Writer-to-Writer
Essays on Craft and The Writing Life

 

MAKING THE READER FEEL SOMETHING. PLEASE. SHOW AND TELL, A Craft Essay by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood

MAKING THE READER FEEL SOMETHING. PLEASE. SHOW AND TELL,  A Craft Essay by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood
MAKING THE READER FEEL SOMETHING. PLEASE. SHOW AND TELL. A Craft Essay by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood “Show, don’t tell.” An old piece of writing advice, generally good advice, but sometimes hard to know how to do it well. Also, confusing, because telling is often part of the showing, especially when writing personal essay and memoir. The advice stems from how writers can best help readers understand what they are trying to convey—everything from emotions and mental state ...
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QUEER (PRIVATE) EYE: Crafting a New Hardboiled Sleuth, a Craft Essay by Margot Douaihy

QUEER (PRIVATE) EYE: Crafting a New Hardboiled Sleuth, a Craft Essay by Margot Douaihy
QUEER (PRIVATE) EYE: Crafting a New Hardboiled Sleuth by Margot Douaihy “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” —Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep There's arguably no writer more emblematic of the hardboiled experience than Raymond Chandler. On the mean streets of Chandler’s fictional Los Angeles, his private eye character, Philip Marlowe, expresses infuriating bravado and self-annihilation in equal measure. It was PI Marlowe who ignited ...
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AVOIDING / EMBRACING: Strategies for Writers with Anxiety Disorders A Craft Essay by Bailey Bridgewater

AVOIDING / EMBRACING: Strategies for Writers with Anxiety Disorders A Craft Essay by Bailey Bridgewater
AVOIDING / EMBRACING: Strategies for Writers with Anxiety Disorders A Craft Essay by Bailey Bridgewater Ah, writing and mental health conditions—a power couple in the collective imagination of what influences how artists create. Biographies, movies, TV shows, and even books have reinforced the idea that psychological ailments produce the very best writers. It’s hard not to over-emphasize Edgar Allen Poe’s alcoholism, Sylvia Plath’s suicidal ideation, Emily Dickinson’s agoraphobia, or David Foster Wallace’s depression because we ...
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What I Learned from Jennifer Egan’s Use of Sensory Detail, a Craft Essay by Sandy Smith

A woman browsing the fiction section of a bookstore
What I Learned from Jennifer Egan’s Use of Sensory Detail A Craft Essay by Sandy Smith On a friend’s repeated urging to read Jennifer Egan’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Visit from the Goon Squad, I went to my small local bookstore. They had no copies of Goon Squad in stock, but there was a single copy of Egan’s 2006 title, The Keep. Since Egan is a well-respected author and the flap copy looked promising (“…relentlessly gripping ...
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SISTERHOOD: How the Books we Both Read Helped Me Write My Sister’s Life into Fiction, a Craft Essay by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

SISTERHOOD: How the Books we Both Read Helped Me Write My Sister’s Life into Fiction, a Craft Essay by Jane Rosenberg LaForge
SISTERHOOD How the Books we Both Read Helped Me Write My Sister’s Life into Fiction A Craft Essay by Jane Rosenberg LaForge When my sister, Susan, was still in elementary school, a family friend gave her a book for her birthday, The Wizard of Wallaby Wallow, by Jack Kent. Dyslexic as a child, Susan wasn’t much of a reader, so the gift was unusual. In time though, she overcame her disability, it seemed, because she wanted ...
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A BOOK BY ANY OTHER NAME: ON TITLES AND DATING: A Craft Essay by Melinda Scully

A Man and a Woman behind a fogged class window
A BOOK BY ANY OTHER NAME: ON TITLES AND DATING A Craft Essay by Melinda Scully Imagine a reader is on a blind date with your book or short story. Maybe a friend set them up, or they ventured out for a local singles speed-dating extravaganza. The specifics don’t really matter. The point is, the reader is on the hunt for a new story to love, and it could be yours. How exciting! Your story ...
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HOW WRITING FICTION HELPS ME—AND MAYBE YOU—DEAL WITH PAST TRAUMA, a craft essay by Kelly Fordon

woman's hands typing
In her essay “Nine Beginnings,” Margaret Atwood answers the question, “Why Do You Write?” nine different ways. In her honor, while completing my recent short story collection, I Have The Answer, I challenged myself to answer the question: “How does writing fiction help you deal with your own trauma?” nine different times ...
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THE BIG WARM HOUSE An Essay on the Art of Becoming a Writer by Emma Sloley

THE BIG WARM HOUSE An Essay on the Art of Becoming a Writer by Emma Sloley
The thing I believe writers (and perhaps also readers) need to know about the big warm house is that it’s built on a foundation of contradiction. Everyone who lives inside must crave solitude but instead find themselves bumping up against furniture, beds, each other, themselves. They must be forced into intimacy and driven apart by failing to understand one another. The fictional house must always be full of people but also profoundly lonely. The house ...
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THE PROBLEM WITH SURFING AND WRITING: a Craft Essay by Nate House

Long exposure shot of man surfing
Herein lies the problem: being a writer who surfs, a surfer who writes. When there is a wave to be ridden, everything else in life—dogs, loved ones, deadlines and writing—gets put on hold. To make matters worse, once you're completely and totally stoked from the waves, writing a coherent thought, especially one that attempts to describe the sublime experience of riding waves, becomes virtually impossible ...
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ON REVISION: From story to STORY, With a Little Help from a Doomed Vole and Robert McKee, a Craft Essay by Lea Page

a small rodent on a dirt path
If memoir is sculpture, where writers must strip away the unnecessary to find the shape of the story, then it is my memory that wields the knife. Memory chooses certain scenes and impressions. Memory snips and stores fragments and shadows. Memory does not follow the rules of chronology or of rational cause and effect. Memory puts any old thing next to another for its own reasons and may preserve for example, the dance of a ...
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FROM PLAY TO PERIL AND BEYOND: HOW WRITING CONSTRAINTS UNLEASH TRUER TRUTHS, A Nonfiction Craft Essay by Jeannine Ouellette

silhouette of children playing on a hill
Writers seek truth—truth that makes a reader’s hair stand up and speeds our hearts with recognition. But that kind of truth is elusive, both from the perspective of craft and brain science. I spent two decades unable to write an essential truth of my own life, one rooted in my childhood, during which I experienced several years of sexual abuse by my stepfather, beginning when I was four. Not surprisingly, this experience shaped the person ...
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LISTEN, STORY, TELL. (NOT ALWAYS TELL) A Nonfiction Craft Essay by Aileen Hunt

Two women talking, cropped in close
The other night I was waiting for my daughter to finish a class. The father of a classmate sat beside me and we chatted about this and that. “How’s work?” I asked, and he began to tell me that he’d been driving his bus one morning when a man ran onto the road and jumped into his path. “His face stuck to the window,” this dad said. “He was looking straight at me until he ...
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INTO THE WOODS: What Fairy Tale Settings Can Teach Us About Fiction Writing, a Craft Essay by Dana Kroos

woman in red dress and green coat standing in forest, looking to the side
Consider the phrase, “We’re not out of the woods yet” meaning “we are still in danger.” This phrase can refer to innumerable types of danger. A doctor may say to the loved ones of a sick patient: “She’s not out of the woods yet;” or in the middle of a trial that seems to be going well the lawyer may say to his client, “We’re not out of the woods yet;” in a traffic jam ...
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BUILDING MY AUTHOR PLATFORM WITHOUT A SMARTPHONE A Craft Essay by Mallory McDuff

BUILDING MY AUTHOR PLATFORM WITHOUT A SMARTPHONE A Craft Essay by Mallory McDuff
“I hope you’re working on your platform,” wrote my agent last year after I sent a substantive revision of my manuscript. I had previously published three nonfiction books with small presses, but I typically spent more time following other writers on social media than promoting myself. That might not be unusual, but I did have one unique challenge: I needed to build online visibility, but I didn’t have a smartphone—a conscious decision. I wasn’t sure ...
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THREE SECRETS TO CREATE THE WRITING LIFE YOU WANT, a craft essay by Lisa Bubert

THREE SECRETS TO CREATE THE WRITING LIFE YOU WANT, a craft essay by Lisa Bubert
The question is a familiar one, full of angst and hand-wringing, one I often asked myself but never out loud: How do you do it? How do you become a writer? There are more questions contained in this question—Where do you get your ideas? What should I write about? Where should I start?—and all these questions lead to the ultimate question: Is there a secret to this thing that I am not privy to? Yes ...
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IN DEFENSE OF TELLING, a craft essay by Scott Bane

IN DEFENSE OF TELLING, a craft essay by Scott Bane
Almost anyone who has taken a writing class has encountered the sacrosanct dictum: Show; don’t tell. The late Wayne C. Booth, Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago led me to question this doctrine in his influential book, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961). I like books about rhetoric, so when I came across the book at my local Barnes and Noble, the title hooked me. Professor Booth is a warm and clear-eyed guide. And while ...
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THE BELL DINGS FOR ME: On Writing with a Typewriter, a craft essay by Toby Juffre Goode

THE BELL DINGS FOR ME: On Writing with a Typewriter, a craft essay by Toby Juffre Goode
I hoist the case up onto my desk and struggle to release the typewriter. I don’t remember my portable typewriter in college being this cumbersome. Plug it in, feed a sheet of paper through the roller thingy, and flip the switch. Oh yeah—I’d forgotten that motor sound. Do I remember how to use this thing? I consider the keys. My fingertips find home row. Like getting on a bike again. The next thing I know ...
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YOU DON’T NEED AN ANNA MARCH IN YOUR WRITING LIFE to Know About Getting Burned, a Craft Essay by Anthony J. Mohr

YOU DON’T NEED AN ANNA MARCH IN YOUR WRITING LIFE to Know About Getting Burned, a Craft Essay by Anthony J. Mohr
Anna March and I never crossed paths, but she and Seth Fischer did. According to the Los Angeles Times, March, who apparently posed as a writing mentor, organized eleven workshops during 2016 and 2017, including one slated for Positano, Italy. Fischer signed up and bought a cheap ticket to Italy, but two days before the program’s start, March canceled it—an apparently frequent move. Fischer and some others traveled to Italy anyway, since his ticket was ...
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SHOWING AND TELLING: Seven Ways to Help Your Writing Breathe, A Craft Essay by Billy Dean

SHOWING AND TELLING: Seven Ways to Help Your Writing Breathe, A Craft Essay by Billy Dean
“Show-don't-tell” is fine advice—unless you apply it absolutely, as if you should always show and never tell. Here are seven ways your prose and poetry can breathe with both showing and telling ...
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FOUND IN TRANSLATION: How my Memoir of Life Overseas Turned into a Novella, a Craft Essay by Ele Pawelski

FOUND IN TRANSLATION: How my Memoir of Life Overseas Turned into a Novella, a Craft Essay by Ele Pawelski
Slipping my reality into fiction was not overly difficult for two reasons: first, the story was taking place some years after I’d left Kabul. While I could picture the Kabul, I’d lived in, I also knew it had changed as the Taliban continued to creep up and in. Second, once I attributed a personal anecdote to a character, I found I no longer owned it. Rather, I sought ways to transform it, playing with the ...
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WORKING FOR SURPRISE: On Running, Prescriptive Teaching, and the Language of First Drafts A Poetry Craft Essay by Devin Kelly

WORKING FOR SURPRISE: On Running, Prescriptive Teaching, and the Language of First Drafts A Poetry Craft Essay by Devin Kelly
There are two things I do nearly every day without fail: write and run. I like to talk and think about them together because, to me, they are twin feats of both discipline and imagination. Growing up a competitive runner, never very good compared to the other people I competed against, I learned to value the sport as a way to keep me both grounded and honest. Your body has a way of letting you ...
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POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson

POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson
POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson In this lyrical essay on the writing life, Scott Edward Anderson shows how poetry can be more than a formal approach to writing, more than an activity of technique, but a way to approach the world, which is good for both the poet and the poem.—Grant Clauser, Editor Walking in Wissahickon Park ...
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MY WALK ON THE BEACH WITH ANTON A Craft Essay on Connecting the Body to the Brain by Billy Dean

MY WALK ON THE BEACH WITH ANTON A Craft Essay on Connecting the Body to the Brain by Billy Dean
He put his book down and looked at me over the top of his glasses. "I never said that, Billy." "Said what, Anton?" "Don't tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass." "Oh, that. Yeah, someone turned what you actually said into a show-don't-tell rule. On behalf of all the writers who should know better, I apologize. If they'd read your stories, they'd notice how skillfully you balanced ...
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IS MEMOIR AUTOMATICALLY THERAPEUTIC? A Craft Essay on Writing About Mental Health by Leslie Lindsay

IS MEMOIR AUTOMATICALLY THERAPEUTIC? A Craft Essay on Writing About Mental Health by Leslie Lindsay
I recently finished a memoir manuscript about my bipolar mother and her eventual suicide. Light, easy writing, right? When I tell strangers about my manuscript, they cock their heads in sympathy as if to say, “You poor thing. ” Some even suggest I've misconstrued the events in my own life. Surely your mother wasn’t really mentally ill. You must have it all wrong. Others lean in as if they are about to hear a juicy story ...
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SHOULD YOU REALLY BE WRITING THAT? A Craft Essay on Writing Diversity in Fiction by Sawyer Lovett 

SHOULD YOU REALLY BE WRITING THAT? A Craft Essay on Writing Diversity in Fiction by Sawyer Lovett 
Compulsory diversity reads like a checklist: one character of color, one queer character, one character with a disability. Ta-da, instant diversity, just add water and stir. Predictably, this shallow formula reads pretty false. Black characters written by black authors are always going to be more real. Bookish people on twitter have been talking about this for a couple of years now and a phrase that I've seen pop-up a couple of times is “stay in ...
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SPYING THROUGH THE KEYHOLE: A Novelist Grows Roots in the Glamorous, Twisted World of V. C. Andrews by Emma Sloley

SPYING THROUGH THE KEYHOLE: A Novelist Grows Roots in the Glamorous, Twisted World of V. C. Andrews by Emma Sloley
For the uninitiated, if it's even possible there exist humans unaware of Flowers in the Attic, the series concerns a family called Dollanganger (in hindsight, perhaps a sly play on doppelganger?) who, for reasons I can't and don't even care to remember, end up living with the mother's parents in a big old Gothic mansion in Virginia, where the mother agrees to lock her four children away in an attic for an unspecified stretch of ...
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THROUGH GIRL-COLORED GLASSES A Craft Essay on Gender and Writing by Dina Honour

THROUGH GIRL-COLORED GLASSES A Craft Essay on Gender and Writing by Dina Honour
Was there a noticeable difference in the way I structured my writing? Did I have a particularly feminine way of tapping the keys of my ancient word processor? When my very loud printer zig-zagged along could it tell the prose churning out was written by a woman? The stacks of perforated pages, waiting to be carefully separated and submitted, did they have the indelible pinkish watermark of ‘girl’ stamped upon them? ...
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WRITING THE SUPERHERO POEM, a craft essay by Lynn Levin

WRITING THE SUPERHERO POEM, a craft essay by Lynn Levin
The superhero is a staple of pop culture, but poets can use elements of superhero identity to craft poems and explore their own mythology. Lynn Levin offers a writing prompt designed to allow poets to reach beyond the real in search of other truths ...
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FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF FOR WRITERS When Dealing with Negative Feedback, a craft essay by Floyd Cheung

FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF FOR WRITERS When Dealing with Negative Feedback, a craft essay by Floyd Cheung
Anyone who has written and submitted anything—poems, stories, essays, books—knows that immediate acceptance is extremely rare. When that happens, we celebrate and try not to let it spoil us. Much more often, we receive negative feedback in the form of outright rejection, advice, and/or an invitation to revise and resubmit (an option much more common in the academic world than in the poetry and fiction publishing scene) ...
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TURNING OUT THE LIGHTS: On Cuba, Writing, and the Ecstasy of Planetary Topography, a craft essay by Tim Weed

TURNING OUT THE LIGHTS: On Cuba, Writing, and the Ecstasy of Planetary Topography, a craft essay by Tim Weed
The blackout was a revelation. It happened at around eight PM, in Trinidad, Cuba, on one of those moonless tropical nights that fall so suddenly you barely notice the dusk. This was several years ago—before the loosening of travel regulations that occurred under President Obama—and the number of American tourists remained small. In common with many others who’ve dedicated their lives to the dream of producing enduring literature, I’ve had to make my living by ...
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In-The-Mines