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

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

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

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

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

Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait on the Wall, A Writing Exercise

Years ago one of my writing students wrote this line in class, “Ms. Failure paints her self-portrait, then hangs it on a wall in your world without asking permission.” He was speaking, he told us, of a time when he was “not facing the realities of the world.” His imagined self-portrait both set him straight … Continue reading

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

Game Stories: A Prompt that Works

Two weeks ago, I posted an article with writing ideas for getting started on new material and asked those who wanted to do so to send me accounts of the games they have played and enjoyed, especially in childhood. My thanks to Nancy Levinson, author of Moments of Dawn: A Poetic Memoir of Love & … Continue reading

Stage and Screen Prompts to Help Your Writing Craft

Whether you have wanted to write a play or a screenplay or are involved in writing memoir, thinking like a playwright will help you tell a story well by writing in scenes, creating evolving characters (yourself and others in your memoir) and using plot that employs conflict and life obstacles. Here are screen writing/play writing … Continue reading

Hide & Seek: Using Childhood Games for Writing Prompts and Metaphors

In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum writes about hiding in a pile of leaves in his front yard and not being found by the game’s seeker. He likens this hiding-too-well as a kid to a doctor who was dying of cancer but never told anybody because he didn’t … Continue reading

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

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

Finding the Motto Writer Within

We are motto (and affirmation) happy in our culture. We circulate phrases from manufacturers and social service organizations from “Just do it” to “Just say no,” from “You deserve a break today” to “I brake for animals.” After I studied creative writing in graduate school and was publishing poetry, I was just starting to use … Continue reading

“Grave Matters”: Mary Ann Payne’s Writing Exercise Result

I am pleased to share long-time Writing It Real member Mary Ann Payne’s writing in response to the writing exercise I shared last week. Grave Matters by Mary Ann Payne It’s time to bury the piano. Chop it up in tiny pieces and put it in a deep hole in the backyard next to the … Continue reading

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

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

Acknowledging the Value of Your Writing, Part 4

Creating Self-Understanding Despite Fears of Revealing Your Own Shortcomings and True Experience Before we see what writers have said on the issue of fear about revealing oneself through writing, try this exercise: Select four or so pieces of your writing. Look for nouns that you used more than you knew you did. Circle these words … Continue reading

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

Help Writing Scenes That Engage the Reader (and the Writer)

In 2005, I posted an article with excerpts from Riding in Cars with Boys by Beverly Donofrio’s and A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries by Kaylie Jones along with exercises based on their writing. I am reposting the following short excerpts along with the ideas I had aimed at helping you launch new writing of your … Continue reading

Toward Beginning A Year of Writing Poetry (Or Improving Your Prose Through Poetry)

For January: Dreams and Repetitions In this month of the inauguration of a new president of our country, it seems particularly appropriate and important to study the orators of our great nation who called out for freedoms we enjoy. Reading the words of Dr. King, Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama, we can experience the power … Continue reading