lives

This past spring, writer Jody Bower created a testament to the close circle of friends she has shared her adult life with. In writing about them, for them and for herself, she evokes a kind of organism made of lives that look distinct but are of one piece, like a stand of Aspens. There are … Continue reading

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First Words

Do you have a memory of an early piece of writing you did? A memory that has with it the feeling of enjoyment–that you really liked being able to articulate your experience and thoughts in words? I remember sitting down to my little desk in third grade to write the Chanukah scene for our class’ … Continue reading

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2007 Bedell Nonfiction Now

On November 1-4, I attended the Bedell Nonfiction Now Conference at the University of Iowa. The conference’s mission is to explore the history, present, and future of nonfiction in its myriad forms, and, as you might expect, the conference was packed with excellent panels, speakers, and readings focused on personal experience writing. Thursday November 1, … Continue reading

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Baking Powder Biscuits

I thought Ma was my own birth mother until I was about twelve years old. And why wouldn’t I? When in one of her buoyant moods, she boasted that my good looks, smarts, generosity, even my willfulness were owing to her side of the family. When she said that, my heart raced and my face … Continue reading

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Interview with Rodney L. Merrill

Rodney L. Merrill contacted me for an interview about writing from personal experience. He explained that for his doctoral thesis, he is conducting a “research study on how skilled personal essay writers go about writing personal essays and how this process might be applied to improve the teaching of writing and writerly practice in the … Continue reading

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Writing With Sense of Place

Writing that rivets its readers requires evocation of place, situation, and at least one person to inhabit the place and deal with the situation. This is true for all writing, even the most lyrical, imagistic or self-reflective. In her novel Veil of Roses, author Laura Fitzgerald makes use of opportunities to describe Tucson, AZ, where … Continue reading

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Interview with Laura Fitzgerald

Each year, I spend the month of February teaching writing in Tucson, AZ, and each year I learn about authors fostered by the ongoing program at Pima Community College. The following interview is with an author who credits the Wednesday night writing class she took at Pima while her kids were preschoolers for the start … Continue reading

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A Writing Lesson from Morrie, Rilke, and Coleman Barks

Years ago, I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, a man who was Morrie Schwartz’ college student at Brandeis University. The narrative is about weekly visits to see his former professor, who is dying. What is so inspiring in this account is the teacher’s voice and thoughts as he prepares to die but must … Continue reading

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Cider Mills and Burning Leaves

For many of us, fall brings leaves to rake and sometimes to burn. It brings memories of visiting cider mills and eating sweet doughnuts as we sipped fresh apple cider. This week, take a moment to describe fall days either from the past or from right now. Begin by listing images of the season in … Continue reading

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Journaling Exercise to Get You Writing

I’ve been talking with parents these past few weeks about how their kids are doing with their return to school and all the newness: new teachers, new classrooms, new classmates, new textbooks, new notebooks, and new clubs to join. I know that when I am faced with so much new, I get especially concerned with … Continue reading

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Poetry is a Chance to Live Without Looking Away

I spent a lovely day this week reading three books of poems I’ve wanted to sit down with for some time: The Love Hunter and Other Poems by Meg Files, Boxing the Compass by Holly J. Hughes, and Small Knots, poems by Kelli Russell Agodon. Reading these three collections, one after the other, I understood … Continue reading

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Creating A Lyric Essay Using the Interview Approach

I spent my summer writing a book called Perfect Phrases for Writing the College Application Essay. My effort was to come up with sentences (sometimes questions, sometimes statements) to help those who have to write the application essay focus and draw specific details from their experience and then organize the details into compelling personal statements. … 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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Floating Bridge Press: Poetry From the Upper Left Hand Corner

This summer, Writing It Real in Port Townsend Writer’s Conference faculty member, Susan Rich suggested we do an article on Floating Bridge Press, a community-based nonprofit, of which she is a member, that has published 17 books of poetry and almost a decade’s worth of the annual poetry anthology Pontoon. I am pleased this week … Continue reading

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Out of the Trenches and Chasing Butterflies

This week, Writing It Real presents the first place winner in our Spring Personal Essay Contest. Following the essay, Sheila has posted comments on what she admires in the way the essay works. Out of the Trenches and Chasing Butterflies By Perry Hessenauer Have you ever found yourself having an experience so painful to your … Continue reading

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In Debt

We present “In Debt” by Marcia Wall, which took second place in Writing It Real’s Spring 2007 Personal Essay contest. Sheila’s comments about how and why the essay succeeds are printed following the essay. In Debt by Marcia Wall The woman sitting in front of me turned around to face me. Her uncombed hair, (an … Continue reading

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Head Size 8

We present here the 3rd place essay from the Writing It Real Spring 07 Personal Essay contest. I have included some comments following Jan Henrikson’s winning essay. Head Size 8 by Jan Henrikson “Head, Size 8,” Tony said gravely as I stepped through the door of his apartment. He waved a tiny slip of paper … Continue reading

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