CREATIVE NONFICTION CRAFT ESSAYS

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

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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IN THE MINES, A Craft Essay on Creative Nonfiction by Linnie Greene

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 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
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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THANK YOU, JUDGE JUDY by Jen Karetnick

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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