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

Cider Mills and Burning Leaves: Writing Fall

For us in northern states, fall brings shorter daylight, leaves to rake and cider mills to visit where we sip fresh apple cider and eat sweet doughnuts. We fill a nip in the air. In warm climates, fall begins the season of visitors with full hotels, gift shops and restaurants. Around the country Thanksgiving dinners … Continue reading

Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait on the Wall, A Writing Exercise

Years ago one of my writing students wrote this line in class, “Ms. Failure paints her self-portrait, then hangs it on a wall in your world without asking permission.” He was speaking, he told us, of a time when he was “not facing the realities of the world.” His imagined self-portrait both set him straight … Continue reading

Writing of the Body: Metaphor Making is Food for the Soul

In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes about a client he saw in counseling who was having problems with food and dreamt that her esophagus was made of plastic and wasn’t reaching her stomach. Moore says: The esophagus is an excellent image of one of the soul’s chief functions: to transfer material … Continue reading

Existential Threat, an Article by Dahr Jamail

Writers write. Writers write to seek and tell truths, whether that is in poems, essays, memoir, fiction or articles. As writers, we must raise our voices in dark times, even when we think few are listening. I recently interviewed journalist Dahr Jamail for my KPTZ FM radio program (the podcast will be entered into the … 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

 On Finding Deep Power

What have writers shared about unleashing one’s best and most insightful creative work? G. Lynn Nelson, a professor of English at Arizona State University believes we must undo some of what we have been taught about language and use language in our journals as it was once used-to evoke mystery. In Writing and Being: Taking … Continue reading

One More Waltz, An Essay by Nancy Lamb

There are times in a person’s life when everything is tinted gray and the future looks too dark to step into. Then in one single shift of the universe, something happens—we turn left, instead of right; we answer the phone, smile at a stranger, or meet an old lover. Something moves. And the light reappears. … Continue reading

“Sanctuary,” an Essay by Nancy Lamb

All of us benefit from the memory of a place held dear. Such a memory keeps us breathing; such a memory calms our nerves; such a memory refreshes when life’s difficult times enervate us. Read Nancy Lamb’s well-drawn description of Cow Creek Canyon, a place she experienced as a child, and then try your hand … Continue reading

Game Stories: A Prompt that Works

Two weeks ago, I posted an article with writing ideas for getting started on new material and asked those who wanted to do so to send me accounts of the games they have played and enjoyed, especially in childhood. My thanks to Nancy Levinson, author of Moments of Dawn: A Poetic Memoir of Love & … Continue reading

Stage and Screen Prompts to Help Your Writing Craft

Whether you have wanted to write a play or a screenplay or are involved in writing memoir, thinking like a playwright will help you tell a story well by writing in scenes, creating evolving characters (yourself and others in your memoir) and using plot that employs conflict and life obstacles. Here are screen writing/play writing … Continue reading

Hide & Seek: Using Childhood Games for Writing Prompts and Metaphors

In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum writes about hiding in a pile of leaves in his front yard and not being found by the game’s seeker. He likens this hiding-too-well as a kid to a doctor who was dying of cancer but never told anybody because he didn’t … Continue reading

Writing as a Walker in the City (Or Anywhere)

Writers write. That’s the definition. And sometimes, we-who-write feel cranky and rebellious toward our job. That can lead to not writing and then to becoming upset with ourselves for not writing, for not being writers. For the prompts I share this week, I’ve taken inspiration from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”  and from the poet … Continue reading

A Way Into Discovering More Than You Knew You Had to Say

William Zinsser edited a book in 1988 called Spiritual Quests: The Art and Craft of Religious Writing. In his introduction to the book, Zinsser states “the act of writing is ultimately a sacrament for both writer and reader.” The act of writing sustains the writer in his or her quest. In writing, spiritual energy seems … 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

Writing Poetry for a Clearer, More Centered Self

Writing poetry, no matter what genre you usually work in, is truly an experience of re-creating a self. In writing poems from experience and from meditative and reflective moments, we are the makers of something that helps us come to know ourselves and have increased intimacy with ourselves. From this intimacy comes the creation of … 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