Craft Essays

Craft Essays

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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BECOMING AN OUTLAW Or: How My Short Fiction Became a Memoir, a craft essay by Andrea Jarrell

I began as a fiction writer, naturally drawing from my childhood as my mother had told it to me, working hard to bring her stories to life through scene, dialogue, and sensory detail, pacing them as mysteries. The memoir that many of these fictionalized stories eventually became is better, I think, because I didn’t start out writing memoir, trying to “remember.” ...
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BEST READER, WORST ENEMY, a Craft Essay by Claire Rudy Foster

There are two kinds of important reader: the one who hates you, and the one who understands you. When I write, I come to the page knowing that someone will probably hate what I produce. In fact, I count on this. As I work, I read each sentence as though I am my own worst enemy. Zadie Smith says to “try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, ...
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EMOTION IS NOT PLOT: Using Detachment to Create Powerful Fiction, a craft essay by Claire Rudy Foster

Here’s my greatest fear: that I will never be able to name the essential emotions I perceive in myself and others. Our shifting tide and all its smells and sweat and words and secret hidden codes and eyelashes and old letters and emotional ephemera that moves across the surface of the human world like that gyre of discarded belongings and trash that is so large it could cover Texas and is comprised of plastic, the ...
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IN THE MINES, A Craft Essay on Creative Nonfiction by Linnie Greene

I. Towards a New Empathy A couple of years ago, Leslie Jamison and Francine Prose debated in The New York Times about whether or not it’s ethical to use your children as literary fodder. They discussed the demerits of transforming real life into words on a page in a pair of pieces titled “Is It O.K. to Mine Real Relationships for Literary Material,” and the conclusion seems to be this: that real people get stuck ...
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THE EMPATHY MACHINE, Part Two by Kelly McQuain text version

THE EMPATHY MACHINE, Part Two Text Version by Kelly McQuain 1. Tweet No Evil In an effort to get my head around what I consider the purpose of art-making, I attended three writing conferences during summer 2015. The first was at U.C. Berkeley and was supposed to commemorate the influential 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference fifty years prior, inspired by a student Free Speech Movement earlier that year. But poet Vanessa Place’s inclusion on the bill ...
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SEEKING CHILDHOOD by Nathaniel Popkin

SEEKING CHILDHOOD by Nathaniel Popkin In early 1951, when the Mexican writer Homero Aridjis was almost eleven, he came home from playing soccer with friends and, following a vague urge, took his brother’s shotgun to the yard. He shot into the air, scattered the birds aloft from the sapodilla tree, and dropped the shotgun to the ground. The gun fired and struck Aridjis in the stomach. He barely survived. The accident, writes Chloe Aridjis, his ...
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THE MAN ON THE COUCH AND THE MAN WHO SPEAKS POEMS by J.G. McClure

THE MAN ON THE COUCH AND THE MAN WHO SPEAKS POEMS by J.G. McClure I pay a therapist an hourly rate to listen to my feelings. I pay literary journals reading fees to read about my feelings. My therapist says she’s struck by two parallel versions of me: the Man on the Couch who seems pathologically unable to feel, and the Man Who Speaks the Poems who feels all too deeply. She wonders which ...
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WHY I WRITE Or, It’s The End of the World as We Know It and I Feel (Sorta) Fine by J.G. McClure

WHY I WRITE Or, It’s The End of the World as We Know It and I Feel (Sorta) Fine by J.G. McClure I remember as a kid going to a science museum somewhere in Missouri. They had an exhibit—basically a rickety computer with MS Paint hooked up to a radio transmitter. The idea was this: you’d draw a picture, the transmitter would transmit it upward, and voila, your masterpiece would travel out among the stars, ...
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IN PRAISE OF MISTRANSLATIONS by J.G. McClure

IN PRAISE OF MISTRANSLATIONS On Conversational Translation by J.G. McClure We all know Freud talked about the ego and the id. Except he didn’t. What he actually talked about was Das Ich und Das Er, which is to say, “The I and the It.” The words “mean” the same thing, except they don’t. When we translate Freud, we use the Latin pronouns for “I” and “It,” whereas Freud used the regular, everyday pronouns of his ...
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THANK YOU, JUDGE JUDY by Jen Karetnick

THANK YOU, JUDGE JUDY by Jen Karetnick I’m a poet and fiction writer by vocation and a journalist by trade. The first two I learned in school, ultimately ending with two MFA degrees, one in each genre. Journalism I was taught on the job, trained by several editors. But seven years ago, when the economy crashed and the future of print journalism was a serious concern, I took a job in a charter school for ...
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CROSSING BORDERS IN FICTION by Ellen Meeropol

CROSSING BORDERS IN FICTION by Ellen Meeropol The main character in my second novel, On Hurricane Island, is a lesbian. I’m straight. There are also an African-American attorney and a cross-dressing F.B.I. agent in that book, and I’m neither of those. So what right do I have to burrow under these characters’ skin, see the world through their eyes, and write their voices? It’s an important question and one that has been frequently argued, especially ...
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CONFESSIONS OF A FICTION EDITOR by George Dila

CONFESSIONS OF A FICTION EDITOR by George Dila I am the fiction editor of a respectable independent ink-and-paper quarterly literary journal. We publish short fiction of up to 1500 words. I see every piece of prose submitted to the journal. The editor-in-chief has given me sole discretion to accept or reject any piece submitted. Here are my confessions. Confession #1: I reject nearly everything. Most work I see should never have been submitted in the ...
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LEAVING APPALACHIA: Overlap in Poetic Landscapes by Julia Paganelli

LEAVING APPALACHIA: Overlap in Poetic Landscapes by Julia Paganelli In August, I stuffed my summer dresses and cooking implements into a Toyota and trekked eighteen hours from Appalachia to the Ozarks. I’ve been tallying the difference between the mountain ranges. Appalachia is older than the Ozarks—cliffs softer. More oil painting than chiseled sculpture. I’ve been reading up on architecture. In the book Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, Rowan Moore writes, “Where things ...
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THE POET’S “I”: DISTANCE THROUGH FIRST-PERSON by Katie Rensch

THE POET’S “I”: DISTANCE THROUGH FIRST-PERSON by Katie Rensch In a recent conversation with a group of mixed-genre writers, it came to my attention that we were all writing in the first-person, well, more or less. In fiction, we call the first-person the “main character”, in poetry we say the “speaker” of the poem, and in nonfiction it’s the writer’s name because the “I” must, by definition, be the person writing. We might just call ...
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APPROACHING BORDERS by Nathaniel Popkin

APPROACHING BORDERS by Nathaniel Popkin Two men, one aged 61, the other 65, each born in late January, each a father in grief. The first is the Israeli writer David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed in the brief 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon. The other is the American poet Edward Hirsch, whose son Gabriel died of a drug overdose in 2011. On a bookshelf these men and their books may stand together, G then ...
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TRAPPED IN THE ALPHABET by Niels Hav

TRAPPED IN THE ALPHABET by Niels Hav When Barack Obama was inaugurated as president in USA, the poet Elizabeth Alexander was reading at the ceremony. The poet may take on a similar role in different cultures. But in everyday life, and most of the time, the poet is an outsider. A lonely bandit in the desert. That’s how it is in Europe, and so it is in the rest of the world. We writers are ...
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CROSSING THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE: ARCHER, BOB’S BURGERS, AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY by J.G. McClure

CROSSING THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE: ARCHER, BOB’S BURGERS, AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY by J.G. McClure 1. The emotional landscape of the reader determines the work that can reach her. Imagine the interior world as a sea: the boat-poem can move ahead, but the truck-poem can’t. Conversely, if the interior world is a field… 2. Over the holidays, I’ve been binge-watching Netflix, especially two animated comedies starring H. Jon Benjamin, Archer and Bob’s Burgers. The same deadpan voice ...
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RETHINKING THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT by George Dila

RETHINKING THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT by George Dila I do not write shitty first drafts. In fact, that phrase, inspired by Ernest Hemingway, popularized by Anne Lamott, offends me slightly—both the idea of thinking of my own work this way, and also that word itself, shitty, to my ear an ugly and repellent adjective. What does the phrase mean, though? To quote the wonderful Miss Lamott, from her book-that-everyone-has-read, Bird by Bird, “The first draft ...
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THAT DEXTEROUS MARGIN by Michael McFee

THAT DEXTEROUS MARGIN by Michael McFee 1. A poem is a visual as well as a verbal object. Its language is primary, obviously, the sounds the words make, and the effects those sounds have on the reader, phoneme by phoneme and as a whole aural object. But the shape the poem makes on the page is crucial as well. 2. I spent my first two years of college in design school at a technological research ...
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THE ART OF DESPAIR by Allison Seay

The Art of Despair by Allison Seay I. Out of the Depths Perhaps it is a weakness to rely only on my own poetic experiences or sensibilities as a way to talk about craft or as a way to teach. In writing this, I thought of all kinds of things I could write about, things I have discovered about form and experiment and figuring out what it means to write from a Real Place. To ...
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TO STAY OR TO GO INTO EXILE: Milosz and Szymborska by Niels Hav

TO STAY OR TO GO INTO EXILE: Milosz and Szymborska by Niels Hav translated by Heather Spears This year Patrick Modiano received the Nobel Prize for Literature and, as often before, it was a complete surprise when the secretary of the Swedish Academy opened the door and released the name to the press. Every year this event is a celebration, and the joyous news spreads round the world with the speed of light ...
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