Origins of a Poem

by Chen Chen

This poem started out as a tweet that was a bit more lyrical than usual. One of my favorite joys: when poems come from unexpected, seemingly unpoetic places.

I Love You to the Moon &

not back, let’s not come back, let’s go by the speed of
queer zest & stay up
there & get ourselves a little
moon cottage (so pretty), then start a moon garden

with lots of moon veggies (so healthy), i mean
i was already moonlighting
as an online moonologist
most weekends, so this is the immensely

logical next step, are you
packing your bags yet, don’t forget your
sailor moon jean jacket, let’s wear
our sailor moon jean jackets while twirling in that lighter,

queerer moon gravity, let’s love each other
(so good) on the moon, let’s love
the moon
on the moon

Copyright 2021 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2021, then reprinted in Explodingly Yours (Ghost City Press, 2023). Reprinted with permission of author. 

Learn to Write Poems Celebrating Connection and Love: A Masterclass with Chen Chen

TUESDAY, JANUARY 23: “Happy Poems!” 6:00-8:00 p.m. via Zoom.

Do happy poems exist? If they do, can they be as good as the poems that wreck us? Can a happy poem wreck us? And how can we avoid sentimentality or, is that a risk we just need to take? In this generative session, we’ll look at Ross Gay’s essay, “Joy Is Such a Human Madness” as a compass for our discussion and a starting point for writing about/from/through happiness, joy, and pleasure. Within the genre of happy poems, we’ll think about poems that celebrate love, sex, community, and connection of various kinds. Come prepared to engage in jubilant experimentation. Info and registration

About Chen

Chen Chen is the author of two books of poetry, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency (BOA Editions, 2022) and When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award. His work appears in many publications, including Poetry and three editions of The Best American Poetry. He was the 2018-22 Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University and currently teaches for the low-residency M.F.A. programs at New England College and Stonecoast. Visit his website:

What IS an Essay?

Randon Billings NobleBy Randon Billings Noble

What is an essay? A basic five-paragraph argument? A long and rambling meditation? A deep dive into academic research? A funny or embarrassing personal anecdote?

Yes … but also no. An essay can be so much more than we might first think.

Montaigne is known as the father of the essay. Reading him now can feel like heavy sledding. His 16th-century prose is ornate and demands a level of attention our 21st-century minds aren’t used to, but what he was writing was revolutionary. After retiring from politics, he decided to write about himself, his thoughts, his experiences, his realizations. Before this, most first-person writing was confessional in the religious sense. But Montaigne wrote about more earthly concerns, like friendship, sadness, idleness, letter-writing, sleep, death, clothes. He used his own experiences to discover intellectual insights. He created – or at least radically shaped – a new form of writing.

When pressed for a brass-tacks definition of an essay, I use one I learned in graduate school: an essay is a piece of writing with a beginning, middle, and end that develops an idea in an interesting way. Note that an essay doesn’t require an introduction, body, and conclusion; it doesn’t have to end so neatly. Nor does it a require a thesis; essays can do more than argue or prove. An essay can question, wonder, warn, dismantle, challenge, gesture to, forecast, probe, propose, or explore.

Annie Dillard writes that the “essay is, and has been, all over the map. There’s nothing you cannot do with it; no subject matter is forbidden, no structure is proscribed. You get to make up your own structure every time, a structure that arises from the materials and best contains them.”

Look at Adam Gopnik’s somewhat traditional essay “Bumping into Mr. Ravioli,” which starts with a story about his daughter’s imaginary friend but then expands to do some serious thinking about the ways our tech-filled urban lives keep us too busy for real connection. Or look at Sarah Einstein’s segmented essay “A Young Man Tells Me,” which uses a list to comment on contemporary masculinity without ever making an overt (or thesis-y) claim about it. Or look at Christine Byl’s flash essay “Bear Fragments,” which is exactly what it sounds like: seven short fragments about bears. What do they add up to? That’s up to the reader to decide.

The core of an essay is an idea, something that the writer thinks, something they want to say. But the way to say it is nearly boundless. Each essay’s structure is unique to the ideas within. Funny, thoughtful, subtle, sharp, meditative, pointed, meandering – there’s much more to the essay than five paragraphs.

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her collection Be with Me Always was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2019 and her anthology of lyric essays, A Harp in the Stars, was published by Nebraska in 2021. Other work has appeared in the Modern Love column of The New York Times, The Rumpus, Brevity, and Creative Nonfiction. Currently she is the founding editor of the online literary magazine After the Art and teaches in West Virginia Wesleyan’s Low-Residency MFA Program and Goucher’s MFA in Nonfiction Program. You can read more at her website,

Learn to Write Segmented Essays with Randon. Randon Billings Noble leads “Segmented Essays: When the Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts” for Charlotte Lit via Zoom, Tuesday, December 5, 2023, 6:00-8:00 p.m. Info and registration

Mindfulness & Poetry

by Brooke Lehmann

Brooke LehmannIn my meditation circle a few weeks ago, our group leader asked us to name one of our wisdom teachers. The contemporary poet and Zen Buddhist Jane Hirshfield came to mind; I was currently reading her new collection, The Asking. Hirshfield’s poems are filled with ordinary acts such as picking figs or opening a window. Many of her poems grapple with difficult questions: the climate crisis, aging, and human suffering. They often instill a sense of wonder and gratitude alongside grief and loss.

In the early days of reading poetry, I was drawn to the imagery and music of the language. But over the years, I have realized that the poems I love the most are not just filled with writing craft, but they also teach me the most about how to live well or more mindfully. Hirshfield says, “Through poetry I know something new, and I have been changed.”

Mindfulness is living in the present moment, accepting our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment. Mindfulness is a quality everyone possesses, but we must learn how to access it. Like any new routine or habit, the more we practice, the easier it becomes over time. We can exercise mindfulness in everyday activities like walking, cooking, folding laundry, or reading a poem.

Research suggests a regular mindfulness practice reduces stress, improves mood and focus, strengthens our immune system, and stimulates learning and creativity. Mindfulness can also help us have happier relationships, make us more resilient to suffering, and allow us to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. Similar to practicing yoga, we can feel kinder towards ourselves and others by reading mindfully.

We see poets like Craig Arnold, with his poem, “Meditation on a Grapefruit,” slow his readers down to the simple act of savoring a piece of fruit over breakfast before the day’s stressors set in. In the poem “Thank You” by Ross Gay, readers are placed barefoot on the frosty grass of a dormant garden in early fall. Through enlivening the senses, we are gifted with greater clarity in the present time. It’s one thing to be on a meditation retreat away from distractions, but by reading, we can learn to witness mindfulness in moments of daily living.

As we live in increasing uncertainty in our ever-changing world, I routinely turn to poetry to ground me in the present moment. Against the terror and dread that we face with gun violence or threats of war, reading mindfully helps me see the beauty alongside the pain in others’ experiences. It reminds me of possibilities that exist in what I often tend to overlook. Right now, the invitation to open to the dark drop of autumn and watch nature surrender to its own wisdom.

About Brooke: Brooke Lehmann is a poet and creative who draws inspiration from nature, fashion, and her love of the piano. Her poems have been featured in Tar River Poetry, Pedestal Magazine and others. She was longlisted for the 2022 Palette Poetry Sappho Prize for Women Poets, and her chapbook manuscript, Pillar of Exquisite Sorrows, was named a finalist in Tusculum Review’s 2023 Chapbook Prize. Brooke holds a B.S. from Purdue University and is a graduate of the Arts and Science Council Cultural Leadership Training program. She serves as an advisory group member of Charlotte Center for Mindfulness.

Practice Mindfulness with Brooke: “The Poetry of Presence: Reading as a Path to Mindfulness,” Thursday, November 9, 2023, 6:00-8:00 p.m., virtual via Zoom.

In this class we’ll explore a few poems and short pieces around the theme of mindfulness. Class will open with a guided body scan meditation followed by a series of readings that follow the style of lectio divina or dharma contemplations. We’ll respond to how the essence of the poems take shape in an embodied way as we hear them recited, informing our emotional and inner landscapes. As a group we’ll discuss images or phrases that catch our attention, and the way metaphor creates meaning and resonance in our lives. We will also have time for a mindful writing exercise and optional sharing. Info

Celebrate the Writer You Are AND the Writer You Can Become

By Ashley Memory

While no one likes to get a rejection email, I recently received one that wasn’t quite as bad as most. It read: “Unfortunately, your submission is not the right fit for what we’re seeking at the moment, but please know that your story is valid and important. We would love to see your work again Ashley!”

I realize that this message was a form letter, and even the name field was auto-populated, but it had a curious effect on me. This note not only softened the blow, it also made me feel better about my writing. It reinforced my belief that all writers instinctually pull from a collective consciousness of love, sadness, grief, joy, and everything in between. This does indeed make my work, and your work, both valid and important.

From one writer to another, I urge you to take this opportunity to love yourself and your work. As often as writing exhilarates, liberates, and soothes, it equally infuriates, bewilders and exhausts us. That’s why it’s so important to give yourself permission to write and believe in your work.

To help, I’ve provided six quick steps designed to celebrate both the writer you are and the writer you can become.

1) Remember the time when you first knew that you were a writer. This happened for me in the sixth grade, when I wrote a poem on the first Thanksgiving that my teacher Mrs. Robbins posted outside the classroom. My first “masterpiece” was a little corny, and certainly contained predictable rhymes, but it meant so much that a teacher I admired was proud of me. I want to do this for the rest of my life, I remember thinking. This little victory has sustained and lifted me up ever since.

2) Tell people that you’re a writer. This step is so obvious I almost didn’t include it. But in my career, I’ve met so many people (even at writers’ conferences!) who hesitate to call themselves writers. They scribble under the cover of darkness, never share their work, and don’t trust themselves enough to tell the world about their greatest, albeit secret, passion. It’s time to come clean. “Outing” yourself as a writer will bolster your confidence and open a new world of friends and connections.

3) Celebrate your strengths. Marilyn, a dear writing partner, recently asked me to compile a list of her greatest writing strengths, something that I was delighted to do. She plans to use this list as part of her 2023 writing plan, which in my mind is nothing short of brilliant. You should do the same. Ask someone in your life—either a fellow writer or a reader of your work—what they admire most about your writing. Keep this list handy and refer to it often.

4) Love your writing enough to make it better. While it’s important to celebrate our talents and victories, it’s vital that we look beyond those moments and seek to improve. If you’re naturally good at setting a scene, consider pushing yourself to add more conflict. If characterization is your strong suit, tinker with your descriptions a little more. Or get better at finding just the right word to express yourself. One of my Christmas presents was the game “Wordsmithery” and by playing it, I hope my writing will soon be much more incandescent.

5) Post self-affirmations where you can see them. I’m living my best writing life. I move people with words. I will write a new poem every week. I will achieve my writing goals this year. You can post these by your writing desk or on your computer screen, but you can also stick them up throughout your home. Because we writers know that some of our best writing happens in our head—when we’re not actively writing. For example, I like to post my notes over the cooktop, on my nightstand, and even in the mirror. Collect your own affirmations, read them out loud, and repeat often.

6) Challenge yourself by submitting to a more competitive market. What is your dream publication? Have you been putting off submitting out of fear? Doubt? Procrastination? Don’t automatically assume that you’ll get a “no.” Just the act of considering ourselves worthy of our most aspirational markets is an elixir to the psyche. Start submitting to more selective markets and I promise that you will begin to see yourself and your work in a new light.

And on this note, why not start NOW? That’s right. Step out of your comfort zone and submit your work to an editor who might be waiting just to hear from you.

Writing as Triathlon

Kathy IzardWhen I first began writing, I believed the most difficult part would be finishing a full-length manuscript, so I only thought it was important to take classes relating to story craft. It was a rude awakening to realize there was so much more I needed to know if anyone was ever going to be able to buy my book and read it.

In a 2002 NY Times article, Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again, author Joseph Epstein cited a study that revealed “81% of Americans feel they have a book in them.” He goes on to use the rest of his essay to dissuade people from writing and suggests instead, “Keep it inside you where it belongs.”

Apparently, a lot of people do as Epstein suggests and “save the typing, save the trees.” On, a blog states .01% ever make it to their goal of finishing that book. No doubt that is because a crafting great story is only about 30% of the book problem. Once authors type “The End,” it’s only the beginning of a long process to write query letters, secure an agent, sign a book contract and market the book. Add on to that the frustrating demand from publishers that writers must also build a “platform” on social media to sell their work, and really, it does seem like Epstein might have been right.

At the same time, it has never been easier for authors to bypass the agents who are gatekeepers of the Big Five publishing world and create their own books. The idea of “self-publishing” is not new, dating back to 1439 when the first printing press was invented by a German goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg. Fast forward to 1979, when computers made desktop publishing accessible and the current print-on-demand technology possible.

In the last forty years, Amazon (KDP Direct) and Ingram (IngramSpark) have dominated and consolidated the POD world, creating a level of sophistication that can make a self-published book indistinguishable from traditionally published titles. But to navigate this part of the publishing universe, aspiring writers must learn how to turn their manuscripts into properly formatted files—a process which can seem daunting.

In truth, it simply takes more of the same persistence required to finish your 65,000-word manuscript. You can learn how to master plot lines and dialogue, as well as how to publish your own great book. Take, for example, the determination of Lisa Genova.

In 2007, she was simply a grad student who had received multiple rejections from traditional publishers. But Genova believed in her manuscript based on the story of her grandmother’s early onset Alzheimer’s, so the aspiring author self-published. After gaining popularity with readers, Simon & Shuster picked up the title and republished it two years later under the title Still Alice. Genova’s book, which had been initially rejected, was on The New York Times Best Seller List for more than 40 weeks, sold in 30 countries, translated into 20 languages, and became an Oscar-winning film. None of that would have happened if Genova had not taken the initiative to publish her own book.

In reality, writing a book is like completing a triathlon—and each of the three stages takes training: writing, publishing and marketing. Don’t wait until your last page to think about how to get your book in the world. Start now, learning to navigate the publishing and book-marketing world.

Maybe even more important than crafting your great characters is learning how your readers will ultimately discover them.

Learn About Self-publishing with Kathy

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2023: “Paths to Self-Publishing,” 6:00-8:00 p.m., in-person at Charlotte Lit

So, you’ve finished a manuscript and have made the decision to self-publish. Where do you start? Or, maybe you worry that self-publishing means “settling” for an unprofessional product. No matter on which side of that fence you sit, the volume of information and opinions is overwhelming. It can be difficult to know which services to trust and whether self-publishing is right for you. Kathy Izard has published four books three ways, including self-published and “Big Five.” Kathy will walk you through 10 steps to putting your words in the world. From purchasing your own ISBN number to ordering author copies, Kathy can answer all your questions about becoming a published author of adult or children’s books. Info

About Kathy

Kathy Izard is an award-winning author and speaker who writes inspirational nonfiction, including The Hundred Story Home, The Last Ordinary Hour and her upcoming release Trust the Whisper (Summer 2024). Kathy also publishes children’s books including A Good Night for Mr. Coleman and Grace Heard a Whisper (Fall 2023). Kathy has written essays for Katie Couric Media and her work as been featured on the Today Show, inspiring people to be changemakers in their community. Online:


All Details are Not Created Equally

by Craig Buchner

I have a vivd memory from graduate school at Western Carolina, almost 20 years ago. My thesis director commented on my final project, a collection of a few short stories. He said that the details I chose in those stories were particularly precise and thoughtful. At that time in my writing development, I was including details that quickly came to mind, and I would settle on one or maybe two details within a scene to highlight—choosing efficiency of language over any greater world building. At the time, it was easier to write in a more clipped, Hemingway-style, and it saved time so I could focus more energy on developing the narrative and plot.

Two decades on—after publishing two books—I still write like this, but it isn’t for the same reasons. Instead, I realize that a focused detail or two can add a deeper layer or dimension to a story.

For example, in my collection of short stories Brutal Beasts I include a story called “Held in Place by Teeth that Face Inward,” in which the protagonist goes to a dive bar with his brother after said brother is arrested. While the brother orders “two Mich Lights and two shots of Fireball,” the protagonist settles on a Sprite “with a slice of lime if you got it.” This drink choice allows me, the author, to establish that the protagonist is sober and moreover that he carries a backstory far more nuanced than the present story at hand. The protagonist makes choices in the scene based on a history he carries, yet that history never has to be explicitly told.

For me, this example illustrates that a well chosen, intentional detail can carry a significant amount of weight within a story that, if positioned well, can establish tension within a scene and between characters, and it supersedes unnecessary backstory or a lengthly explanation, which might slow down the story too much. Too many specific details, in this view, can dilute a scene, leaving a reader to wonder where they should focus their attention, and ultimately lose sight of a key detail that might come back later in the story to reinforce a climactic moment.

I’ve always been attracted to brevity in stories, but it’s taken me a couple decades to understand the true power of it within storytelling. So, I leave you with this thought: Details matter, but not all of them. Choose wisely!

Learn Short Story Writing with Craig

BEGINNING NEXT TUESDAY: “Writing the Short Story,” three Tuesdays, September 26, October 3 & 10, 6:00-8:00 p.m., virtual via Zoom. 

“Cut the piano in half with a chainsaw.” How can this advice influence us to write the best short stories? In this three-week course, we’ll learn how to write a captivating scene for a short story, and explore what a successful scene should accomplish. We will also break down the essential elements of a short story, including character, setting, and dialogue. In lieu of workshopping, writing exercises will give students opportunities to apply these lessons to their own work. And what about that “piano”? We’ll hear that story in the first class!. Info

About Craig

Craig Buchner holds an M.F.A. from the University of Idaho and a M.A. in English from Western Carolina University. He’s taught writing at Brevard College, Washington State University, and Portland Community College. His debut collection of short stories, Brutal Beasts (NFB Publishing), was chosen as an “Indie Book of the Year” in 2022 by Kirkus Reviews. He is also the author of the novel Fish Cough (Buckman Press), which was named an “Indie Books We Love” by LoveReading in 2023. Craig lives with his family in Charlotte.

Piece by Piece

by Jaime Pollard-Smith

“Because in real life, unlike in history books, stories come to us not in their entirety but in bits and pieces, broken segments and partial echoes, a full sentence here, a fragment there, a clue hidden in between. In life, unlike in books, we have to weave our stories out of threads as fine as the gossamer veins that run through a butterfly wing.” ~Elif Shafak, The Island of Missing Trees

Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery. The word beautifully translates to “golden joinery.” This process involves piecing together fragments of broken pottery and filling in the cracks with gold. The shimmering seams not only add value, but they create a one of a kind piece that cannot be replicated. Brokenness builds beauty. I like to apply this same process when writing creative nonfiction.

My writing students often struggle with knowing where to begin. How far back do they need to travel to enter the story? They feel a burden to provide all of the context up front. We are conditioned to produce “Once upon a time…” and “Happily ever after…” stories; yet that is never how our minds actually construct meaning. Readers might crave chronology, but it does not represent our internal life. Our life itself is an act of “golden joinery,” which is why I propose my students dive right into the messy middle. They can pick any moment from their life that they remember vividly. William Zinsser encourages writers to think small. If they have held onto a memory, it is there for a reason. Writers such as Anne Lamott teach that we don’t have to know what we are doing in order to just start the process of writing. Writers might not even know a beginning until they figure out where they are going.

Once the writer feels the freedom to write in fragmented pieces, the possibilities are endless. It becomes a process of discovery rather than production. I tell my students to write in vivid detail, capture the feeling and paint the picture. Show us the sweater, the sunset, the creaky staircase, the broken crayons, the hole in the sock, or the tear stained cheek. Zoom in again and again like exploring different pinned spots on a map. Reel us in, then step out and re-enter a new time and place. These snapshots can be joined in a beautiful new arrangement somewhere down the road. Don’t worry yourself with those details at the start. Enjoy the unfolding as you pick up the pieces.

Explore writing piece by piece with Jaime Pollard-Smith and Zeba Mehdi: “Framing Our Experience: A Life in Pieces” at Charlotte Lit, Tuesday, September 12, 6:00-8:00 p.m. Info

Jaime Pollard-Smith is a full-time writing instructor at Central Piedmont Community College with a Master of Arts from New York University. When she is not corralling two teenagers and a doodle named Dexter, she can be found practicing yoga, weightlifting, hiking, journaling and enjoying the arts. Her fiction has been published in Literary Mama, and she is a contributor for Scary Mommy and Project We Forget. Online:

Networking for the Introverted Writer

by Sarah Archer

Some of my earliest memories are from preschool, where there was an old cast iron tub, with rubber ducks painted on the sides, sitting in the middle of the room. The tub was filled with stuffed animals—and books. While the other kids ran around me and played, I just wanted to sit in that tub and read.

Growing up, I was always the girl with her nose in a book. The life of a writer seemed perfect, because not only did I love to read and write, I enjoyed living inside my own head. When I went to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting, I faced an abrupt awakening. It turns out screenwriting is a very social career. The adage that it’s all about who you know is true. Screenwriters work collaboratively, take frequent meetings, and pitch themselves at every opportunity. I later learned that publishing is similarly social, albeit in different ways. Authors have more solitude during the initial writing process, but are responsible for the lion’s share of promotion. Engaging over social media, giving readings and interviews, and utilizing beta readers are all key.

My kneejerk reaction to all this was “Excuse me? I did not become a writer to talk to people. I became a writer to sit alone in a turret and gaze out the window.” I considered being like Emily Dickinson: hiding all my work in my bedroom, then posthumously becoming one of the most lauded writers of all time. But I had to concede that there is, after all, only one Emily Dickinson.

So I did what I saw other screenwriters doing: I networked. I did drinks with anyone I could in the industry. I attended mixers and workshops for aspiring writers. I joined critique groups. I kept in touch with people I had met, offering to read their work or help in any way I could. Later, when I wrote and published my first novel, I joined writing groups hosted by bookstores and libraries, and discovered the rich community of book lovers on Instagram.

All of these efforts have taken time, and, particularly for an introvert, the social aspects have required energy. But over the years, building a community of writers and readers has become one of the most rewarding parts of my writing life. I’ve learned about the entertainment and publishing industries, gotten invaluable feedback, sold books and scripts, and been hired for writing and teaching jobs. I’ve also found many of my best friends within the writing world. I even met my husband at a networking event.

Building a community and marketing yourself can seem daunting, but there are so many ways to personalize the tasks to your own strengths. I’ve also found writing communities to be incredibly welcoming. Even if you’re an introvert, as a writer, you can and should network! At heart, I am still—and always will be—that girl with her nose in a book. If I can find career and personal fulfillment through networking, anyone can.

About Sarah

Sarah Archer‘s debut novel, The Plus One, was published by Putnam in the US and received a starred review from Booklist. It has also been published in the UK, Germany, and Japan, and is currently in development for television. As a screenwriter, she has developed material for MTV Entertainment, Snapchat, and Comedy Central. Her short stories and poetry have been published in numerous literary magazines, and she has spoken and taught writing to groups in several states and countries. She is also a co-host of the award-winning Charlotte Readers Podcast. Online: at

Learn the Networking Ropes with Sarah…and Bring a Friend!

Wednesday, September 6: “Building a Community: Networking for Writers” with Sarah Archer, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Charlotte Lit.

This Class is a “Plus One” — Bring a Friend for Free! In honor of Sarah Archer’s novel, The Plus One — and because some things are easier with a trusted companion — you can bring a “plus one” to this class at no extra cost! Info

Essay Shakedown: Personal Versus Reported

by Amy Paturel

In almost every personal essay class, I get the question: “What is a reported essay?” And it’s a great question, particularly since publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic are increasingly shying away from personal essays in favor of reported essays. So what’s the difference between the two? Read on!

The Personal
Personal essays delve into a deeply personal experience that may only be relevant to you (i.e., you may be the only person who experienced this particular “thing”). But you tell the story in such a way that anyone can relate to the over-arching message or theme. The key here: You have to have that universal theme or take-home message.

The personal focuses exclusively on your experience with a sort of three-legged stool approach:

  • Scene (sensory details, dialogue, showing)
  • Story (narrative and plot movement, i.e., what’s happening)
  • Reflection (your musings about the experience)

Some examples:

The Reported
With a reported essay, your reader may enthusiastically say, “yes, me, too!” It gives you the opportunity to reflect on your personal experience while recognizing that other people have probably experienced it, too. The way to achieve that end: Statistics. If you can show that INSERT NUMBER OF people also suffer from “you name the experience,” you have the basic scaffolding for a reported essay.

Then, you get to research the who, what, why, when and how, behind the experience and (hopefully) help other people in the process. Here are a few examples:

So what steps do you need to take to craft a pitch for a reported essay?

  • Do some research: Get statistics that prove you’re not alone in the experience.
  • Identify the experts: Search for diverse expert sources who can speak to your experience. Maybe you consult the authors of the studies you uncovered in step 1. Or maybe you search for the top physicians, researchers, and “on-the-ground” experts who can speak to the issue you experienced. The key is to identify the best people to speak to your issue.
  • Craft a pitch for a reported essay. A hint: You should be able to explain what the story is about in two sentences or less.

Now it’s your turn: Craft a pitch for a reported essay. Research the topic or issue you want to explore in a personal essay. Struggling with sibling rivalry in your home? Review the latest psychology research about what sibling rivalry is, why it happens, and how to build a more harmonious home. Want to quit smoking, but can’t seem to commit? Try acupuncture, meditation, or guided imagery, then write a reported essay pitch about what you learned.

Your pitch should include the following:

  • A compelling opening anecdote, similar to what you might craft for a narrative essay.
  • Data, statistics, and/or recent research findings.
  • Three or four experts you would like to interview for the story.

Copyright © 2021 by Amy Paturel. First published in slightly different form at

Learn reported essays from Amy! “Writing and Pitching the Reported Essay” is online via Zoom, two Sundays, July 30 and August 6, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Info

The Healing Potential of Writing

by Elizabeth Hanly

Once upon a time, a student told me his story. He told it in the voice of a child, since he was still quite young when the story occurred. The student had been kidnapped in Guatemala. His captors complained about his tears. “My mother complained of my tears too,” the student wrote. “Maybe that is way she let these men take me.” With that, suddenly, the student understood what he had been unconsciously carrying around with him for over a decade. And with that, I became super curious about the healing potential of writing.

I discovered a mountain of research that suggests writing uses neural processes that function beneath the level of awareness. When those processes are given rein through writing, “stuck” internal narratives can be challenged, freeing intuitive insights to come into awareness. Translation: Reflective writing is a way to discover insights you didn’t know you had.

And so when asked to work with the prompt “Memory that won’t let you go,” a cancer patient found herself writing of the prayer shawl her dad wrapped her in on Saturday mornings before he set off for synagogue. Quite an image to take with her into chemo. Another patient found herself remembering the carved wooden box her father had continued to work on for her even during a decade of the most heated and bitter of exchanges. These stories came to their writers unbidden. The writers couldn’t have known beforehand how healing these images would become. I watched in wonder.

I’ve watched in wonder as well at the laughter shared among the folks in my groups.

Friends sometimes ask me why this work? Because the space shared in these workshops is—dare I say it?—holy. Yep. That’s why.

Write with Elizabeth Hanly. “Togetherness: Writing for Those Touched by Cancer and Other Serious Illness” meets four Tuesdays beginning July 18, via Zoom, 6:00-8:00 p.m. Register

Elizabeth Hanly is a widely published freelance writer, covering the arts, refugees and issues of faith and healing. Her reporting has led her all over Latin and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. Her work appears in the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Vogue, and others. She is an affiliate professor at Florida International University’s (FIU) Herbert Wertheim’s College of Medicine and leads writing workshops for patients at NYC’s Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Cancer Center. Online: