Lightning and the Lightning Bug: A Revision Checklist

July 3, 2014 § 4 Comments

Geneva ConferenceSusan Tiberghien, author of One Year to a Writing Life, Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft, responded to yesterday’s post where Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore revealed that revision brings him absolute joy, with this very useful excerpt from her craft  book, and an equally useful checklist for revision:

Susan M. Tiberghien’s Lesson on Rewriting

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.” This wonderful quote is from Mark Twain. In this workshop we will go after the lightning.

When asked about rewriting, Ernest Hemingway said that he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before he was satisfied. Vladimir Nabokov in a self-interview wrote that spontaneous eloquence seemed like miracle and that he rewrote every word he ever published, often several times. And Mark Strand, former poet laureate, said that each poem of his sometimes goes through forty to fifty drafts before it is finished. “I like rewriting and don’t trust anything that comes spontaneously. It’s just my way.”

Checklist for Rewriting   

1) Leads and Endings

—Does first paragraph (first line) capture reader’s attention?

—Is the piece well framed? Does it begin too early, too late? End too early, too late?

—Are the lead and the ending compatible? Is there foreshadowing?

—Is there a feeling of resolution (does protagonist change / is there new meaning)?

—Closed or open-ended: Wrapped up but still alive?

A_writing_life_-2102) Description (characterization and setting) and Dialogue

—Does each setting contribute to story?

—Show! Is description vivid, intimate? Does it touch the senses?

—Are characters alive?

—Is there dialogue? Does the dialogue advance characterization and story?

—Is each character’s voice unique?


3) Action, Tension/Conflict

—Build tension through opposites in settings, characters, dialogue.

—Develop narrative tug, ‘profluence’ (Gardner).

—Is conflict important? Is the struggle worth the story?


4) Images, Similes, Metaphors, Symbols

—Which are the central (controlling) images?

—Expand language through comparisons (similes/metaphors).

—Go farther through associations (symbols).


5) Genre, Whose Story, Point of View, Style, Rhythm, Voice

—Does the shape fit the story? Is it the right genre (for both story and author)?

—Whose story is it?

—In what point-of-view?

—Is the style appropriate to the subject (poetic, didactic, humorous…)?

—Read it aloud for rhythm (scanning, word sounds, repetition)

—Is author’s voice full-bodied and consistent?


6) Theme and Meaning

—What is the subject (theme)?

—Is there clutter? Are the writer’s ideas clear?

—Is there a moment of new awareness (“epiphany”, Joyce)?

—Why is story important?


7) Editing (when the writing is revised)

—title (does it fit, does it grab attention?)

—length (too short? too long? strengthen, prune)

—sentences and paragraphs (varied, monotonous)

—verbs (active? passive? avoid verbs of being)

—unnecessary words (adverbs, adjectives, clichés, pet words, dialogue tags)

—visual effect (placement of paragraphs, space, dialogue)

—faulty rhythm

—proofread for consistency, punctuation, spelling

The Pure Joy of Revision

July 2, 2014 § 1 Comment

CaptureThe Fourth River Literary Journal features an interview with Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore, on curiosity, truth, and the joys of revision.  Here is an excerpt with a link to the entire interview at the bottom.

Revision is so necessary, so crucial and for me [perhaps I am odd this way], the most fun in writing. It’s where you get to be articulate, where the artistry comes in. The blank page terrifies me, but sifting and trying to improve through pages and pages of half-formed thoughts is pure joy.

Here is what to eliminate: anything that doesn’t make your essay better, or anything that you’ve said elsewhere in the essay in a better way. You know you are done when you can read the entire essay aloud to yourself and not stumble over a single sentence or idea; when you read it all the way through and honestly feel a completeness.

Read the entire interview at The Fourth River Literary Journal

Seven Deadly Sins: A Writers Workshop Reverie

June 30, 2014 § 15 Comments

under the cat

post-workshop cat therapy

Just in time for the summer workshop season, a guest post from Irene Hoge Smith:

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  As you know, it has been about a hot minute since my last confession.  More of the same, I’m sorry to say.


I pretty much cleaned out the book store and didn’t bother putting it on my credit card.  There’s no security system and those sweet little cashiers don’t have a clue.  I just browsed around with my Kenyon Review bag and snagged the new McClintock memoir and the beef stew guy’s Panic/Desire thing, and four or five poetry collections (they’re all really thin) and I think three different writing guides.  I just put the nice purple sweatshirt on over my tank top and gave the kid a big smile on the way out.  He never noticed.


Well, there’s that hot guy in the other workshop, really young but clearly looking for a mother-figure.  By Wednesday I had him writing my essays for me, which meant I had the afternoons off to shop (see GREED, also GLUTTONY).


Maybe that third order of tater tots at the Village Inn counts?  All the swag from the little boutique, maybe even the lodging upgrade to North Campus apartments?    I don’t know if that was worth it, though, since I actually had to make the bed myself and nobody comes in to hang up the towels (see SLOTH) and the AC doesn’t  make it up to the third floor (see WRATH).


I know I should read that Lopate book, the everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-essays-way-better-than-you-will-ever-write doorstop of a paperback?  It’s supposed to be some kind of (excuse the expression, Father) Bible for essay writers, but it’s sooooo long!  I was going to do poetry this year because poems are, like, short, and it sounded like a gut.  But they’re all going on about assonance and consonance and anapest and dactyls and enjambment and boy, I really can’t be bothered.  So I’m doing creative nonfiction. Easy, right?  You can just be, you know, creative!  And since it’s nonfiction you don’t even have to make stuff up.


Do I have “inordinate uncontrolled anger?” Well, sometimes, like at assholes who won’t publish my work, who wouldn’t?  And, yes,  I know it’s supposed to be a sin to hold on to anger at someone who is dead, but don’t bother giving me a penance for that one, Father, because it’s basically my whole book project.  I’m not giving that one up.


I’m not going to another one of my friend Kaylie’s readings.  Two books in a year?  She should let somebody else have a chance for a change.  I could have done that book if I’d tried.  And the other one, too.  (see PRIDE).


I want to be the best and most-admired writer here, but also I want everyone else to love me so much they don’t mind that I’m so fabulous.  And I want to have all that adoration without having to go to the trouble of really reading other people’s stuff (see SLOTH) and telling them how good it is and, you know, sharing the limelight (see ENVY).  And I’m really not bragging, Father, but my essay is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and I’m pissed as hell at that Eggars guy for stealing my title (see WRATH).

Well, that’s about it, Father.   Do I have to stick around?  Can we skip the penance part?  (see SLOTH)


Irene Hoge Smith lives near Washington, DC.  She is a psychotherapist, writer, and writing workshop recidivist.  She participates in an alumni writing group with the New Directions writing program at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis and a memoir workshop with the author Sara Mansfield Taber.  She has attended workshops with Rebecca McClanahan and Dinty W. Moore (at Kenyon Review Summer Writers Workshop) and Mark Doty (at the Blue Flower Arts Winter Writing Workshop).  She is working on a memoir (about her mother FrancEyE, who lived and had a child with the poet Charles Bukowski in the early 1960’s) and nonfiction essays.


Why Do Stories Resist Being Told?

June 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

swimWendy Rawlings weighs in on the story that cannot be written (yet).  After the excerpt below, a link to the entire essay on Bending Genre:

Why do some nonfictional stories resist being told? On a table near my writing desk sit twenty-four journals I kept during the years of my love affair with the Irishman. They’re filled with details that evoke the tenderness and difficulty and hilarity of two people from very different backgrounds who fell in love nonetheless. …

I’ve often tried to begin the memoir with one of these moments, but it falls flat. We are too ordinary; I cannot in words convey the charm of his accent and the unfettered pleasure he takes in his senses without turning him into a leprechaun.

Have I just not found the right form to tell this story, the right voice? Is the story of two people from different backgrounds falling in love just too played out? Do I simply lack the confidence of Mary Karr and Tobias Wolff? Or are some stories meant only to be lived, not told? ..

Is there an algorithm that will predict the moment when a writer can begin productively to translate life experience into nonfiction? Must a certain number of years go by? Or does this impasse mean I’m supposed to give up on my desire to write the nonfiction version and write a novel instead?

Read the FULL BLOG ESSAY here.

The Blogging Life

June 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Dinty W. Moore:

Jenny Spinner with a fascinating consideration of narrative blogging: “As with the essay about my father, part of the lure of the narrative blog is that it’s written in the raw. It won’t stand still. Neither the writer nor the reader knows what’s going to happen next. “

Originally posted on Twin Prints: An Adoption Story:

I often advise my students to avoid sharing their work with a larger audience until they are able, and willing, to create art from life, a process that requires distance or a craftsman’s care or both.  I’ve ignored my own advice at times.  A few weeks after my dad died, for example, I wrote about watching him die.  The essay, which earned a spot on the “Notable Essays of 2002″ list as cited in The Best American Essays 2003got its power from an immediacy that read as intimacy.  I couldn’t have written the same essay even six months later.  “My Father’s Dead (If Only I Could Tell You)” had to be created when I could still hear my dad’s last gasps echoing in my ears.   It had to be written while I was still shell-shocked.

UntitledThis blog is also an exception.  I’m writing the story of the reunion with my birth family…

View original 668 more words

In Defense of the Nonfiction Confessional

June 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

amy_mAmy Monticello explores the nonfiction confessional form, BECOMING A NEW parent, and why it is wrong to perform certainty “around massively complicated life stuff” in a fascinating Essay Daily blog entry this week. She cites a Brevity essay as an example. See the excerpt below, and further down, find the link and read her complete essay:

Though the hours together were long, my attention span was short. The combination of exhaustion and adrenaline made it difficult to concentrate on anything longer than a page or two. In addition to the circuit of parenting sites I visited daily (the rabbit hole of BabyCenter must be circled cautiously), I began reading my daughter back issues of Brevity, with its maximum 750-word essays. This is how, somewhere in my second or third week of parenting, I worked my way back to Issue 39, and J.D. Shraffenberger’s “Dropping Babies“.

The title alone almost made me skip it. My postpartum hormones had already sworn off Animal Planet (polar bear cubs starving in the Arctic, cheetahs picking off baby impala in the East African plains), Children’s Hospital commercials, and Jezebel, which, for some feminist reason, seems to report on every grisly infant death in America. Fears that something would happen to my daughter (or to me, or my husband, leaving her without a mother or father) were already keeping me up at night, my two selves—parent and writer, one horrified to imagine, the other compelled to imagine—locked in battle for my thoughts.

But I was too intrigued, and so began to read aloud Schraffenberger’s braided meditation on babies dropped or dangled from the heights. Yes, literal heights.

 Read the entire ESSAY DAILY post here.

We Submit, and We Submit

June 16, 2014 § 14 Comments

A guest post from Risa Polansky Shiman:

Young woman winkingWe call them Summer Submission Parties. Every two weeks, my MFA friends and I reserve a classroom from the English department. We spread out around the long, conference-style table in front of our respective laptops, armed with bottles of water and Fig Newtons and a community bag of almonds that we agree somehow taste like walnuts (walmonds). Someone writes each of our names on the big, white board at the front of the room, and we get started.

“So-and-so, I think XYZ Review would be a good fit for your stuff – check it out.”

“Guys! Such-and-Such Magazine is calling for experimental nonfiction!”

“Ugh. ANOTHER one that charges three dollars to submit. It’s not the money – it’s the principle.”

“Shoot. I just missed the submission period for Journal That Definitely Would Have Published My Piece Had It Been Accepting Submissions.”

You know. A Submission Party.

Our Facebook invite reads: “Really, just a gathering wherein we can actively encourage each other to submit pieces, share knowledge about journals, explore the inner workings of Duotrope, and make recommendations as to where we think we (and our friends) should submit. The goal is to bite the bullet and officially press ‘send.’”

Whoever does press “send” then documents it on the board underneath his or her name to a heartfelt but kind of distracted smattering of whoops and applause, like when you put money in the tip jar at Cold Stone Creamery.

A Submission Party is about community. About encouragement. About ambition and confidence and tenacity. About doing. A Submission Party is where writers’ dreams start feeling a little more like reality.

“Submission Party,” my husband said. “Sounds sexual.”

If you Google “submission,” here’s the first entry that pops up:

The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

And the second:

The action of presenting a proposal, application, or other document for consideration or judgment.

Riddle me this: What’s the difference?

When writers submit work to a publication “for consideration or judgment,” we are most definitely “yielding to a superior force.”

We are submitting, and we are submissive.

Literary magazines are the doms and writers are the subs. We share pieces of our souls, receive rejection letters in return, and say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

Of course, the editors are just doing their jobs – selecting the best writing most fit for their venues.

A lot of the time, it’s just not mine. Yours. Ours.

A lot of the time, it’s discouraging.

The director of my creative writing program, in an end-of-term address, told this year’s graduates that for a while it will seem like no one cares about their writing.

“It will seem this way because it will be true,” she said.

We submit, and we submit to this reality.

We submit to vulnerability, offer up our egos for bruising, pucker our lips and lean in again and again knowing editor after editor will likely turn their heads, letting our kisses land on their cheeks or somewhere near their eyes.

We submit to wondering, some days, whether we’re any good. Whether we should bother.

My professor also said that no one caring won’t be the case forever, but until it’s not, we need to be the ones invested in our work.

“Continue to give a damn about your writing, and persist in producing, honing, shaping, and sharing it,” she told us. “That is your job now.”

So we do.

We write. Crunch our walmonds. Hit send. Put our names on that big, white board.

An antonym for “submission,” according to Google, is “defiance.”

Writers submit in defiance of rejection. In defiance of the odds. In defiance of the part of ourselves that questions whether we have what it takes.

Writers submit to honor the other part of ourselves, the bigger part, the part that is driven to write, moved to put words on a page and to share them. We keep writing the truest pieces we can, whether or not anyone wants to read them, but holding out hope someone will.

You know. A Submission Party.


A former news reporter, Risa Polansky Shiman is now an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Florida Atlantic University, where she also teaches. She was recently selected to read a piece at Lip Service, a South Florida storytelling series, and her written work can be found in publications such as Harlot, Miami Today and Gainesville Magazine. Find her on Twitter @RisaAriel.


Stay Awhile with Your Own Ones: A Father’s Day Essay

June 13, 2014 § 8 Comments

A guest blog essay for Father’s Day from Alexis Paige:


Alexis and her Dad, 1978

When I was a child, I remember my father growing irritated, impatient even, when people made a fuss over his single dad status. When my parents split in 1983, Mom moved to Texas, and my little brother and I to New Hampshire. Our family story happened this way for many reasons, some of them practical, some of them tragic, but Dad always felt that he got special notice when single moms never did.

“Aw, your daughter’s running a fever, and you are going to pick her up from school?” a lady from the office might coo, sighing longingly as Dad grabbed the keys to his Datsun 210 and hustled his tall, gangly body beyond the cubicles and out the door. As if his leaving work, scooping me up from the school nurse’s office, and dropping the pink, chewable aspirins into my fleshy hand were somehow more heroic as a dad, as a man.

The winter I turned nine, we moved from an apartment complex that smelled like cigarettes and burnt SpaghettiOs to a modest split-level ranch about a mile away. Our new house sat on a tiny cul-de-sac in a subdivision grandiosely named Windsor Pond. Upstairs were two small bedrooms, one bathroom, and a kitchen/ living room, and downstairs was an unfinished basement, where we roller-skated in tight, dizzying circles.

For the first four or five months while Dad and my uncle refinished the basement, my brother Josh got the front bedroom and I the back, and Dad slept on a secondhand sofa in the living room. At six-foot-three, he dangled off of it from all sides, his spidery arms and legs draped over the armrests, his outside arm hanging limp on the floor like a vestigial limb.

He would go to sleep with the television tuned into M*A*S*H or Hill Street Blues, the foil-muffed antennae crackling into the night. An early insomniac, I would rise in the dark and grab a snack or read, and hear his snores rumbling against the hiss of the television. Back then, stations would sign-off around midnight with a long BOOOOOOOOOP, followed by a shower of black and white snow, and not return to life until dawn with an instrumental rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

I had stopped sleeping one night when I caught the beginning of a scary movie about witches; one witch in particular wore an indelible sneer. For months she terrified me: I would find her under the covers, in my closet, hiding behind my bedroom door. I took up reading during these long stretches of night, with a little flashlight I held under the covers.

Alexis and her Dad, 1985

Alexis and her Dad, 1985

I read anything I could get my hands on—Judy Blume, the Ramona Quimby books, the Babysitters’ Club series, an Amelia Earhart biography, The Red Badge of Courage, and even Dad’s copy of The Happy Hooker. I feared something in the maw of nighttime, and the TV-movie witch may well have been the easy symbol I projected to blot out the deep.

Dad found me one night, the flashlight glow seeping through my polyester bedspread, so I found other ruses. I would lie on the bathroom floor with my books; if Dad stirred, I would flush the toilet and go to bed. At one point, I clipped a desk lamp to the rod in my closet and read in there, sitting on an exercise mat with a book propped on my knees.

Dad eventually caught me on another night, rolling the door open with great fanfare and shouting, “A-HA! Gotcha! What are you doing up kiddo?  You’ve got to sleep!”

“I can’t,” I whined. “I get nervous.”

“What are you nervous about, Pumpkin?”

“I don’t know, the witch, I guess—and everything,” I said.

He checked under my bed, inspected the attic hatch, and showed me behind the bedroom door. “See? All clear!” he said. “Now, let’s get you back into bed.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I grew up with eleven brothers and sisters; I know every trick in the book.” Once in bed, he sat alongside me and scratched my back until I grew tired.

“Use your nails, like Gram,” I begged.

“Want me to crack an egg?” he asked, and as I nodded I began to feel the happy tingle of yolk oozing down my scalp, my head growing heavy under his hand.


Dad showed up for everything—for late night crises, ear infections, homework, and field hockey scrimmages. He planned father-daughter dates on my birthdays, showed up on Sunday mornings with fresh donuts or raspberry danish, and at the dinner table on ordinary days to talk about Algebra or Amy’s dad’s new drum set.

He showed up five years too early in the training bra section of Bradlee’s Department store, and an hour too late with tampons when I got my first period at 15.

Alexis and her Dad, 2012

Alexis and her Dad, 2012

Ten years after that, Dad showed up when I called from a phone booth in Italy to tell him I’d been sexually assaulted the night before. Because he was 6,000 miles away in San Francisco, he sent me to the embassy. “The Marines will be posted out front; they will take care of you,” Dad said. They weren’t much older than me, but in their dress blues, I was reminded of Dad’s own Marine Corps portrait from 1967. When my plane landed in California 36 hours later, Dad showed up at the airport and waited for me at the gate, so his was the first face I saw as I stepped off of the jetway.

Dad showed up at the emergency room six months after that, when I cut my wrists and took a bottle of antidepressants, and he showed up yet again a few years later still, when I got arrested for drunk driving. I was 29 at this point, and he should have been tired of showing up by then, but he did anyway.

At 38 now, I am grateful that he stayed long enough for the happy stuff and for me to finally show up for him. I know what Dad would say to all of this. He would say that he was just being a father. He would say that showing up doesn’t make him any more or less of a hero than other parents. But I would say this: it does make him mine.


Alexis Paige’s work has appeared in Fourth Genre, The Rumpus, Pithead Chapel, Ragazine, 14 Hills, and on Brevity’s blog. Winner of the 2014 New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Prize, she also received a recent Pushcart Prize nomination and a feature on Freshly Pressed by WordPress. Twice named a top-ten finalist of Glamour Magazine’s essay contest, Paige holds an MA in poetry from San Francisco State University and will complete an MFA in nonfiction from the Stonecoast creative writing program in July. She lives and teaches in central Vermont.

Arranging an Anthology: Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood

June 11, 2014 § 1 Comment


Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood, discusses the challenges and creativity involved in assembling a coherent anthology: 

A little over a year ago, I decided to venture into anthology land.

I was pretty sure I knew how to do it; I’d been working in publishing for more than twenty years and have a firm handle on both editorial and production matters. An AWP-Boston panel on the subject confirmed I was on the right track. But better yet, I prevailed upon my good friend Hattie Fletcher, of Creative Nonfiction fame, and got tons of great anthology-building advice from her. And in short order, Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood began to take form.

I put out a call last spring to fellow literary-magazine editors asking for essays on fathers/fatherhood they’d published in their magazines. Throughout the summer, three of my nonfiction editors and I read the essays we’d received, then winnowed them down to seventeen: five from Colorado Review and twelve from other publications.

We typeset and proofread the five from CR first, simply because we already had those files, then set and proofed the others in the order of when we received them from the other editors. When at last, in February of this year, they’d all been typeset and proofread—by our staff and the authors—I printed out the whole collection, knowing I’d need to determine some kind of more thoughtful arrangement before sending it off to the printer.

Stephanie G'Schwind

Stephanie G’Schwind

But how? This was one question I’d neglected to research, though it had quietly nagged at me all along. A procrastinator at heart, I ignored it until the very end, hoping the solution would be magically delivered to me, perhaps in a dream or a fortune cookie.

Alphabetical by author, though perhaps not the most innovative choice, is always an option—simultaneously orderly and random—but not for this anthology: I already knew that the title essay, Bill Capossere’s “Man in the Moon,” would lead, while Dan Beachy-Quick’s pivotal and tentatively hopeful “Puzzle and Music Box” would conclude the collection.

The only, and ultimately obvious, answer was that the essays themselves would determine the order.

Though attached to my computer and all manner of iThings, I knew I couldn’t do this on-screen. I needed to see all the essays at once, in both bird’s- and worm’s-eye view, and most of all, to touch them, move them around, put them back. So I arranged the seventeen essays on my office floor.

Tman in moonhe considerations that emerged were emotional heaviness of the essay (including, where applicable, whether the father was alive or not) and author gender. To keep track of these things, I turned to one of the editor’s best friends: sticky notes. First I applied blue notes to the essays written by men and—yes—pink notes to those by women. Then on those stickies I made notes along the lines of “heavy/alive,” “medium/not alive,” etc, so as not to put the reader through the emotional toll of reading several heartbreakers in a row (though even the heartbreakers might have moments of levity), while trying to achieve the best distribution of male and female writers.

Is it a perfect arrangement? Maybe not. Three of the essays feature ICU scenes, and I see only now that one immediately follows another. But not everyone reads an anthology in order anyway, so even the best laid plans, well, you know. Still, in whatever order one encounters Man in the Moon, it’s an amazing collection of stories and voices.

The Poetics of Pooh: On the Urge to Unsee and the Act of Imagining

June 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

A guest post from Andrew Panebianco, on the act of imagining:

433I don’t have time to get into the entirety of Pooh with you. Even if I were able to.

Because as you probably know, Pooh has his own Tao, now.

So let’s leave it here—there’s an immensity to Pooh. There’s a touch of eternity to all his bumbling; a bottomlessness to his most rumbly of tumblies.

There’s a stare into the open eye until the closed eyes open kind of Zen to Pooh.

He’s got Pooh-dist leanings, you could say.

I want to talk about everything that makes Pooh, Pooh. But I don’t even understand it all. So instead I’ll focus on a single point—my very favorite moment, from my very favorite character, from my very favorite story from the entire World of Pooh.

Which is my very favorite.


Here’s how it starts:

Christopher Robin has sent Pooh off to gather the provisions they’ll require for a hastily-planned expedition to the North Pole. Neither Pooh nor Christopher Robin is really sure what the North Pole is, per se—merely that it’s a thing that exists to be sought out.

There’s a strange pull to it, perhaps. Magnetic and invisible.

Pooh tromps merrily through the Hundred Acre Wood and comes across Rabbit, who—characteristically—would much rather have never been come across in the first place.

“Hallo Rabbit,” says Pooh, “is that you?”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” says Rabbit, “and see what happens.”

“I’ve got a message for you.”

“I’ll give it to him.”

“We’re all going on an… an Expotition with Christopher Robin!”

“What is it when we’re on it?”

“A sort of boat, I think,” says Pooh.

“Oh! That sort.”

“Yes. And we’re going to discover a Pole or something. Or was it a Mole? Anyhow we’re going to discover it.”

“We are, are we?” said Rabbit.

“Yes. And we’ve got to bring Pro-things to eat with us. In case we want to eat them. Now I’m going down to Piglet’s. Tell Kanga, will you?”

Now, if I had the time, I could with spasms of delight tell you of just how happy this scene makes me. I would love to do this. But I have no time.

So instead I’ll point out the immense side to this scene.

How, for all its acidity and dark comedy, it manages to house one of the purest, most wonderful, most beautiful, most honest phrases about what it is to be, to exist, and to imagine that I’ve ever read.

“Hallo Rabbit,” says Pooh, “is that you?”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” says Rabbit, “and see what happens.”

If I believed in literary tattoos, this would be my tattoo.

“Let’s pretend it isn’t, and see what happens.”

Has there ever been a more elegant description of the act of imagining? Of the creative impulse? Of the urge to unsee what you’re looking at, and to look for what it is you want to see?

In a single spendthrift phrase, Rabbit captures the delight and abandon and valiant, deliberate choice of what it is to imagine.


I think about this story a lot.

About Pooh and how he wanders through the Hundred Acre Wood looking for something he can barely describe.

And I think of Rabbit, and how, with one tiny utterance, he defines the very thesis of daydreaming.

I think of how, according to this story, to imagine and to live are, in their truest sense, an adventure. An expedition.

And then I think of how often I forget that fact.

How I’ve grown old enough to fret over adult things. About my growing waistline. And my wasting hairline. And how I’m not exactly doing the thing I want to be doing… and how isn’t that always the way? And how unlucky am I? And oh bother… why bother?

And suddenly everything turns dark and grim.

Even creativity—even writing—becomes this winding bumble toward some hazy, unknown pole. A journey for which I feel woefully, almost comically underprepared. How I’ve got nothing to say. And how I’ll never write a thing to be proud of.

And every hope and excitement becomes rank and heavy like a blackbird on my shoulder.

And then, I think… this is what it means to be a writer.

So let’s pretend it isn’t. And see what happens.

Andrew Panebianco is a writer, teacher and storyteller in Philadelphia. He received his MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2009, and his work has appeared with The Nervous Breakdown, Avenue, and the Kelly Writers House. He is the author of over 200 invented definitions, and is currently working on a dictionary. Learn more at and @wordsthatarent.

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