Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

The cover of Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life was created by Gigi Little, whose essay “Mentor” appears in the collection.

When brainstorming about Brave on the Page, I knew I needed additional content. Something besides the author interviews that have run here, on this blog, over the past two years.

In talking to my writing group members on the street corner, after an evening session, I blurted out something about asking people to write mini craft essays. Flash essays. Maybe 250-300 words each. About who, what, when, where, why or how in relation to writing. How I write, why I write, when I write, who I am as a writer. That kind of thing.

I didn’t even know that idea was in my brain, and when I said it, PING! I knew that was exactly the content that belonged in this collection.

If the interviews are the body of Brave on the Page, then the essays are the heart. Small beautiful pulsing essays, telling us why and when an author writes, or giving advice on how to approach the page while battling self-doubt.

In the span of about two months, from my first call for submissions to my September 1 deadline, I received twenty-seven essays from amazingly talented Oregon authors. Some offer advice on topics such as how to use concrete details and how to avoid distractions when writing. Others reflect on using overheard dialogue, needing to write at a certain location (or not), how characters develop, and writing by speaking sentences out loud. Some are scenes. Two are poems.

These essays are not online, and I am not producing an e-book, so if you want to take this journey into the creative process of twenty-seven writerly minds, you’ll need to buy Brave on the Page. I’ve been writing about this book and the launch, but this is the first time I’ve said “please buy this.” And I’m saying it now because of how much I believe in these essays, how much they have taught me, and how carefully, eloquently and bravely these authors shared their thoughts about the craft of writing.

I love these essays. Reading them has made me clearer about my own process, and more amazed by the many ways we translate our creative urges into words on the page. I’m also hearing raves from fellow writers, including Anthony Lee Collins, who wrote a thoughtful commentary about several of the pieces. Pop over there to get the flavor of these essays.

I eventually printed all the essays in super tiny font, and then cut them out so I could move them around, puzzle-like, until I was satisfied. I did this on the kitchen table, at the campground and ultimately on the playroom floor.

Here’s one thing that totally surprised me about giving writers a prompt. While my question words seemed clear-cut as an assignment, on the page, the whos and whats and whens and whys all blend together. A who essay, about someone’s authorial identity, could easily be considered a why essay about why that particular person takes the time to write. Where blends with when, especially if “where” is in a classroom, or on a running trail, or in the car. What and how collide.

When I sat down to organize the essays, I knew I wanted the content to ebb and flow, letting these writers’ thoughts bounce off each other. So I began the task of ascribing a question word to each piece in order to make sure they were distributed somewhat evenly. It was harder than I thought! I often went back to my contributors’ notes, and found that what I had classified as a “how” was really a “when” from the author’s point of view. Some of my notes I crossed out. Some I left blank. Soon I quit thinking about the prompt words and asked other questions. What was similar, or different, about each piece? How could I create a narrative arc?

I eventually split all the similarly themed essays apart from each other, and then put them back together to form micro-chapters. There’s a four-essay section on parenting. Writing in noisy locations segues into writing when moving, which leads to writing when running. The essay section ends with a series of ruminations on self–including an exploration of where characters come from, “It’s All Right to Write and Not Publish,” and  landing on a beautiful writer-as-creator essay.

The final order also plays with repeated words. The two essays that mention Starbucks are together, and the two aha moments, and the two ferals, and of course the fish, but the three Hemingways are split, and so are the two “running commentary” mentions, so it’ll be a sort of textual treasure hunt to find them.

The essay section, in its final form, feels like a poem, with stanza after stanza of craft advice, wisdom and observations with a good dose of fear and hope and that creative fire that keeps us coming back to the blank page.

I hope you’ll love each one of these essays as much as I do. And if you read them in order, look for the reason I put each one in its spot. You’ll probably find it, or maybe you’ll find a totally different, but no less relevant, justification.

(And “Justification,” the essay by Dian Greenwood, appears on page 124.)

If you get your own copy of Brave on the Page, take a picture of yourself with the book (either at the Espresso Book Machine or anywhere you want) and send it to me at laurastanfill at hotmail dot com so I can run it on this blog or over at Forest Avenue Press. You’ll automatically win a free three-page critique from me.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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10 Responses to Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

  1. Pingback: About the Essays | Forest Avenue Press

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    I am so behind on reading…. 😦 But this is on my to buy list!

    • Oh thanks, jm! Keep me posted, because I’d love to hear what you have to say once you read it. And if you send me a photo of you with the book, I’d love to give you a free three-page critique.

  3. Now I feel bad. All that effort to put the pieces in the best order, and i’m jumpng around in the book like a pogo stick. 🙂

    All those little pieces of paper look familiar, by the way. A couple of times, when I’ve had trouble organizing a lot of short scenes, I’ve made up 3×5 file cards and moved them around untiil I had it right

    • Boing! Boing! Wait that sounds more like tigger than a pogo stick. It was interesting trying to figure out how to organize it, knowing that people would jump around, especially with the interviews, looking for writers whose work resonates or whose type of writing is similar to their own. In the future you can always go back and read the essays from the start to finish. They’re so short, and I do think they make a narrative arc, or at least a series of micro-chapters that are fairly identifiable.

      Index cards! I have done that with novels. Sometimes it really helps to see it on paper, yes?

  4. 4amWriter says:

    I’m like JM, really behind on reading–but I’ve got this one on my list too!

  5. love the glimpse into your editing process. really excited about reading your book – it’s also on my “to buy” list.

    • Thanks, Valerie! I had so much fun editing this book, and I can’t wait to put together the next one. In fact, I already sent out one set of questions! And I’d love to hear from you whenever you do get around to reading Brave on the Page. I’ll be curious to see what you think, and if you send me a photo of yourself (or a pet or your chair or whatever) with Brave on the Page, I’d be excited to give you a free three-page critique! Especially if that happens after the next two weeks when I’m setting up readings and still doing press releases…

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