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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mining the Three Freewrites: Whether you have done these freewrites ( see Part 1 and Part 2) in the course of one writing session or over several days, find out what the freewrites have to tell you about an essay you might write by combing through them and jotting down images and phrases that interest … Continue reading
[The following article appeared first in “The Heart and Craft and of Life Writing.”] Last week’s article included a freewrite to get you going toward writing on a topic that surprises you or allows you to get into a piece of writing in a way that is new to you. If you haven’t done freewrite … Continue reading
Joan Leof’s collection of essays Matryoshka: Uncovering Your Many Selves Through Writing Personal Essays and Questions for Reflection is intended to share her personal experience essays in a way that encourages others to write from their experiences.
After reading her collection and asking Joan’s permission to reprint one of her essays for Writing It Real members, I emailed her questions I hoped she’d answer for writers of personal experience. Here are her words on writing from personal experience:
Over what span of years did you write the essays in this collection?
Half of the essays are new, written in the last three years. Five were published in the 80s-early 90s. Four are spin offs from material in the memoir I wrote from 2007-2011 (Fatal If Swallowed).
How did you use them in your own work with other writers before publication?
While I don’t share the actual essays with writers in my groups until each is originally published, I always refer to the creative process that guides me. That includes keeping a SEED LIST of ideas. This can be anything from one word, to one paragraph, a theme, issue, newspaper clipping – anything that sparks something in me as having potential. I emphasize having trust that the idea will sprout in its time and take on a life of its own. For instance, something that’s been on my SEED LIST for decades finally became an essay recently with an ending that I could never have imagined. I had to “live” the ending before I could actually complete the story. Keeping open to recycling options is also encouraged. A previous essay could be tweaked and resubmitted. Or it could be reprinted as is somewhere. A theme or description can be extracted for a new essay. Continue reading
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
“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 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
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
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
We are pleased to post the second place winning essay in this past winter’s Writing It Real essay contest. Our guidelines said the number 12 was to be somewhere in the essay in honor of Writing It Real’s 12th Anniversary. Our guest judge, Midge Raymond, co-founder of Oregon’s Ashland Creek Press, chose Maureen Mistry’s “The … Continue reading
Not long ago, Writing It Real member Dorothy Ross wrote to me about her newest project — recording the narratives she’s written about her life for her family to have in the form of audio files. I listened to a few of them and was so pleased to hear her physical voice. I immediately wanted … Continue reading
The following essay by Susan Bono is the title essay from her new collection What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home. We reprint it this week with her permission. To learn more about Susan’s writing and the place of the personal essay in her writing life, please see last week’s interview. What Have We … Continue reading
For writer and small press publisher (Tiny Lights) Susan Bono, the last thirty years have mostly been about trying to stay ahead of a husband, growing kids, aging parents, and an eccentric old house, in spite of detours, deadlines, unexpected changes, and inevitable losses. But through it all, she’s been taking notes. In her collection of … Continue reading
Writing It Real members and students know my love of the epistolary (letter) form in literature and the many examples of it I offer as writing models. During the holiday season, a time of letters from those near and far, I am especially inspired to write to my son, Seth. At the letter’s end, I … Continue reading