The Worst Book Openings Ever

August 8, 2017 § 5 Comments

kale-nutrition-facts“Here I was, flat broke, standing outside a sketchy hipster bar in Brooklyn, and a bearded young man in skinny jeans and a lumberjack’s red plaid shirt was pointing a gun at my head demanding my Uber password. ‘Move a muscle and I’ll make a kale salad out of your brains,’ he snarled.”

Brevity founding editor Dinty W. Moore offers the brilliant literary gem above along with five other horrible book openings this week over on Psychology Today blog.

See if you can tell which ones are made up and which one was penned by none other than Thomas Wolfe.


A Brief Guide to Essays

August 1, 2017 § 24 Comments

We’re ready for our prose poem!

The time will come when our students, or our mother (in an attempt to seem interested for real and not just because it’s her kid) will ask about essays. “Well, dear,” she might say, “I think it’s lovely. But what do you mean by lyric?”

Or perhaps we will want to write a braided essay, or a collage, without really grasping what, exactly that is. We’ll realize it’s been a while since we were in a workshop and nobody else has the notes, and strongly consider retreating to a nice orderly sonnet. Fourteen lines and a whole four classical rhyme schemes to choose from. Go nuts!

It is for these moments that Brevity presents our Brief Guide to Essays:


They are all lyric, these categories of essays in literary journals and finer mass-media publications and the occasional feminist website. Built on images, using poetic tools like metaphor to evoke feeling in the reader. What’s also important is the blank space, a place for the reader to fill in, to meet the author on the page.


Often, the lyric essay ends with a question–literal or implied–rather than resolution.


Not this one.


Prose Poem

Moving as fast as thinking, skipping like a stone idea idea idea fading into the last ripples of the pond. The words making their own spaces, running rampant past line breaks, trampling the meter, shoving their way to the discount dactyls of Prose Black Friday where all the words are on sale. The security guard makes you show him the inside of your alliteration, standing between you and the door of random magnetic words, demanding you focus this piece. Choose a dominant image. Right now you’re stuck in Walmart, the pond of the first line paved over. Shit. Beloved of poster-poem makers, these tiny walls of text breathe to the edges of the page and then retract–they can only stay so long, say so long, hit save, it’s done, sunk like a wrong-shaped stone.



Fragments build a collage. Perhaps passages from your journal, or the journal of a more famous writer you wish to look inspired by. The fragments work like shards of a glass: each one a self-contained moment; a ragged edge flowing into the next. Meaning born through assembly. Try to make the whole watertight–or leak artistically.


I sat in a living room in Bombay with women writers who didn’t have time to write. Too many household obligations. Live-in in-laws, kids needing three hots and a well-made cot, maids who got sick or got lazy and had to be watched. When was the pen supposed to hit the paper, exactly?


In Ohio, we shuffled index cards of memories, our teacher guiding us through only enough text to fit on the card, calming a class of overachievers. It’s never enough to get into writing camp, every day is showing up and saying See what I wrote? I belong, I swear. We re-ordered the cards. Wrote connectors. Essays birthed themselves when we slacked off. Trusted doing less.


The paper shop on the corner had index cards for 30 rupees, so I bought five packs, enough for everyone to take some home. And over vegan ladoos and the memory of all the ladoos ever eaten, round and floury and soaked with ghee, we wrote just enough to fill the cards. Shuffled. Wrote connectors. The hostess looked up. “I could write a card while I wait for the pot to boil.”


In middle school I wrote on McDonalds napkins. In high school, Taco Bell napkins and the backs of receipts. Folders of scraps still live in my basement, waiting.


The Bombay ladies got the point: write small and often. The teacher showed us the point: listen to the words, stop trying so hard. I got the point: clean out the damn basement. You get the point: collage.


Braided Essay

You can braid as many strands as you like, but just like with hair, more than three is hard and less than three is even harder.


Repetition is the key–each thread recurs.


As well as the writer’s own voice, a braided essay can use an external voice to provide details the writer may not have known at the time.

The purpose of the outside voice is to shadow the writers voice, according to Brenda Miller in Tell It Slant.


Inside the braid could be a mini-collage, or a list, or a hermit crab. Perhaps a definition useful to the essay, or a quotation.


Repetition is the key. If there’s not repetition, it’s probably a collage.


Some nice braided essays:

The Search for Marvin Gardens by John McPhee

Buzzards by Lee Zacharias


Seriously. The strands have to repeat.


Hermit Crab

It sounds so adorable, right? A little crab scootching into a new shell, growing to fill it, taking the contours of the shell as its own. No special equipment is needed; this is an excellent starter essay you can make at home.

1) Choose an existing form, such as guidebook, grocery list, rejection letter or recipe.

2) Pack the prosaic form full of meaningful images. Use Table Mountain, and the man who was every bit as selfish as your friend said he was and left the windows open while you froze, who didn’t hug you when you got the news.

3) Tweak the writing to both explore and subvert the outer form; it’s not just a recipe for an essay, it’s the way to finish this blog post and process my father’s death.

4) Dropping a little bomb like that is nice in a hermit crab.

5) Let the form dictate the essay. Much like our maligned sonnets, the creativity comes from exploiting the form itself.

6) For example, recipes by definition end happily. I broke up with him. I mourned as much as I needed to. And I finished this essay in time to post on Tuesday.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’ll be at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference September 8-10 in Lancaster PA, teaching self-editing and meeting with authors about their work.


Practice Over Passion: A Freelancer’s Writing Life

June 30, 2017 § 24 Comments

zz AllisonBy Allison Futterman

I write human interest, travel, profile, craft and food pieces for a variety of magazines. As a freelancer, I’m constantly pitching stories in search of that elusive “yes” from an editor. I suggest stories that are interesting to me and that I believe will also be interesting to readers. When I get the green light on one of these, the work really begins.

I didn’t start writing until I tried many other things. I worked as a media buyer in a New York City advertising agency. I worked in product development in Los Angeles. And there were other jobs in between. I had no passion for any of these, and, therefore, didn’t see the need to be proactive, industrious or diligent in my work.

Same with college. I was a communications major, with no idea what I would do with my degree. I only knew what I didn’t want, which was to do anything in the entertainment industry. I picked my major because it sounded somewhat interesting, although once I got into it, I was surprised that the passion didn’t overtake me immediately. Or at all.

So I got by. I never really applied myself or took any initiative. Embarrassingly, I didn’t even take much pride in my work, satisfied with mediocrity. I mistakenly conflated lack of passion with lack of work ethic. In my mind, they were inextricably linked. Without the first, I saw no need for the later. Why bother putting in the effort if I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. Never mind that I didn’t even know what I wanted to be doing. I was waiting for that to hit me—my dream job.

Then I thought I found “it.” I would go to graduate school for criminal justice and write about true-life crime. When I finished my master’s, I knew the early signs of a future serial killer (Hint: If you have a child who sets fires or hurts animals, seek help), learned about the prison industrial complex and the power of restorative justice, but I wasn’t any closer to writing about any of these things.

I had a professor who was a mentor to me, and he gave me great advice. He suggested writing book reviews for peer-reviewed criminology journals. There was no pay involved, but it was a way to combine my degree and my interest in writing. He named a few to start with, and I got started.

After I had reviews published, I used those clips to pitch other ideas. I was now operating from a different mentality. Nothing was just going to happen. It was up to me to pursue writing and see if I would enjoy it. And if I could do it with any degree of success. I felt a spark. Not a lightning bolt, but a spark.

A local magazine had started up. It was geared to moms of toddlers. I didn’t have a toddler and I wasn’t a mom, but I didn’t let that stop me. I thought outside the box and came up with ideas that would work for their readership. Things like, “How to Maintain Friendships with Friends Who Don’t Have Kids.”

From there, I did freelance work for The Charlotte Observer. I sought out local stories about people with interesting hobbies, talents and skills. Others were change-makers in the community.

I also found a way to merge my interest in criminal justice with writing. No, these stories weren’t going to win a Pulitzer, but I think they were generally interesting. There was one about a police officer and his bomb-sniffing canine partner, another about a female police captain who overcame breast cancer, and a really cool piece about a man who had made a fortune owning car dealerships and gave up that work to join the police department at forty years old.

Writing as a profession is a blessing to me. It’s incredibly rewarding meeting so many interesting people, and learning about and sharing their stories. I consider it an honor that people trust me with what can be extremely personal and difficult revelations. And I especially enjoy being able to bring attention to those who are working to help others, whether it’s in the community, or the world.

But writing is not a dream come true. There are times when I’ve done stories where I don’t have much interest in the material. Sometimes an editor has asked if I’d like to do a piece on something I don’t find especially appealing. I never say no based on the subject matter. The only reason I would ever turn down a writing gig is if I’m already working on something with a tight deadline.

Still, the process of working on a written piece is the same whether you’re excited about it or not. Sure, it’s great when you are drawn to the subject matter. But the process of seeking out and interviewing your sources, organizing your notes, laying out a rough draft and then tightening it up to send to your editor remain the same whether you’re writing a magnum opus or a piece for your local newspaper.

After years of writing, I am passionate about my work. But that’s not what produces the best pieces. It’s endless research, attention to detail, being able to connect with people, working within a word count and knowing how to write well in a variety of styles (narrative, Q & A, etc.). It’s being open to the editing process, and knowing how to work well with editors. It’s learning when it’s best to let an edit (reworking of a sentence, cutting of a paragraph, replacing a word) go, and when it’s worth fighting to keep. It’s about getting work done by or before my deadline, and consistently turning in solid work so editors want to work with me again.

The more I write, the better I get. And the better I get, the more I enjoy it. But there’s always part of the process that is a grind, regardless of how interesting the subject matter is. Writing is not just the words you put down, but the entire process—from finding ideas to write about to producing a final, edited finished product.

I’m no longer the person who takes the path of least resistance or looks for the quickest way to get something done. Practicing your craft, persevering, and taking pride in your work all add up to becoming a good writer. Loving it is a bonus.


Allison Futterman is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Charlotte, The Writer and Winston-Salem Monthly magazines, among others. Her work has also appeared online. Find her at



Making Room for Both the Reflective and the Narrative Essay

June 26, 2017 § 33 Comments

zz lynette bentonBy Lynette Benton

I often get excited about a call for submissions, especially if I have an essay in my files waiting, I feel, for just that opportunity—until I notice that only narrative personal essays will be accepted. It seems an increasing number of the personal essays published lately are narrative in form; some publications actually specify personal narratives, rather than simply personal essays.

What are we talking about when we describe a personal essay as narrative? It’s a first person essay that’s also a true story. Like a fictional story, a narrative personal essay can “recount a string of events,” as essayist and editor Joseph Epstein writes in his Forward to The Best American Essays 2014. As in a fictional story, a narrative personal essay includes an inciting incident (or catalyst), conflict, obstacles placed in the path of the main character (or, in the case of a personal essay, the narrator), a climax, and a resolution.

Oliver Sacks’ gripping personal essay, “Bull on the Mountain,” is narrative in form. Sacks describes his face-to-face encounter with an enormous white bull seated on a path in front of him when climbing a mountain alone in Norway. Sacks tried to flee “in blind, mad panic,” and in so doing, seriously injured himself. The essay contains an inciting incident (the meeting with the bull), obstacles confronted by the narrator (getting himself, despite his bum leg, back down the mountain before darkness and extreme cold set in), a climax (just as it seems Sacks will pass out and in all probability die, hunters catch sight of him), and the tale is resolved (Sacks is rescued).

On the other hand, a reflective personal essay is true first person writing that explores a topic or idea, without being required to follow a narrative arc, include a climax, or come to a conclusion. In fact, it is notably inconclusive. Essayist Phillip Lopate, editor of The Art of the Personal Essay, considers personal essays the “incomplete or tentative treatment of a topic.”

He goes on to point out the personal essay’s “digression and promiscuous meanderings,” which I consider the hallmark of reflective personal essays. Roaming in the wake of the writer’s seemingly disordered thoughts, even down blind alleys towards apparent dead ends, feels comfortably like my own mental journeying. In the narrative form the essayist tells what happened—instead of inviting readers to make of his mental journey what they will.

A major difference between narrative and reflective personal essays could be that the former appears incident driven, the latter, idea driven. That’s not to say that either form excludes the other; narrative personal essays explore ideas and reflective personal essays frequently contain anecdotes—stories, like small gems—nestled in the platinum of the wandering prose. In Zadie Smith’s “Joy,” originally published in New York Review of Books in 2013, Smith departs from her contemplation of the differences between pleasure and joy to tell a story about an evening she spent on drugs in a night club. She circles back to conclude that one has pleasure, while one enters joy.

In narrative personal essays, I often feel rushed to arrive at and over that pesky narrative arc that looms like a hurdle on an otherwise level path; There’s the unfolding of the plot and the determined trot towards the climax and resolution. An email from an editor made it clear where his interest lay. “I’m looking for stories where something happens,” he wrote. [Italics mine.] The writer of the narrative personal essay is discouraged from wondering, meandering, or doubling back to poke at inchoate thoughts, or to reconsider questions that refuse to be easily, even glibly, settled.

In “The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery,” His introduction to The Norton Book of Personal Essays, Epstein writes “Literary forms, like stocks, rise and fall, not in value of course, but in prestige.” Might the reflective personal essay be on its way out? Will there no longer exist room in our nonfiction universe for both narrative and reflective personal essays? Though I’ve enjoyed many narrative personal essays, such as the chilling “Angry Winter,” by Loren Eiseley, my deepest appreciation is reserved for the reflective personal essay. Am I to be deprived of this type of essay, which I not only enjoy reading, but write? I guess I’m also asking: Has the personal essay evolved beyond me? Is it time for me to pack up my pen and go home?

I cut my teeth on reflective personal essays written in the 1930s through the 1960s, decidedly less hurried times. Essays from that era feel relaxed and loosely structured, like the casual suits men wore in nineteen forties movies set in Hollywood or Havana.

Among my favorites is Natalia Ginzburg’s He and I, first published in 1962. In it, Ginzburg employs repetition, counterpoint, and hyperbole to describe the ways in which she is inferior to her almost preternaturally astute and accomplished, though rather imperious, husband, only inserting glimpses of his weaknesses after we’re just about convinced he possesses none.

A more recent reflective personal essay that I cherish is Daphne Merkin’s, My Kingdom for a Scarf, first published in The New York Times in 1991. In this essay, Merkin has left a favorite scarf in a New York City taxi she’s just alighted from. Her efforts to retrieve or replace the scarf are unsuccessful. Losing the scarf leads her to new insights. She writes, “[I]t should be clear …that we’re not talking scarves. We’re talking loss.” The scarf only symbolizes that idea. So does a glove she lost. The heart of the essay lies in her memories of and tallying up of losses in her life. Merkin offers no climax or resolution. She simply tells us at the end, “When I am dead …I suppose I shall not care about the red suede glove I dropped in Central Park 15 years ago.” Then, emphatically, “Meanwhile, I want everything back.”

I like the way reflective essays begin in one place, and we readers have no idea where they might take us, and I bet that sometimes the author might not know either. The text is a winding road, with unexpected detours and surprises around corners that once were hidden from view. Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, …and what it means.”

And yet a writer and writing coach, who specializes in nonfiction informs me that some essayists confess that, “their essays mimic the randomness of thought, while they structure the essay during the revision process…deliberately to achieve this effect.” That may be true, but the reason I apply my pen to reflective personal essays is that, like Didion: I’m not sure what I think or what I mean until I write it out.

Why is the narrative personal essay in vogue right now? Is it because of a belief that readers (and perhaps editors) abhor a state of uncertainty, preferring to be led along a discernible path to a firm conclusion? If so, shame on the writer if she’s not at all sure of the answers to the questions she’s implicitly raising in her essay.

Is this preference, if it is a preference, for narrative personal essays a result of our shortened attention spans? We no longer have the leisure of previous centuries, as Dinty W. Moore notes in his Crafting the Personal Essay. Do readers want us writers to just get on with it? Or is it simply that we humans are “wired for story” as Lisa Cron writes in her book by that title?

Perhaps I have reason to be hopeful. Many fine publications remain open to either treatment—narrative or reflective. But I still wring my hands over my personal essay writing. Perhaps what I fear is not only the demise of the reflective essay. It’s possible my apprehension stems from the way I experience my own life. Like reflective essays, my life’s got enough doubt and doubling back to evade all my attempts to force it into anything remotely like orderly certainties.

Lynette Benton’s essay, “No More Secrets and Silence,” was awarded first place in the 2016 Magic of Memoir Contest and subsequently published in the Magic of Memoir anthology. Excerpts from her memoir, My Mother’s Money, earned finalist status in the 2014 memoir writing contest sponsored by She Writes Press and Serendipity Literary Agency. Her nonfiction has appeared in numerous print and online publications.

A Story for the Taking

June 19, 2017 § 19 Comments


By Kathleen Siddell

You try but it’s not quite right.

You try again.

And again. You feel like it’s almost right but not quite.

It doesn’t feel difficult. At first, it’s fun. You delete a word here, add a different phrase there. You cut and paste and cut and paste whole paragraphs. You like puzzling a story together. You like how suddenly the image will emerge.

Unless it doesn’t.

Then you work slowly and deliberately. You force sentences together because they seem like they should go together. When you step back, you know something is wrong. The picture is unclear, fuzzy, or distorted. You move sentences around some more but they all seem like the same shade of blue. Dull and obvious. Writing is no longer fun.

 So you stop.

You try a different angle. You scroll down. Hit return over and over and over. In the endless white space, you start again, this time with the reds, splashing new ideas onto the page to see what splatters.

A mess.

You clean it up. Backspace.

Back in the white space. This time it feels empty and hopeless. Still, you try.

You find inspiration in black and white with someone else’s name on the cover, someone smarter, more talented. Someone who is not you. You read and read and get lost. You forget who is who and remember only the words. The words are more important than the names. The picture more important than the pieces.

You believe this so, you try again. You try while you drive to work, chewing words like gum to see what will stick and what must be spit out. You write a phrase on the scrap of paper you found in your purse at the red light. There is a stain on the paper but the words don’t care.

When the words start to drain from your fingertips, you vow not to stop. You will not stop to look at the picture you are forming.

Until you do.

It’s not so bad. You take a step back. You think more critically. Maybe it is so bad. The page is filled. Maybe this is all that matters. But you know it’s not. A page can be so full, it blurs grey.

But this page is clear. Black and white letters you hope will read in color.

You’re not sure, so you try again. You try and believe, try and believe, and somewhere in the cycle, you believe you have formed a picture that tells a story. You believe you have created depth without sacrificing clarity.

You stop and submit because you forgot it doesn’t matter if anyone sees what you’ve done.

But you don’t really believe that. Why else would you spend your time agonizing over all these letters? You forget that you write because you can’t not.

“Unfortunately, we are overwhelmed by the quality of submissions.”

An opposite of submission is resistance. There is a resistance between the story you want to tell and the story you have told. But was it almost good enough? How much resistance is there? You’ll never know.

But maybe you do know.

Because you keep trying and believing.

You believe the picture is one people might like. You remember it doesn’t matter if people like it. You ask yourself if you like it.

You do.

But you’d like it more if other people also liked it. Because part of what drives your fingers to the keyboard is other people.

Why is that?

Why does it matter? You know you keep saying it doesn’t when really it does. You feel resistance between what you say and how you feel.

You try to release this tension onto the page; the page that is black and white and full of color.

You don’t know if they’ll see what you see. Maybe it was never really your story in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t your story but A story. Their story. The story. But here it is.

For the taking.


Kathleen Siddell is a sometimes writer and high school teacher. She, her husband, and their two boys have spent the past 4 years living in Asia. You can find her essays on The Washington Post, Mamalode, The Write Life and elsewhere.

The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life

June 15, 2017 § 2 Comments

Gentle Readers, you may have noticed our Brevity Editor-in-Chief’s new book, The Story Cure. Perhaps you’ve even been moved to hop over to Amazon or pop in to your favorite indie bookstore to pick it up. Or maybe you’re still wondering, what the heck is this book all about?

Over at HuffPo, “certified writing geek” Stephanie M. Vanderslice has the dish.

What I appreciated most was Moore’s personal take on the most essential elements of the major prose project: the primal story or the problem of the heart, and the invisible magnetic river. The problem of the heart is the primal element of the story, the human current that runs deep within its core that pulls the reader in and makes them care about it, makes them unwilling to put it down. The invisible magic river is, likewise, the current that carries this story and that every single element of the work—”word, element, scenes, snippets of dialogue, reflection,” should be drawn toward.

Vanderslice and Moore talk about keeping the focus on the reader, and the advice Dinty W. Moore now would give his younger writer self. Her interview is a fast, thoughtful read–check out the whole conversation here.



Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and hosts the Brevity Podcast.

Finding Your Writing Fix in Online Classes

June 14, 2017 § 18 Comments

x rae_mosaicBy Rae Pagliarulo

I’ll admit it — I’m a little bit of a conference junkie. I love using writing as an excuse to go places and meet people and yes, take a little time off work. I go every year, without fail, to Hippocamp, situated right in the middle of charming Lancaster (and filled to the brim with other CNF lovers like me), as well as the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, a small–but–mighty conference that lets poets take over Salem for a weekend of words and witching. So earlier this year, when I first learned about the Iota Conference, where Penny Guisinger has been hosting weekends of writing on the beautiful and scenic coast of Maine each summer. I was instantly wooed. I cyber-stalked the Iota website, trying desperately to come up with ways my hectic schedule might allow for it, but no matter how many things I rearranged, I couldn’t make time with a brand new job and several other immovable commitments to contend with.

Right around the time I was seriously considering having some of my organs harvested so I could afford a last–minute trip to Iceland for NonfictioNOW (be careful not to search for the conference attendees’ posts on social media — you’ll die of jealousy), I saw that Iota was starting a new online component. I could get my fix with a short class about an interesting topic, AND I could stop researching the value of a black-market spleen? It was a no–brainer.

The key to success in online learning lies between two things that are notoriously hard to control — technology and humans. Without easily navigable technology that makes logging in, communicating, and accessing resources simple and intuitive, as well as a group of people who are dedicated to remaining engaged — posting in the discussion boards, responding to their classmates’ questions, ideally paying attention to the class for more than an hour per week — you’ve got little more than a good idea and a WiFi connection. Thankfully, the class I decided to take from Iota Online had both. For four weeks, myself and nine other writers dove into Writing Flash Creative Nonfiction with Penny.

Each week, Penny posted a link to a YouTube video lecture and uploaded a handful of readings that supported the week’s focus. For a short course, it was comprehensive — we looked at the form itself and what was possible within it, and discussed situation, story, scenes, revision, and the senses. After reading the pieces each week, we discussed them, argued about their merits, and sang their praises. The discussions could have landed flatly, after each person uploaded their paragraph-long summary. But our instructor, even from afar, was able to be diligent about challenging us, asking questions, and suggesting additional readings or craft articles. It kept the conversation moving, and it kept me from mentally logging out of the course site after my “assignment” was done. I wanted to keep talking, and debating, and finding new authors to obsess over. The interactions I had on that message board mimicked the ones I craved as a conference junkie, but were somehow better. Here, I could debate the finer points of sensory detail and sentence structure with a New England psychologist, a Midwestern academic, a European expat artist, and a Canadian freelancer — and no one would know if I wasn’t wearing any pants.

At first, I was afraid that I would have trouble finding things to write about. I tend to be a tad long-winded when it comes to my CNF (which is why I was drawn to this course in the first place). What if I couldn’t rein myself in enough to keep it under 1,000 words? But by reading a TON of great flash CNF, I started to process my thoughts in short, vivid bursts, looking for brief but undeniably rich moments where before, I might have seen pages of exposition. Stories that seemed impossible to tame (too much backstory! all that context!) suddenly boiled down to handful of telling moments — watching a movie with a crush, looking for Christmas lights in a dingy basement, shoveling snow on a Saturday. With feedback from my generous classmates, and personalized feedback from Penny, I kept honing those brief moments of light and color into what they were meant to be — flashes.

Writing itself is the ideal activity for distance learning. Diverse opinions from new writers and readers are what make my work stronger. But it’s not always feasible to take a week off work and travel to a conference or residency. Online writing classes do the hard work for me — they collect individuals who are passionate about writing and share an interest in learning this new thing (scene work, dialogue, speculation, character development, whatever), and create a space where we can gather. Interestingly, having all our feedback posted publicly seemed to encourage my classmates and I to dig deeper with each subsequent week. By reviewing each other’s insights on a single person’s work, we could agree on an excellent point, and more importantly, offer unique insights that would complement what had already been addressed.

In a somewhat surprising way, I was able to access this jolt of creativity and energy — the kind I usually only find at conferences — without leaving home. At moments when I craved a change of scenery, I committed to completing my Iota classwork at a coffee shop or collective work space, where I felt able to focus completely without worrying about the laundry, or the bills on the table, or the many, many teen dramas I have yet to binge on Netflix.

Maybe it was poetically appropriate for a flash CNF class to be brief, but it was clear that by the end of our four-week class, my colleagues and I had barely scratched the surface, and better yet, we’d all gained this new toy that we wanted to keep playing with. In the end, I was left with pieces of writing that made me more excited than I’d been since I finished my MFA thesis. I couldn’t wait to get them out into the world. So far, they’ve been to a couple of readings, been submitted to a handful of online magazines, and helped me gain admission into – you guessed it – a writing conference.


** Iota’s upcoming classes are now open for registration.

Rae Pagliarulo holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Full Grown People, Ghost Town, bedfellows, New South, Hippocampus, The Manifest-Station, Quail Bell, and Philadelphia Stories, and is anthologized in The Best of Philadelphia Stories: 10th Anniversary Edition. She is the 2014 recipient of the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize and a 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Rae works as an editor for online magazines, and as Development Director for a Philadelphia arts nonprofit.

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