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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 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

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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

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What’s the Writer’s Job? Getting Going and Keeping on Going

When I teach in person, people sometimes show up having purchased a copy of the recently updated edition of my first instructional book on writing: Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down, which I co-authored with Christi Killien Glover. Their interest prompts me to include exercises from that book during our class time together. This week, I’d like to … 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 1

[The following article appeared first in “The Heart and Craft and of Life Writing.”] It  might not be obvious that those of us who write personal essays can benefit greatly from not knowing what we have to write about.  That is surprising to people who think of the essay as researched knowledge with a professorial, … Continue reading

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Acknowledging the Value of Your Writing: Exercises for Week One and Two of Four

I have been teaching a class called “Writing is a Friend with Extraordinary Benefits” for a couple of years now through Women on Writing. I have been extremely engaged in what my students write and thrilled by the evidence that by writing from certain models the writers have reaffirmed their belief in the value of writing. After … Continue reading

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Writing About Painful Topics

My friend, the essayist Brenda Miller, wrote the introduction to my memoir A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. “I understood then,” she wrote, “that grief can be a channel in which you swim alone, where you can also find your brethren as they flicker along beside you, their bodies gliding … Continue reading

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Writing the Eulogy

As my mother’s 90th birthday approaches, my husband and I have sorted through photographs from nine decades of her life. He is making a photo essay book to be given to her this Sunday and shared with guests at the party we are making. As we sorted, I reached into a manila envelope and to … Continue reading

Understanding Your Writing and Your Need to Write

How does one muster the courage to keep writing even when no one has asked for her to write? How does a writer handle restlessness and disappointment? The author Ralph Keyes writes in The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear that when he started out as a writer, he had no idea that courage … Continue reading

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My Sure Fire Methods of Self-Sabotage (and What I’ve Done to Turn Them Around)

We’ll soon be thinking about the New Year’s Resolutions we want to make for 2017. For those who write, at least one of those resolutions will likely be about finding more time to write. I know that’s what I’d like to find in 2017. It’s not enough, though, to resolve to find that time. I … Continue reading

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In Conversation with Meg Files and Jack Heffron

We have two new podcasts ready for you to listen to. They are conversations with Meg Files and with Jack Heffron. It was fun and informative having two of my favorite writing and teaching colleagues as guests this summer on my KPTZ FM radio program, In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life. Below … Continue reading

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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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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Wash and Shine the Fruit of Your Labor

I believe that we write in three stages–we act as playful inventors on the page, move on to the task of shaping our experience, and finally edit what we have written. Although these stages sometimes overlap a bit, on the whole, they are best thought of as separate. Just as we must never short circuit … Continue reading

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Get Real Response to Your Writing from Anyone

We too often receive unhelpful, even harmful, response from first readers of our early drafts. We may feel our writing is being ripped apart or our readers are more interested in fixing punctuation and grammar than in our subject and feelings. Or we may hear, “That’s nice,” which is deflating and doesn’t really help us move deeper into our … Continue reading

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Cognitive Therapy for Writers: Behave Your Way Into Writing

When it comes to writing, we so often undermine our efforts by thinking that we are not disciplined enough, educated enough, smart enough, skilled enough, or wise enough to call ourselves writers. We must find ways to change that thinking if we are to allow writing an important place in our lives. It matters that we … Continue reading

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What Have We Here: A Conversation with Susan Bono About Her New Collection of Essays

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

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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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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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