Embracing the Unknown: Writing as Discovery

January 24, 2020 § 1 Comment

Jennifer McGaha PhotoFor Jennifer McGaha, writing a book is like hiking. The journey will envelop you in foggy haziness, unexpected visitors will creep up along the way, and hopefully others will be there to push you when you’re floundering. She finds joy in not knowing what will happen on a walk or where an essay or book will lead her. After all, we all want to get to the end of the trail and finish writing a story in the same way: tired but satisfied with the process of exploration. Here’s an excerpt from McGaha’s craft essay:

You can write without discovery, of course. You can write to a scripted conclusion, and it will be easier. Maybe no one will even notice. But why on earth would you? Why, with as hard as it is to write anything, with all the time and love and grit you put into the creation of your art, would you settle for anything less than two stunning bighorn rams rising out of the mist?


Read this craft essay and more in Brevity’s January 2020 issue.



This is How a Robin Drinks: An Essay

January 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

SnapseedHow did we become so desensitized? What was the turning point? Is it now too late? These might be some of the questions that Joanna Brichetto’s profound essay will evoke. She uses a moment watching nature unravel from her porch to contextualize how a facet of our nation’s social fabric has become both extraordinary and commonplace. An excerpt from Brichetto’s essay follows:

The robin dipped, raised, dipped, raised, again and again. When his beak was in the water, ripples radiated to the edge of the plastic. When his beak was in the air, the surface of the saucer had already stilled. It was as if there was room only for one set of ripples at a time: either the water or the throat. I kept watching both—the taking of turns, the shimmers of wet, the shivers of feather—when would the pattern break? I was afraid to move or blink. I was afraid he would stop drinking, and I was afraid he would never stop drinking. And when at last he fluttered up to the hackberry tree in his own good time, I found that I was crying.

Read the full essay in our January 2020 issue.


On Writing With Substance and Compassion

January 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

IMG-2476In her new craft essay, Mary Ann McSweeny illustrates why compassion should be one of the underlying components of all stories, and she explains how it is only when the writer remains a “detached witness” that compassion can flourish. McSweeny provides a list of questions and a brainstorming exercise for writers to immerse their characters and narrators in substance and compassion:

When I read my own work and that of others, I ask myself: Does the writer have compassion for the character on the page? Does the writer know the character’s life history, background, biography? Does the writer understand how the character has arrived at the point where the story begins? Has the writer somehow entered into the character’s struggle? With the personal “I” narrator: Does the writer portray the narrator’s struggle with an understanding of the narrator’s weaknesses, fears, or defects without trying to control the outcome of what’s happening?

Substance is not writing about compassion; it is writing with compassion so that the reader feels the writer’s authenticity.

Read the rest of this exceptional craft essay in our latest issue.

160 Frightening Things: A Collaborative Essay

January 22, 2020 § Leave a comment

IMG-4712After you read this piece, write down a list of things that scare you. Toss the paper into a fire, maybe cut it into tiny pieces and bury it, or leave it as a note in a book at your library. Like Professor Jill Kolongowski’s Spring 2019 creative writing class did with this compelling collaborative essay, set the things that scare you free. Here is an excerpt:

Being yelled at. Being yelled at. Being yelled at. People who can’t won’t be reasoned with. Initiating confrontation. People who are overly aggressive. Conflict. Conflict. Confrontation. Confrontation. Getting into a fight unwillingly. My anger. Guns. School shootings. Not being able to fight back. Seeing a crime happen in front of my eyes. War.

Global warming killing me before my time. Natural disasters.

Driving. Drunk drivers. Car accident. Car accident. Car accident. Car accident.

Read the full essay in Brevity’s new issue.

Maggie Smith’s Ghost Story

January 21, 2020 § Leave a comment

maggie-smithIt’s a formidable challenge to convey the loss born from divorce in a flash piece, but this is precisely what Maggie Smith does in Ghost Story. She describes how divorce disjoints, how it defines life by a before and after, and how it forever haunts all involved. Smith assures us that divorce is unlike death, but it still leaves ghosts and grief in its wake. Here is an excerpt from her searing essay in Brevity’s January 2020 issue:

When people ask how the children are doing, I tell them fine. It’s mostly true. I tell them I’m grateful at least that the children didn’t lose anyone. They still have their parents, and they have each other.

What I don’t say is when I lost my family, I lost someone, too. The person I’d called my person. In this way, my house is haunted.

Read the entire piece in our latest issue.


The Essayist as Detective: Nancy Drewing with Sonya Livingston

January 21, 2020 § 1 Comment

drew coverThere’s always that one time in our writing attempts when we convince ourselves a topic is too impenetrable to fit into essay form. For Sonja Livingston, it was her childhood church in Rochester, New York. But like all good writers, she searched for a method that would allow her to tackle the topic, eventually relying on the guiding force of the fictional character Nancy Drew. With the help of the teenage detective, Livingston transformed her essays into the book The Virgin of Prince Street: Expeditions into Devotion. Here is an excerpt from her intriguing and engaging craft essay:

An orderly world might be heaven in your child’s bedroom or at the dried fruit section of Trader Joe’s, but tidiness is the essay’s kryptonite. The essay thrives on chaos. Curiosity is its basic fuel. Confusion is its sweet spot.

Like Nancy, who undertakes multiple mysteries in one book, an essay often tempts us with seemingly disparate threads. “You’ve really lost it this time,” I said as I moved from statue-hunting to researching relics and holy water. Even when I began to write my essays, dark clouds of doubt hung overhead.

Read this craft essay in Brevity’s latest issue.

Brevity’s January 2020 Issue Launched Today

January 20, 2020 § 2 Comments

IMG-2476Our newest issue, Issue 63, is out this morning, featuring crisp, provocative essays from Maggie Smith, Lara Lillibridge, Joanna Brichetto, Natalie Rose, B.J. Hollars, Kelly Shire, Marcia Aldrich, Robert Julius, Natalia Rachel Singer, Amie Whittemore, Margo Steines, Matt Donovan, Mary Zelinka, Doug Lawson, and Jill Kolongowski and her Spring 2019 creative writing class. All of these, along with stunning photos by Mike McKniff.

Also new today, in our Craft Section, Jen Corrigan, Jennifer McGaha, Mary Ann McSweeny, and Sonja Livingston discuss impatience and restlessness in writing, the art of discovery, the role of compassion in nonfiction, and how to bring Nancy Drew into your essaying.

Meanwhile, we are still accepting submissions for Brevity’s upcoming special issue, “Experiences of Disability,” to be published in September 2020. We are also still actively seeking some financial support to make this issue possible, and even small amounts go a long way.  Thanks to those of you who have already contributed, and to anyone who can help as we go forward.

Happy reading!




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