Just Write

Writing Personal Essays

We aren’t born knowing how to write personal essays. So, how does one learn to write personal essays? The following is inspired from “A Few Tips for Writing Personal Essays,” by Robert Lee Brewer, March/April 2021 Writer’s Digest. Read personal essays! Then write. You will discover your style as you write. ~ Start with action. Save backstory for later in the essay. The beginning should have a compelling scene that hooks readers and makes them want to continue reading. The following is an example of “start with action.” The hook compelled me to read the entire essay. “When he walked into a San Francisco barbershop after the war, he was told by the owner, ‘We don’t serve Japs here.’ The owner of the barbershop obviously didn’t know who the one-armed Japanese-American was – his name was Daniel Inouye. And, according to one website that honors heroes, he was one tough…

Sparks

California Winter

California Winter By Patricia Morris (with thanks to Ted Kooser) The wind turns the pages of rain As drops splatter on the skylights,     beating a rhythm punctuated by     the cracks of unmoored oak limbs      hitting the roof.    The rain chain dances,     brass acorns jingling,     water swooshing through its cups.    The creek rushes over rocks,       gushes into the culvert and out again,       making its overground / underground way to the river.   The thirsty earth soaks it in,    filters it down into empty aquifers. One chapter ending, another beginning.   Freewrite inspired by the poem, A Rainy Morning, by Ted Kooser   Patricia Morris misses the summer thunderstorms of her rural Midwestern upbringing, but enjoys observing and writing about the California rains from her home in Petaluma. After careers as diverse as…

Guest Bloggers

Why not just get busy and write?

I’ve been reading back issues of Tiny Lights and found this gem by Suzanne Byerley, published December 2000. Even though this was written twenty years ago, it’s a perfect piece to share with you in these days of restlessness, as we wade through difficult times to find inspiration and energy to write.—Marlene Cullen “Steps” by Suzanne Byerley. I find myself restless. I prowl about the house in my slippers making sure the cats are behaving themselves, sorely tempted to turn on CNN and see if Florida has picked the next president yet. Maybe I’ll lay out a game of solitaire or fumble through that little Bach prelude my daughter mastered when she was six. What is this wild drive to diversion? Why not just sit down and get at what makes me happy? Why not just get busy and write? Because the steps to the desk are like slogging bootless…

Book Reviews

The Write Spot: Memories

Marlene Cullen’s collection of short essays compiled in The Write Spot: Memories unfolds like a gently-made, multi-colored origami box. Each story is its only piece, its own regretful, loving, confusing, humorous, illuminating tale, yet held together by one theme that touches us all—our fathers and our memories of them when we were children, and our awakenings about them as we became adults. The Write Spot: Memories is for anyone who has had a father—whether present or absent, loving or distant, authoritarian or goofball. Authentic and relatable, each story is written with deep insight and love. —Julie Wilder-Sherman I love this book and the way it encourages, instructs and gives writers practical ideas to keep on writing. The stories are captivating and written from the heart. Each author ends with an honest description of their Inner Critic and how they tame it! I read this book twice because of the honest…

Prompts

Five minute writing exercises . . . Prompt #431

~ Write for 5 minutes about something difficult, challenging, or painful. It’s only five minutes. Go ahead. Do it now. We’ll wait. Humming in the background while writing gets done. Quiet while writing gets done. Are you still reading?  Write!  Just write. For five minutes. After five minutes . . . ~ Write for 5 minutes about something comforting, happy, or joyous. Yes, you. Now. Just write. Go ahead. We’ll wait. Waiting. Waiting. Patiently waiting. I’ll write, too. After five minutes . . . ~ Write for 5 minutes about images of nature, the natural world. Hmm . . . what will you choose from nature to write about? Feathers, rocks, trees, birds, rocks, dirt, peach blossoms, river, waterfall, penguins, geese. Write whatever comes up for you about nature. Shhh. . . Writers are working here. Doing what we do. Writing. Just writing. Keep on writing. For five minutes. Next…

Quotes

The personal essay is an act . . .

“The personal essay begins as an act of exploration. We write in order to figure out where we’re going and make sense of where we’ve been.” — Susan Bono Susan Bono is an extraordinary writer whose words go right to the heart. You can read her excellent writing in her collection of short essays in What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home. Susan is a writing teacher and freelance editor specializing in memoir. She facilitates writing workshops at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma. California.

Guest Bloggers

When Tough Love becomes True Love

This past year has been difficult for me (Marlene), not just during the long month of November. I have been playing catch up all year, trying to whittle down my never-ending to-do list. Susan Bono’s guest blog post reminds me to stop, notice, and savor the moment. Susan writes: Even those of us who start the day with a list know what it’s like when unplanned-for events start coming our way. In spite of our intentions, we start tackling the unscheduled instead of working on what we had planned. Emergencies come up, of course; we can’t control everything. No one can plan for bad news or times we are suddenly needed. But the list of unanticipated tasks is endless, and after a while, we just start doing what comes to us, instead of what we had intended. You should have days when you follow your bliss. In fact, have them…

Places to submit

What do Contest Judges Look for?

Recently I was one of three judges for a writing contest. We didn’t agree during the first round of reading on the winners. It took re-reading and much discussion to select the three winners. So that got me to thinking. What do contest judges look for when choosing winning entries? My fellow judges and I came up with: Make sure to follow the guidelines. They aren’t arbitrary. The guidelines are specific for a reason. Make sure to follow the criteria of what genre the contest is. Don’t submit memoir if the contest is fiction. Even though the judges may not be able to tell for sure if something is fiction or memoir . . . if it feels like memoir, it probably is. And that won’t work in a fiction contest. The winning entries that stood out excelled in creative writing and well-crafted stories. The writing and stories were compelling,…

Guest Bloggers

Joys and discoveries when re-reading books.

Do you feel guilty when you re-read a book (on purpose, not because you forgot you previously read it)? Juan Vidal wrote a thoughtful essay about the joys and discoveries one makes when re-reading. “Returning to a book you’ve read multiple times can feel like drinks with an old friend. There’s a welcome familiarity — but also sometimes a slight suspicion that time has changed you both, and thus the relationship. But books don’t change, people do. And that’s what makes the act of rereading so rich and transformative. The beauty of rereading lies in the idea that our engagement with the work is based on our current mental, emotional, and even spiritual register. It’s true, the older I get, the more I feel time has wings. But with reading, it’s all about the present. It’s about the now and what one contributes to the now, because reading is a…