20 Memoir and Personal Essay Writing Prompts

Exploring your life on the page is daunting whether you are writing short memoir (the personal essay) or a book-length manuscript. Where does one start? How does one choose the highlights for the story’s exploration? How does one find surprises? Here are 20 ideas to find a point of entry and to organize your memoir … 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

Writing the Dear Mom Letter with Deborah Berger

 Deborah Berger asked women to write letters about what they never told their mothers.  Ultimately, she edited a selection of the contributions, along with profiles of their authors, into Dear Mom, Women’s Letters of Love, Loss and Longing. In her introduction to the work, she writes, “We are always linked to our mothers: both to … Continue reading

When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact Finding Offline for Serious Writers

When Marlene Samuels found a publisher for her deceased mother’s World War II memoir, The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, her editor at Penguin-Berkeley had two conditions. She would have to ensure the accuracy of all the book’s facts (the names of every town and city in Eastern Europe during the early 1900’s up to … Continue reading

Excerpt from Richard-Gabriel Rummonds Fantasies & Hard Knocks, My Life as a Printer

This book is a big one—in every way. In its 813 beautifully designed pages and over 450 gorgeous photos and images, a story unfolds not only of fine handpress printing but the man who printed works by many great 20th Century writers as well as prepared food for them and others in his own kitchens … Continue reading

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

Another Fall/Winter Winner: Afrose Ahmed’s “the world did end…we just didn’t notice”

Our fall/winter contest judge Stan Rubin was struck with the lyric qualities in Afrose Ahmed’s entry, “the world did end…we just didn’t notice.” He wrote in his comments: “A gorgeous piece of lyrical writing. The odd but wonderfully sustained angle of vision—post-apocalyptic, witty, and liminal all at once—establishes its own rhythm and deepens to revelation. … Continue reading

Contest Winner — The Meditation Room

Stan Rubin, our guest contest judge, shares these remarks about his choice of Amanda Noble’s essay, “The Meditation Room”: A nuanced portrayal of the shifting stages of private grief––and its gradual acceptance. This process is depicted with precision, intelligence, and sophisticated self-awareness. The writing keeps a sharp focus. A lot of emotional terrain is deftly … Continue reading

Fall/Winter Writing Contest: Emma Hunter’s “God’s Breath and Bolognese”

Contest judge Stan Rubin, a master teacher, poet and friend of writing, wrote that Emma Hunter’s essay: Gracefully lives up to its rather daunting title, with wit and philosophical sweep. Concisely renders a dual vision — adult and child, the mundane and the cosmic — with natural dialogue and internal reflection, in a realistic scene. The relationships are delicately and … Continue reading

Finding Form

Tarn Wilson delivered this paper for a panel on “Hydra-Headed Memoirs & Well-Connected Essays” at the 2015 Nonfiction Now conference. I am delighted to have her permission to post her words for Writing It Real readers. Tarn’s lovely memoir is The Slow Farm. She uses her experience writing it to inform other writers about her … Continue reading

Excerpt from Route 66, a Nonfiction/Fiction Book Project by Jack Heffron

In this excerpt from Jack Heffron’s book project that combines fiction and nonfiction, you’ll notice the strength of Jack’s scenes and dialog, exactly the craft skills he will be teaching this year at the June 9-12 Writing It Real conference. In the book, Jack told me, the protagonist, Jack Finney, is a retired advertising executive who recently has been … Continue reading

Excerpt From The Third Law of Motion, a Novel by Meg Files

The opening of Meg Files’ fine novel The Third Law of Motion introduces the book’s first-person narrative as we enter protagonist Dulcie White’s life as a college-bound high school student. In alternating chapters throughout the book, the young woman’s sometimes boyfriend, a confused and needy young man, also narrates, but in the third person. Meg does an expert … Continue reading

Clear the Debris of Abstraction and Sentimentality

As the Presidential candidates for nomination continue to gather followers with predictable phrases, and pundits attempt to predict who the will be the frontrunners, I am reminded of the importance of writing toward felt insight. We need to leave abstracting and sentimentality behind if we are to find insight and make deep connections with ourselves and others through our writing. … Continue reading

In Conversation with Three Very Different Writers

Every few months, I sit with sound engineer Charlie Fleishman at the studio of Port Townsend, WA’s all volunteer FM station KPTZ.org and record conversations with four writers. Each of these Sundays includes telephone conversations with writers from anywhere in the country and in studio conversations local writers.  Each program plays two to three times … Continue reading

If You Want to Write…

This week, Judy Reeves, author of the new book, Wild Women, Wild Voices, shares her thoughts on writing practice. Here article serves as a good review for all of us who are busy concentrating on revising and publishing and may have begun to overlook the idea of what a writing practice is and offers. She … Continue reading

Excerpt from Good Morning Sam by Phyllis M. Washburn

The following is an excerpt from Phyllis M. Washburn’s book Good Morning Sam. In this part of the story, Phyllis and her husband Ralph rescue Sam, a mute swan, from bleeding to death. In all, the couple shared twenty-four years with mute swans and the book documents their time in narrative and photos. To read my interview … Continue reading

A Love Story: Interview with Phyllis M. Washburn on her book Good Morning Sam

Phyllis Washburn sent me a copy of the book she’d written, Good Morning Sam, which includes many of her husband Ralph’s photos. In photos and words, theirs is the story of the mute swan Sam, whom they named when he accepted them as part of his natural world. Over the years, the couple saved Sam … Continue reading

Wash and Shine the Fruit of Your Labor

I believe that we write in three stages–we act as playful inventors on the page, move on to the task of shaping our experience, and finally edit what we have written. Although these stages sometimes overlap a bit, on the whole, they are best thought of as separate. Just as we must never short circuit … Continue reading

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

Get Real Response to Your Writing from Anyone

We too often receive unhelpful, even harmful, response from first readers of our early drafts. We may feel our writing is being ripped apart or our readers are more interested in fixing punctuation and grammar than in our subject and feelings. Or we may hear, “That’s nice,” which is deflating and doesn’t really help us move deeper into our … Continue reading