Coming Home: A Writing Prompt

I start today with these lines from Robert Frost’s narrative poem, “The Death of the Hired Man”: Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in. We know this isn’t always true. Families turn their own away all the time, and sometimes for good reason. In a…

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Start Small: Writing Memoirs and Personal Essays

This will be a brief post since it’s about small approaches to writing difficult material. That’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m writing a memoir about something very personal and often times uncomfortable. I’m giving myself an hour each morning to write a small section. Unlike my usual strategy of telling a story from beginning…

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Dark Corners: A Writing Prompt

My wife Cathy and I went to the apple orchard yesterday. The Honeycrisp is my favorite apple, and I welcome its return each autumn. It tells me we’ve made it through another year, but it also tells me time is swiftly passing. The seasons of a single life eventually run out, and those who love…

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Visual Images and the Writing of Narrative

Visual images can often suggest narratives. Such is the case with the one that opens this post, a photograph of a pair of hot pink stilettos lying the tall grass. How did they get there? Who was wearing them, or were they wearing them? Where were they going? What happened when they got there? Did…

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A Message Box: Objects and Memoirs

Because my father was a farmer, we barely knew what it was to take a vacation. There were crops to tend and livestock to feed, and God forbid our cattle got out of their pasture, as they sometimes did, and we weren’t there to corral them. All through my childhood, I only remember us going…

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The Marks We Leave Behind: A Writing Exercise for Memoirists

After my father died, I found the marks he’d left: the wooden handles of tools, scraped and splintered from the pincers of his prosthetic hands—his hooks as he always called them; the clamped edges of pages in his Bible from where he’d held them. I can still recall him sitting at our dining table, working…

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Memoir and the Imagination

My wife Cathy has told me it’s all right if I tell this story. It’s her story of never knowing, until recently, the identity of her biological father. Her mother, a few years before she died, finally, when pressed, gave Cathy the identity of her father. He was deceased, but Cathy had no reason to…

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I’m Mr. Blue: Thoughts on Writing Essays

It’s Christmas night, and I’m in the backseat of my parents’ Chevrolet Belair or the Ford that preceded it, or else riding between them in the cab of my father’s Chevy pickup, and I’m four, or five, or six, or seven, and we’re coming home from another Christmas spent with my mother’s side of the…

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Mad Libs for Creative Nonfiction Writers

Cathy and I, the past few years, have been opening our home on Thanksgiving Day, providing a welcome table to anyone who might need a place to go. Of course, we’re disappointed that the pandemic has made that impossible this year, but our gathering’s loss is a small price to pay for the sake of…

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Keep Going: The Writing Life and Perseverance

It’s a really windy day here in central Ohio, and consequently there’s a lot of noise—the sound of the wind, the jangle of wind chimes, the creaking of siding on my house. When I was running into that wind in the last of my five miles, it was hard to keep going. The gusts pushed…

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