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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Writing to Explore Influence and Admiration, Part 1

Writing a litany of praise for anyone to whom you owe gratitude for life lessons will work in interesting ways if you take on the seemingly unpraiseworthy as if it were praiseworthy. You will get interesting results that push your writing past easy sentimentality or blinding anger to the important waters of insight. Praising What … Continue reading

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Writing Toward a Clearer, More Centered Self Involves Poetry But Don’t Be Afraid!

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, you become the maker of something that builds increased intimacy with your truest self. From this intimacy, you grow by creating a self that is more … Continue reading

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The Past is Always in the Present, A New Year’s Greeting

About the size of my palm, the orange glass turtle with stout yellow feet has been with me since 1972. We started out in Matawan, New Jersey, where my 7th-grade class presented him to me as a goodbye gift–I was moving to the West Coast with my husband, a transferring medical student. The turtle was … Continue reading

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The Change in the Trees, How Strong the Wind is Blowing

As I update an earlier book of mine, A Year in the Life: Journaling for Self-Discovery, I will be sharing some of my favorite writing exercises with you over the next few weeks. Here’s the first of several lessons I am enjoying revisiting: A Lesson From Morrie and Rilke Many of us have read Tuesdays … Continue reading

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Prose Poetry in a Smoky Time

I was sitting at my dining table this morning with a cup of coffee looking out over the still smoky and haze-ridden sky we had experienced on the Olympic Peninsula for a week because of fires in Eastern Washington and in British Columbia. Sometimes we couldn’t see the islands so close to our shores here … Continue reading

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To Love the World and Let the World Love You: August Advice for Writing Poetry

August is the Gregorian calendar month named after the Roman Augustus Caesar, the man responsible for spreading the Roman Empire over the earth. He wrote about his great accomplishments, writings some think of as the typical age-old boastings of a politician. However, others wrote after his death that upon innumerable occasions he donated money to … Continue reading

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Stay in the Physical World: How Using Sensory Detail Builds the Inner Story

Creative writing requires that we create experience through our words. We can’t just say a day was amazing, or it was depressing, or that a character felt ecstatic about something without our readers becoming disengaged. If we do that we have created distance between ourselves as writers and our material and, eventually, between the story … Continue reading

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To Follow Your Words, Not Your Keys, Home

Years ago, a poet friend of mine, Jim Mitsui, ended a poem with an image of people “following their keys home.” That image has lingered with me as a lesson about what the writing life saves us from, which is the dullness of always expecting the expected, and what it requires of us, which is … 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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Sheila Bender Offers Tools for Writers on Breaking Their Silence

Earlier this month, I spoke with Linda Joy Myers of the International Association of Memoir Writers as a guest on her podcast series Breaking the Silence (the player link for you is below). I spoke about tools for getting to your subject when you feel unable to address your material. That happens when you are … Continue reading

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“Grave Site Visit” by Nancy Smiler Levinson, 2018 Winter Contest Winner

One of two writings tied for second place in our fall/winter 2018 writing contest is “Gravesite Visit,” a poem by Writing It Real member Nancy Levinson. Our guest judge Kelli Agondon described her choice this way: “Gravesite Visit” is a beautiful meditation on the healing powers of poetry and how poems (and writing) can help … Continue reading

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For Writers, “Finders Keepers” Can Mean “Finders Re-arrangers”

[This article appeared in slightly different form in 2014 — ed.] As writers, our ears are tuned for measuring the quality of the words we hear around us. Sometimes, our ears catch speech we think is pure poetry or could be if read that way. We find that with a little rearranging these words express more humor, more … 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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To Explain How a Poem Grows

This winter’s holiday school break, my grandson, now 15 and a half years old and equipped with his driver’s permit, took a two-week intensive driver’s education class. I certainly felt the passage of time as I remembered using an image of my son Seth receiving his driver’s license as I wrote a poem for him … 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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A Talk for All Writers

Listening to successful children?s book writer Patrick Jennings during an interview with him for ?In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life,? I realized again how much authors of books for young readers have to teach all of us who write. Listen to my recent interview with Patrick, in which he reads from his … Continue reading

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Writers’ Strategies, Questions, And a Writing Exercise

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing memoirist and novelist Pam Houston. At the time of the interview, her book, Contents May Have Shifted, was Port Townsend?s Community Read. I did the taping on behalf of our local library. In this podcast, Pam talks about her writing and, in particular, the writing … 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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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

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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

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A Useful Review for Employing the Five Senses in Writing Scenes

In writing, we only feel included as readers when our senses are involved. As we read with our senses involved, we learn more about ourselves and others by encountering the way the others record surroundings through their senses. As writers, we have a fuller picture when we allow our characters and ourselves as speakers to … Continue reading

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Burying the Dutch Oven: A Writing Exercise for Discovery

A writing colleague of mine once shared in an essay that when she angrily broke up with a beloved college boyfriend under duress because her father didn’t like him, she took the Dutch oven they used for cooking and buried it in the backyard before she left. The topic of the essay was finding him … Continue reading

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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

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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

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Haiku Poets Focus on What Matters Most: An Interview with Robert Epstein

Robert Epstein has invested years in conceiving and writing books, among them a series of impressive haiku anthologies. This National Poetry Month, I am delighted to post an interview with him that gets to the heart of how haiku connects us to the sacred and demonstrates what we come to poetry for — to understand and to share … Continue reading

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Sand Spirit Cards — A Tool for Writers

Before embarking on a third revision of A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief, an intense book-length personal narrative, I worked with writer, photographer and shamanic practitioner Pam Hale Trachta for guidance in knowing what I wanted to do in developing my manuscript. Because it is about my son’s death in … Continue reading

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Play with 20 Scene Building Prompts

Last week, I wrote about doing a scene-writing exercise short story writer and teacher, Ron Carlson, invented. This week, I am posting 20 ideas I’ve put together for practice writing scenes that will help you develop dexterity in presenting your story, fiction or nonfiction, with the kinds of phrasing and details that absorb readers. Try … Continue reading

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The Physicality of Writing Scenes and Characters

As writers, we are aware of the dictum “Show, don’t tell,” but sometimes what we think of as showing turns out to be only another way of telling and avoiding showing. On this subject, I often quote fiction writer Ron Carlson’s words in his book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story: Outer story, the physical world, is … Continue reading

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You Could Be Writing, Not Waiting to Write: Four Very Portable Short Forms

Before appointments, when a meeting hasn’t started, when a bus hasn’t come, when a friend is late, when you have finished something and still have time before the next thing in your day, when you arrive early to work — do you write or reflexively check your email or text a friend or leaf through … Continue reading

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Writing Your Way in the Back Door: The Painting as Entry

Christine Hemp offers us her thinking about how we may find our prose and poetry’s true subjects followed by a writing exercise for practice and two sample poems. [This article and exercise were originally published in Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, from Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, edited by Sherry … 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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Where Does Creativity Start?

You may think that being creative requires that you have an idea for a finished product. But an important attribute of creativity is that it produces what it will, not necessarily what you were thinking it ought to. You may think creativity requires completing laborious hours of work. But many people experience creativity seeming to … Continue reading

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Our Writing Minds Depend on This

Writing depends on our willingness to observe closely and our ability to allow ourselves to engage emotionally with what we are observing. So often, though, we don’t remember to take time to look around rather than look only at our screens because of the mad crush of email, texts, instant messages, facebook posts, tweets, and … Continue reading

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If You Write Prose, You Can Write Poetry

A few years ago, Kathy Lockwood, one of my distance learning students, was having trouble writing poems because she was moving. She had to clean out and reduce her belongings, pack things up and move on, though she and her husband weren’t exactly sure where his work would be taking them. When she called for help, … Continue reading

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Look, Listen, Touch, Smell, Taste: 7 More Ideas for Your Writer’s Journal

There is a pleasure in the thought that the particular tone of my mind at this moment may be new in the universe; that the emotions of this hour may be peculiar and unexampled in the whole of eternity of moral being. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, April 17, 1827, Charleston, South Carolina How can you … Continue reading

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In May I Rush to Use Sensory Details

As adults, we are so used to summarizing and editorializing. We have learned that abstractions are considered “smart” in writing and having opinions makes us sound even smarter. That’s what our teachers wanted from us on papers and on essay tests. But creative writing, whether that is in poetry, fiction, personal essay or in longer … Continue reading

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TIL – A Strategy for Travel Writing

My daughter Emily took a trip with her husband, children, and parents-in-law to India, where her husband has many relatives. During the three-week trip, I was very happy to be able to follow her travels through photos and writing she shared on Facebook. Her Facebook posts took a form that made me think of William … 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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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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Writing Between the Lines: A Personal Essay Writing Idea

I receive news headlines online from the Washington Post. It is unusual for one of their tech headlines to capture my interest, let alone to inspire a creative writing idea. But yesterday, a headline about a tech book review caught my eye because of the book’s title: The Human Face of Big Data: How information … Continue reading

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Boating to Breakfast: Evolution of Mary Langer Thompson’s First-Place Winning Poem

In our spring/summer Writing It Real contest, writers and poets sent in writing inspired by the world around them. That’s a broad topic as we might be looking at the world close up and intimately or from afar. In selecting winners in our spring/summer Writing It Real contest, final judge Betsy Howell wrote of Mary … Continue reading

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To Write is to Observe: Learning This Again on a Trip to Turkey

To Write is to Observe: Learning This Again on a Trip to Turkey In Mid-May, I took a trip to Turkey with 11 women writers. Susan Bono and I gathered participants who met together for four days of touring Istanbul. Our Turkish counterpart, writer and teacher Yesim Cimcoz and her student Fusun Centinel put together walking … Continue reading

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Images Are What Pop for Readers, Not Telling: Exercises to Increase Your Expertise

Most of us find it hard sometimes to believe that the specifics of what we see, taste, touch, smell and hear relate our inner perceptions and feelings (or those of our characters) without explanation. We may be writing with specifics and then, without realizing it, begin to explain and annotate, argue and attempt to persuade … Continue reading

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