Moving an Essay Toward Completion — Pam Robinson’s “Table of Plenty”

Pam Robinson’s entry into the fall 2011 Writing It Real contest is an essay about her memories of her mother’s cooking and life on a farm. As I spend time harvesting onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, various beans, Asian pears and soon apples and second crop radishes from my own garden, I resonate with the harvest … Continue reading

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An Approach to Writing Flash Nonfiction

Flash prose, sometimes called flash literature, is creative writing between 500 and 1500 words. This term includes further subgenres prose poetry, short essays and vignettes. Like the longer essay, or something now called short memoir, the flash personal essay evokes experience and arrives at discovery through the writer’s telling. Because it is short, it maintains a firm focus … Continue reading

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More on How to Write the How-to Essay (and Why)

I’ve been teaching the how-to essay again and reading models. I love how the how-to format offers the personal essayist a structure that inspires poignancy, honesty, and humor. Here is an excerpt from my book Writing and Sharing Personal Essays. And for after you’ve read about this style essay and the sample essay in the … Continue reading

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“Disturbing the Calm” by Judith Kvinsland, 1st Place

Our contest judge, Kelli Agodon, wrote this of her first choice piece in the fall/winter 2018 writing contest: Judith Barker Kvinsland’s essay, “Disturbing the Calm,” explores how sometimes, despite the ease of our lives, we need to take a risk. It is a thoughtful exploration of family, responsibility, and location, where the author learns something … Continue reading

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The Flash Sequence: A Form for Saying the Unsayable

The flash sequence uses poetic leaps of association for examining the impact of difficult-to-articulate circumstances. Sometimes it is accomplished in journal entries, other times with meditations about place, or people or objects. Sometimes it is composed of collections of scenes. Whatever the container of the sequence, the form is undoubtedly a psychological exploration, often of … Continue reading

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A Writing Exercise to Help You Arrive at Deep Material

Many say that the hardest part of writing is moving from daily activities to being able to create work that transcends the daily. There are ways, though, to launch new writing that unexpectedly gets you to your deepest material while allowing you to make the shift easily. What follows is an exercise that is meant … Continue reading

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Write Your Own Manifesto

For several years now, I have been interviewing writers, editors, writing program directors and publishers for “In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life,” my regular program on KPTZ FM radio. At Writing It Real, we archive the programs, after they have aired, to maintain permanent links to all of the interviews. Over the … Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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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

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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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Finding Starts in Personal Essay Writing: Part 3

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

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Finding Starts in Personal Essay Writing: Part 2

[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

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Writing Our Own Stories Helps Others Write Theirs: Essay by and Interview with Joan Leof

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 … Continue reading

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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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

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