White Space: An Annotation

Every essay begins with white space. White space is the essay entitled “Essay” looking for its opening line, the writer looking for the new way into her old material. White space is the slit in the body marked “Self.” # White space is a possibility. The writer sorts herself. Pine needles on a sidewalk so...

Beyond Perhapsing: “Split-Toning” Techniques for Speculation in Nonfiction

When I teach nonfiction, one of my favorite essays to reference is Lisa Knopp’s Brevity essay, “‘Perhapsing’: The Use of Speculation in Creative Nonfiction.” During my MFA program, Knopp’s essay was prominent in my thoughts as I learned how to read and write “invented” spaces—places where imagination and speculation must be added to flesh out meaning....

The Ethics of Empathy: Techniques for Portraying Antagonists in Contemporary Memoir

How do memoirists manage the ethical problem of writing about their antagonists? Writers who examine real places, events and people face risks that warrant thoughtful consideration before publication. As poet and memoirist Judith Barrington notes, “We have a right to tell our stories, but not to blunder into publication without a thought for the consequences.”...
Craft Essays

Craft Essays

In our May 2018 Craft Section, Wendy Staley Colbert looks at how memoirists manage the ethical problem of writing about others, Gwendolyn Edwards discusses how writers can experiment with speculation and imagination while still upholding the reader-writer contract, and Jennifer Gravely reminds us that all essays will ultimately end in white space.

Transforming an Essay Collection into a Memoir

A year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a craft essay for Brevity about being a literary late-bloomer and finishing my first manuscript, an essay collection about my relationships, in my forties. In the piece, I said I was “done” with my book. Since then I’ve received encouraging feedback from agents and editors, but no solid bites. Over...

Capturing the Numinous: Mary Karr’s Sacred Carnality

When I want to pay attention, I make bread. The dough feels like skin against my own, drawing my focus as something to be attended and held. It demands lifting and patting; it asks to be placed on a bed of flour and coaxed it into a loose loaf, shaped and smoothed and weighed in...

The Mental Load: Honoring Your Story Over Your To-Do List

Facebook has this quiz—you might know it—“14 Fun Questions to Ask Your Child,” and because I was supposed to be doing something else, I turned instead to my five-year-old son, and we proceeded down the list. When I got to number thirteen, “What do your parents do for a job?” my son hesitated. “Well, I...

Eight Variations on the Idea of a Sentence

after Paul Gruchow in memory of Brian Doyle 1. Is it just that I like the sensation of my skin snagged on those sentences, the breathless anticipation of what he’ll do, the next “sharp sentence where the dagger enters your heart and the essay spins on a dime like a skater, and you are plunged...

Zooming In [Draft by Draft]: The Narrowing Lens of “Stranded”

for my father The summer I turned six, I sat on the stinging concrete of our driveway in Lubbock, Texas, with a pair of new roller skates and a book about skating (I don’t remember the title—Amy Learns to Skate?). While my father mowed the backyard, I laced up my white skates and opened the...

Come On In: The Writing’s Fine

I stared out my writing-room window, watching our yard transformed into a meteor crater. Enormous piles of dirt lined the edge of a twenty-four-foot wide, two-foot deep circular hole. The Bobcat had tracked a swath of sand across the yard to the fence. It was a beautiful mess. Two months ago my spouse and I...

What and So What: Loyalties

Childhood offers most of us ample trauma and exuberance and discovery for several lifetimes of writing. Folks say that Gabriel García Márquez told his friend Mario Vargas Llosa, “Everything I have written I knew or I had heard before I was eight years old.” (We will assume that his awareness of sex perhaps showed up...

Flash Nonfiction and the Art Student: Sharing Tools to Explore How We Make Art

with a sample essay by Mariana Yanes Cabral __ For artists who make things with their hands, their materials provide direct and immediate feedback: No hiding from the result. The lip of a vessel does not curve the way they thought it might. A new layer of paint moves an image from near perfect to...

Using Fiction within Nonfiction to Navigate Difficult Emotional Terrain

My mother was one of the most significant adults in my childhood, as mothers are for many people. Yet when I tried to write about her, my writing fell flat. I was unable to capture her complexity or the complexity of my feelings for her, and she came across as annoying and the narrator (me)...

The Essay and the Art of Equivocation

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I was struggling with a short story for a fiction workshop and turned to a close friend who was, and still is, a master of the form (let’s just say his short-story collection won all the big awards). I was hoping, as all apprentices do, that I...

Truth & Delight: Resisting the Seduction of Surfaces

Among the least pleasant chores of a writing teacher: dissuading students of the notion that what sounds good in a piece of writing is, necessarily, good. It’s the part of my job that I most dread and dislike, the part where I’m forced to play bad cop opposite a classroom full of good cops who...

Beyond “Craft for Craft’s Sake”: Nonfiction and Social Justice

Authors’ Note: We completed this essay in the early days of November 2016. At the time, we felt like our manifesto—our call for an urgent craft infused with social justice—was an outlier, a push from the margins of nonfiction discourse. We thought it was possible that the audience of Brevity could be resistant to, or...

Three Commandments for Writing About Race

A craft essay to accompany our Special Issue on Race, Racism, and Racialization:  Race, unlike a monotheistic god, no longer has a singular ancestry. There are those who like to think it still has, but that paradigm shifted centuries ago.  Thus the first biblical commandment, about a god liberating people from bondage can apply to...
How We See One Another: Our Guest Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

How We See One Another: Our Guest Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

Guest editors Joy Castro and Ira Sukrungruang discuss what they hoped for and what they learned in assembling our Special Issue on Race, Racism and Racialization. __ Joy Castro:  Editing this issue with you has been a fascinating process, Ira, and I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to read these essays.  Can you...