Listening to How a Poem Sounds Helps You Write Both Poems and Prose — Meaning is in the Sounds!

[The following article in honor of National Poetry Month appeared in slightly different form in March of 2003.] John Keats created the term “negative capability,” the idea that a poem holds within it one thing as well as its opposite. For example, when we eulogize someone’s death, we also celebrate their life. When we ache … Continue reading

Using Private Writing to Locate Your True Subjects

This week’s article is a second excerpt from Rebecca McClanahan’s instructional book Write Your Heart Out: Exploring & Expressing What Matters To You, published by Walking Stick Press. It originaly appeared in 2003. One of the problems with being a student who is “good with words” is that you may learn early on how to … Continue reading

In a Season of Lists, Write a Litany to Help Yourself Keep Writing

It is holiday time and amidst the tornado-like whirl of shopping, decorating, traveling, baking, cooking, and gathering with family, friends, colleagues and community, of offering help in shelters and churches, it may seem hard to write. And even harder still to write to discover what is at the bottom of our hearts and minds. The … Continue reading

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I Can’t Get Enough of Flash Memoir!

Writing Flash Memoir is great exercise for writers. I’ve been experiencing this in my own writing and editing and in the classes I have been teaching online and in-person. Getting to the point and writing tight while still relying on details to move the reader into the story and move the story forward to its poignant, … Continue reading

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Taking Inspiration from Allen Ginsberg’s Poems to Have My Say

Tuesday, as I waited for election returns, I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” written in 1955, so full of despair at what he had seen around him. I wondered what I would howl when I found out whether or not Democrats had gained a majority in the House of Representatives and, therefore, become able … Continue reading

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A Gander at Propaganda

“The Institute for Propaganda Analysis: Protecting Democracy in Pre-World War II America,” an article authored by Zachary Reisch and kept in the Bryn Mawr Institutional Library, offers clarification about the exploration of propaganda in our country. “What is democracy?” Reisch asks and he goes on: This is the question that liberals in late 1930s America … Continue reading

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A Wonderful Genre: Models and Lessons to Help You Write Flash

For the past month, I have been teaching an online class in writing in the flash subgenre. Last Saturday, I taught an all-day in-person seminar on the genre. So, this week, I am sharing some of my lesson ideas and links to model flash pieces, which I hope will encourage you to try your hand … Continue reading

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Hiring the Journal Keeper (and/or the Writer Within)

  …the heart…and the learned skills of the conscious mind… make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Mary Oliver A Poetry Handbook Whether you are someone who sets out to write poems, essays, stories or articles or keeps journals, the thinking and analogy I make in this excerpt from … Continue reading

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Double Issue: Writing Exercises to Inspire You to Write

Here is a collection of writing ideas to keep you going for days as our schedules start to fill with fall commitments and shorter daylight. Let the Seasons’ Personas Inspire You to Write It’s the change of seasons now. Some of us feel crisp, chilly air as September wanes. Others of us may find other … 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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On Labor Day: What Writers Might Celebrate About Their Vocation

The first Labor Day was celebrated by some on September 5, 1882, when Knights of Labor leader Peter J. McGuire requested that the first Monday in September be a day of rest for American workers. A parade in New York City’s Union Square honored the working people of America. Thousands took the day off to … Continue reading

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Patricia Hampl, My To-do List and Fiddler on the Roof

I am so enjoying reading Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day. Early in the book, page 18, she records one of her many to-do lists. She says first that she admires Montaigne, know as the father of the personal essay, for his ability to be rather than strive. He didn’t think of himself … Continue reading

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It’s Not that You Make Things Up — You Notice Things, Patricia Hampl in “Timelessness”

It’s summer, oh, those lazy days. When was the last time you had one of those lazy days? If you are lucky, there were one or more of them and not too long ago. But with the political turmoil in our country, the social networking scene, most of us working and/or volunteering, family needs, home … 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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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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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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