Prologue to Reclaiming Venus: The Many Lives of Alvenia Bridges

  You may have already read Maya Smith’s description of how she is approaching the writing of her book about the life of Alvenia Bridges, a woman of many lives. She answered questions about obstacles and joys of writing the book as well as how she used her academic research training to approach her interviews … Continue reading

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Maya Smith’s Description of How She is Writing Reclaiming Venus: The Many Lives of Alvenia Bridges

Maya Angela Smith is an associate professor of Francophone studies at the University of Washington, Seattle with a PhD in Romance Languages and Linguistics from UC Berkeley. Her scholarship broadly focuses on the intersection of race, language, and mobility among marginalized groups in the African diaspora, particularly in the postcolonial francophone world, seen most notably in her academic monograph Senegal … Continue reading

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Tell It Slant: Author Brenda Miller on Writing Creative Nonfiction and a Generous Excerpt from the Book

Introduction to an Excerpt from Tell it Slant (Available from Powell’s and Amazon as well as your favorite bookseller). By Brenda Miller In 2001, when Suzanne Paola and I began talking about writing a textbook for creative nonfiction, no such book existed. We had been cobbling together our own instructional materials for years, and together … Continue reading

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Tender is the Harvest, A Winning Essay by Laurie McConnachie

Our contest judge Holly Hughes  wrote these words in choosing Laurie McConnachie’s essay as one of our three winners: This is a deeply moving account of a daughter who lost her mother to a brain tumor when she was in her late 20s—and how she learns to move through grief and open her heart to … Continue reading

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Beginning Again with Tree Spirits by Katlaina Rayne

I am pleased to share another essay by a Writing It Real member. “Beginning Again with Tree Spirits” illustrates the diverse topics our members write about. Reading Katlaina’s essay will definitely change your relationship to the trees and forests in your towns and counties as well as inspire courage to write about topics you fear … Continue reading

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I Can’t Get Enough of Flash Memoir!

Writing Flash Memoir is great exercise for writers. I’ve been experiencing this in my own writing and editing and in the classes I have been teaching online and in-person. Getting to the point and writing tight while still relying on details to move the reader into the story and move the story forward to its poignant, … Continue reading

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Nahid Rachlin on Her Writing With Generous Excerpts from Her Memoir

This past weekend, I was in conversation with fiction writer and memoirist Nahid Rachlin about her books and writing career. for my radio show on KPTZ ?In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life.? It had been over a decade since she and I had last held an interview, printed in The Writer?s Chronicle … Continue reading

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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

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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

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“Long Meg Speaks” by Emma Hunter, a Winning Essay in the Fall/Winter WIR Contest

Our fall/winter writing contest guest judge Sharon Bryan chose Emma Hunter’s essay, “Long Meg Speaks,” as one of three winners. This week, we have the judge’s words about the essay as well as the author’s words about writing it, and, of course, the essay. Emma wrote this in answer to my request for words about … Continue reading

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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

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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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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

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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

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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

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The Interview: A Way to Write More Complex Characters in Your Memoir

Often when I try to write about my mother the same details surface. In my childhood memories she is always busy either working or participating on different committees; when she is home she is tired and does not like to cook. Now that I am an adult, my mother and I talk on the telephone … Continue reading

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Interview with Memoirist Tarn Wilson, Part III: Writing About Others and The Journey to Publication

Last week we posted Part II of my interview with Tarn Wilson about her memoir The Slow Farm. We talked about different ways of bringing back memories and how to write from a child’s viewpoint as an adult. This week, she shares the way she approaches writing about family members consciously and compassionately way, provides … Continue reading

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Interview With Memoirist Tarn Wilson, Part II: The Art of Remembering

Last week we posted the first part of my interview with Tarn Wilson about her memoir The Slow Farm. Tarn and I talked about how she used artifacts to reconstruct the past and how she structured her book. This week Tarn and I discuss the art of remembering. Tarn tells us about how she finds … Continue reading

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Interview with Memoirist Tarn Wilson, Part I: Reconstructing the Past

I am a person who saves things, from the obviously important letter my father wrote me right before he passed away to the “might need it someday” notes from middle school. I have shoeboxes of unorganized photographs, rocks and shells from past trips sit on my bookshelves, and, rolled in a back closet corner, sit … Continue reading

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Interview with Bonnie Rough on Her Book Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA

Bonnie Rough’s memoir, Carrier, which won the 2011 Minnesota Book Award, includes extensive research via family stories, interviews, pictures, legal records, letters, and more, but it is her compassionate portrayal of her grandfather, Earl, who passed away soon after her birth, that keeps readers turning pages. He lived with hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (HED), a genetic … Continue reading

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Interview with Memoirist Sue William Silverman

I am pleased to publish this interview with award winning memoirist Sue William Silverman about the writing of her newest memoir and her advice to those of us who write from personal experience. The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, follows two earlier memoirs, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I … Continue reading

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Beth Spencer’s Third Place Winning Poem “The Shipwreck Coast”

In choosing Beth Spencer’s poem, “The Shipwreck Coast,” as the fall/winter Writing It Real contest third place winner, guest judge Molly Tinsley wrote: “Yes, poetry is memoir–at least in the case of this intriguing narrative poem. I loved the resolutely unpoetic, sardonic voice.  Again, the emotional control over deeply painful material impressed me. We have all … Continue reading

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First Place Winning Essay – “Why I Write” by Mary Kurtz

Our fall/winter writing contest judge, Molly Tinsley, chose “Why I Write,” a personal essay by Mary Kurtz, as our first-place winner. Molly said in her notes about this essay: “Emotional control of the narrative makes Mary’s experience all the more riveting and poignant. I was swept up by the vivid flow of habitual action interrupted … Continue reading

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On Writing From Life

Our writing contest guest judge, Molly Tinsley, is now reading and making her selections of three contest winners in the recent Writing It Real contest. While we are waiting for the results, we are reprinting her article about writing memoir. It appeared orignally in the November 2013 issue of Author magazine.  Molly’s words on writing from … Continue reading

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What I Was Thinking

This article first ran January 24, 2008, after a visit from my grandsons. Their visit over this past Martin Luther King three-day weekend had me thinking again about the way watching children’s reactions to our adult judgments and commands can help us become kinder to our writing and our writing selves, so we can better … Continue reading

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A Coming-of-Age Vignette, Sage Advice, and the Writing Exercise They Inspired

When you read the following excerpts from Rhonda Wiley-Jones’ memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, you’ll likely remember incidents from your own youth when you learned important things about yourself, perceptions that allowed you to see yourself in new ways. I’ve included a writing exercise to use … Continue reading

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Writer Tells All – A Narrative About Self-publishing

Are you thinking of self-publishing and wondering what the process is like? It never hurts to hear from one who has successfully navigated the process. With humor and self-awareness, Rhonda Wiley-Jones takes us on her journey as writer turned self-publisher. Reading her narrative is like sitting in the chair next to her. When she’s done … Continue reading

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From Idea to Publication: Rhonda Wiley-Jones on Her Memoir Project

When Writing It Real member Rhonda Wiley-Jones published her travel/coming-of-age memoir, parts of which she had worked on through Writing It Real contests and editorial help, I was eager to hear what she’d learned in her process of moving from the initial essays to a book-length manuscript. What follows are her interesting and thoughtful replies … Continue reading

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A Keynote Address Using Personal Experience

As the writers among our circles of family, friends, colleagues and associates, we are often approached to write addresses and eulogies, toasts and speeches. On September 19, 2013, I presented the keynote address at Providence Hospice of Seattle’s annual Pediatric Luncheon. It is a fundraiser for the organization’s work with grieving and terminally ill children and … Continue reading

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First Place Winning Essay 2013 Writing It Real Spring/Summer Contest

This week we are proud to publish the first of three winning essays in our recent contest. In choosing Hildegard Hingle’s essay as the first place winner in Writing It Real’s 2013 spring and summer writing contest, guest judge Terry Persun sent these words: This so reminded me of Nicholas Sparks. At first, I’m unsure … Continue reading

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Judith Kitchen on Reading as a Writer Reads Part 2

Applying her method of reading as a writer reads to Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted, Judith Kitchen asks, “So is this memoir, masked as novel? Or novel, masked as memoir? That’s one of the first questions that a reader of this book asks. “What does it matter?” you might venture.   Here is our guest author’s explanation. Reading … Continue reading

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Excerpt from Unbridled: A Memoir

Barbara McNally’s memoir, Unbridled: A Memoir, is, among other delights, a moving and often often funny travel story. Her search to understand her beliefs and live an authentic life instead of keeping her personal desires (which often conflicted with her fundamentalist upbringing) hidden begins in Ireland. Early in her trip, she meets a Wiccan named … Continue reading

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Interview with Memoirist Barbara McNally on The Writing of Unbridled: A Memoir

When otherwise good girl Barbara McNally is caught having an affair (for the second time), her marriage ends within weeks and with it, so does the image she created for her two teenaged girls and the man she married right out of college. In her book Unbridled: A Memoir, Barbara (whose website is here) begins … Continue reading

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“March 9th, Day Zero” — Excerpt from Stumbling Through the Dark

Thelma Zirkelbach describes her memoir as “a story of love and loss and unexpected courage.” In the following excerpt from Chapter 11 of Stumbling Through the Dark, Mazo Publishers, 2013 (posted here with permission of the author), Thelma’s husband Ralph is undergoing a red cell transplant. How does one commemorate what is supposed to be … Continue reading

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Writing the Situations Life Throws Your Way – An Interview with Thelma Zirkelbach

Former romance writer Thelma Zirkelback has two books out now (and a blog) on the subject of widowhood, one an anthology she co-edited of writings by women who have coped with their new life situation (On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties) and the other a memoir about her interfaith marriage and and the loss of … Continue reading

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On Writing and Publishing Poetic Memoir, An Interview

Nancy Smiler Levinson set herself the goal of writing about what she was living through during her husband’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The result was a powerful, filled with love, and ultimately affirming memoir, all in free verse, Moments of Dawn: a poetic memoir of love & family, affliction & admiration.  A professional writer for decades, Nancy … Continue reading

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On Writing Memoir: Obsessions Digressions and Epiphanies

Sandra Hurtes is the author of the essay collection, On My Way To Someplace Else and the chapbook RESCUE. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Poets & Writers, among other publications. You can find links to her work and a link to her new blog, Chasing the Present Moment. … Continue reading

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Our Third Place Winning Essay – Salvation by Pam Robinson

Pam Robinson is our third place winner in the Writing It Real winter, 2012 writing contest. Our guest judge, Shanti Bannwart, sent these words along about Pamela’s essay: The piece begins with a quote that provides almost a summary of the story that follows. And the almost is the trigger here, whetting the appetite of … Continue reading

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I Grew Up in That Place – First Place Winning Essay, Winter 2012 Contest

The contest results are in and we are proud to publish the first-place winning essay in our winter, 2012 contest. Guest judge Shanti Bannwart sent these words about Kate Allen’s “I Grew Up in That Place”:  The essay is a touching example of the mythological Hero’s Journey – or better the Heroine’s Journey: the challenge of encountering … Continue reading

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Talking Recklessly

 “Talking Recklessly” is excerpted by permission of the author, Kim Stafford, from his memoir 100 Tricks Any Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared published 2012 by Trinity University Press, San Antonio, TX. When we were young, our father had a habit of abruptly increasing the voltage by announcing, “Let’s talk recklessly!” This meant any … Continue reading

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Interview with Poet and Memoirist Kim Stafford

Memoirs are high on my reading list. Memoirs that tell authors’ stories of grieving and healing are at the top. This week, I am posting an in-depth interview with writer Kim Stafford, whose brother committed suicide. As a writer, Kim sets out in his book 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do, A Memoir to explore … Continue reading

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A Holiday Letter

After a request from a Writing It Real member to write more on the topic of composing holiday letters, I decided first to write my holiday letter and see what lessons came. I started with the scene of a recent night’s wakefulness and let that scene lead me to associations concerning some of the events … Continue reading

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Lust for Life

The following is excerpted from Chapter 7 of Dancing on One Foot: Growing Up in Nazi Germany by permission of the author. On May 8, 1945, a radio announce­ment declared the end of World War II and the women of the neighborhood got very busy. They made huge pots and bowls full of green peppermint … Continue reading

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Go Ahead: Write About Your Parents, Again

Tarn Wilson writes, “Then, in my newest piece of writing, my mother returned like a zombie, dominating in all her horror and glory. She was stubborn and unyielding and I had no powers against her. After I’d wallowed around in the shame of my retrogression, I decided to re-examine my assumptions.” It is with delight that … Continue reading

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