Selected Craft Posts

Welcome to the Selected Posts page.

After nearly nine years of writing short craft essays on my author’s website, I thought I would highlight some of the more popular posts, so that readers could have easier access to them. I’ll also be posting craft essays that have appeared in other venues, such as The Millions and Assay.

If the excerpts here of any of these essays interest you, simply click on the boldfaced title and voila!, you’ll be taken to the full craft essay.

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WHAT’S STRUCTURE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Not many people know this, but Shakespeare never divided a single play into five acts. As Mark Rose notes, “In Shakespeare’s lifetime not one of his plays was published with any division of any kind.” And yet all his plays, as we know them today, go hummingly about their business from curtain rise and act one on through to act five and curtain close. These divisions were added to the plays many years after Shakespeare’s death.
So if our greatest playwright never tinkered with five acts (or any acts), what sort of structure did he use to shape his narratives—surely he didn’t simply scribble away?

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THE WAY NARRATIVES GO

I once played a video of The Ways Things Go (by the Swiss conceptual artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss) for one of my graduate-level writing workshops, offering the opinion that it contains a wealth of narrative strategies that anyone might care to study. Fischli and Weiss manage, in a huge warehouse space, to construct an odd, elaborate structure made of everyday objects that, once set in motion, takes nearly a half hour to unwind, as principles of physics and chemistry create relentless forward motion. It could be a novel.

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THE LIFE WE LEARN TO LEAD AS WRITERS

We build our books in much the way different species of ants construct their underground homes, with an astonishing variety of invention. And so the shape of our stories and poems and essays become personal mirrors that reflect our secret selves.

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SOMETHING YOU CAN USE: THE WRITER’S SELF HEALING WOUND

Originally published in The Millions.

Let’s say your family has given you…a sweater. A common enough gift, but it’s a terrible, perhaps even an evil sweater. The combination of clashing colors resembles several things you might have once stepped on, in a nightmare. Worse, it doesn’t seem to fit. There are three arms, each one a different and incorrect length, and no hole for the crown of your head to peek through; instead, a round empty circle in the back gapes open about halfway down your spine. What to do with this?

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THE SHADOW KNOWS

Originally published in Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies

Memory—imperfect, fluid, sometimes hazy—waits for us to return and re-return, to examine and re-examine what at first we cannot see. This, I think, is one of the great interpretive tasks of the nonfiction writer, and of the memoirist especially: we are collectors not of memories so much as those memories’ shadows, so that we might recover, through their nurturing darkness, the hidden meaning of our lives.

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