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

 

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

INTO THE WOODS: What Fairy Tale Settings Can Teach Us About Fiction Writing, a Craft Essay by Dana Kroos
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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DON’T BE A DRONE: Manipulating the Reader Through Pitch and Pace, A Poetry Craft Essay by Grant Clauser

DON'T BE A DRONE: Manipulating the Reader Through Pitch and Pace, A Poetry Craft Essay by Grant Clauser
Pacing in poetry can be used as a focusing technique. Both fast and slow pace equally have the ability to draw in a reader’s focus in slightly different, but complementary, ways. A sudden shift into high gear can raise our excitement or anxiety, while hitting the slow motion button compels us to look with greater scrutiny and concentration. Either way, pace is a kind of volume adjustment–by turning the volume of the poem up or ...
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TIME HEALS, EVEN YOUR DRAFTS: Three Key Realizations for Revising Your Novel, A Craft Essay by Wendy Fox

TIME HEALS, EVEN YOUR DRAFTS: Three Key Realizations for Revising Your Novel, A Craft Essay by Wendy Fox
When I finally picked my novel up again, there were sections I didn’t even recognize as having written. It was the passage of time which showed me that I had a bigger problem with how the novel was built, and it was time that helped take me through a final revision that ultimately led to the manuscript getting placed. Being away from, and then returning to, a dormant work helped me come to three important ...
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LIES I TELL MY STUDENTS, a creative nonfiction craft essay by Liz Stephens

LIES I TELL MY STUDENTS, a creative nonfiction craft essay by Liz Stephens
Pat answers are the comfort of some other disciplines. We who write and teach creative nonfiction don’t get that luxury. Ours is more like: philosophy, but with consequences. No one’s life is riding, as far as they know, on math, yet in writing classrooms and around workshop tables students may approach us like hotline workers, hands out for the right word, the final word, the bottom line, the prophecy, the truth of their life stories, ...
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CHILD’S PLAY: How Creative Play Helped Unlock My Nonfiction Writing, a craft essay by Megan Culhane Galbraith

CHILD'S PLAY: How Creative Play Helped Unlock My Nonfiction Writing, a craft essay by Megan Culhane Galbraith
Playing in my Dollhouse has been important to my writing. The scenes, photos and videos I make match the imagery of the color Polaroid photographs of the 60s. I have a deep affinity for the babies, in particular. Staging a scene mimics the feeling of writing the first draft of an essay, achieving a mythic freedom on the page where my voice is alive and unconcerned with self-editing. I remember playing this way as a ...
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ACROSS THE DIVIDE AND BACK: How Writing Poetry Is Changing My Nonfiction, a craft essay by Vivian Wagner

ACROSS THE DIVIDE AND BACK: How Writing Poetry Is Changing My Nonfiction, a craft essay by Vivian Wagner
Writing poetry has also reminded me once again to pay attention to the rhythm of language. Rhythm is central in poetry, but I often overlook it when writing nonfiction. When we read anything, there’s a hidden music to it. We hear the words, as well as the relationship between the words, the stressed and unstressed syllables, the complex intertwining of word and phrase and sentence. Listening to rhythm is understood and expected in poetry, but ...
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SOMEONE IS WRITING THE REAL WEST VIRGINIA, a craft essay by Mary Ann Bragg

SOMEONE IS WRITING THE REAL WEST VIRGINIA, a craft essay by Mary Ann Bragg
I live in Provincetown but I’m from West Virginia. I’ve been thinking of the simultaneous provocation and balm that literature, like art, can have on moments of social and economic crisis. In Provincetown, year-round residents are disappearing as more and more houses are bought as second homes, thoroughly and exquisitely renovated, and then occupied in the summer only. In my hometown, Madison, West Virginia, streets have emptied out as an economy built on coal mining ...
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WHERE TO BEGIN: An Investigation into First Lines, a Craft Essay by Michael Overa

WHERE TO BEGIN: An Investigation into First Lines, a Craft Essay by Michael Overa
As a writer I’m forever reverse engineering great stories. That tendency to reverse engineer initially sparked might interest in first lines. First lines, like titles, are often given short shrift. Good lines, like good titles, have a way of becoming wallflowers ...
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INTENT TO WITHHOLD, a Craft Essay by Alisa A. Gaston

INTENT TO WITHHOLD, a Craft Essay by Alisa A. Gaston
Soon after I moved from Denver to Loveland, Colorado—a town of close to sixty-five thousand people and an odd mixture of artists, retirees, and hicks—I agreed to hold a series of one-on-one creative writing workshops for a twelve-year-old girl. Once I set everything into place, her mother phoned and explained that she wanted me to give her daughter feedback on her writing, yet above all, she wanted me to discourage her from becoming a writer ...
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STOP BREATHING AND JUST WRITE: National Novel Writing Month, a craft essay by Claire Rudy Foster

stop-breathing-and-just-write
50,000 words in November. That's 1,667 words a day. Typing at a good clip, that's 21 minutes of work for me. But is National Novel Writing Month really about writing? For me, it’s about climbing a mountain. It has less to do with writing than with the sense of accomplishment that goads me as a writer. And I’m not alone: last year, 431,626 writers worldwide cranked out a couple of billion words ...
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