Ellen’s Eight

There’s no sure-fire formula to teach creative writing. I don’t believe there’s a prescription to teach any kind of art.

Instead, I think writing teachers and coaches do our best when we create a safe space. The more comfortable the writer, the easier the “brain dump” and the chance to capture words on the page or screen.

Creative process is as varied as people are. There’s no one method to get those words out.

However, I do rely on a post brain-dump checklist.

I call them Ellen’s Eight Elements of Essay and they are applicable to all forms of personal narrative after the first draft is down.

On the sentence level, there’s detail, scene, language and pacing.

For the work as a whole, there’s storyline, structure, voice and theme.

I could write volumes on each one, but there isn’t space for that here. Besides, it’s more efficient to talk about them within the context of an essay or piece of memoir – a conversation that is the foundation of my workshops for many years now.

But lately I’ve been thinking that these eight elements don’t just apply to essay and memoir.

The more I talk about them as they relate to a piece of personal writing, the more I see that they are a pretty good checklist for living a meaningful life.

Starting small:

Detail. You’ve heard the expression, The divine is in the details. I’ll just leave that right there.

Scene. Paying attention to the scene you are in is living wholly in the present tense.

Language: The words we use are not fleeting. They can be a reflection of ourselves. In fact there’s some science behind this.

Pacing. The rhythm of our sentences and the pace of the story is a mirror to our mood.

Moving larger:

Storyline. You are living your story, telling your story and you can reframe both.

Structure. We are comfortable with how our lives are shaped and organized, or not.

Voice. Your voice is the  your vision. How do you define yours?

Theme. What would your life’s mission statement look like? What matters most to you?

Ted Talk author Emily Esfahani Smith’s defines a meaningful life as one filled with belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling. I believe writing provides all four. The storytelling, for sure. The hours lost in the writing can feel transcendent. The subject you are writing about can give purpose to your life. And belonging can come from connecting with a reader or being with other writers.

Making art isn’t just about making something expressive, poignant or beautiful. When we make art, we make meaning.

 

Read my recent craft essay on the Brevity Blog!

 

A new month, a new Stitch! So much said in so few words.“Tied and True” by Ruth Rozen.

 

Watch for the Summer Issue of Thread to be released this month! Missed the Spring Issue? Read it here.

 

I’m taking a much-needed break from reading  Thread submissions this summer, but will continue to review pieces for  StitchCheck out the Submission Guidelines.

 

We’ve only just stepped into summer, but it isn’t too early to think about writing in the fall. Take a look at my offerings for fall.

 

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

 

2 thoughts on “Ellen’s Eight

  1. I lead memoir-writing classes in Chicago and have started a Memoir Teacher Masterclass group on Facebook for teachers to share ideas and links to workshops, webinars, blog posts…anything we find helpful.
    Would love to have you join that group to share future blog posts and news of upcoming workshops, and I am writing now to ask permission to share your “post brain-dump checklist” there. I know my fellow memoir-writing teachers will want to link to your post to read about your discovery that the list also conveniently serves as a checklist for living a meaningful life. It really does!
    You may email me privately to give me permission or simply comment here — thank you.

    1. I’d be delighted to have you link fellow memoir-writing teachers to “Ellen’s Eight” – sharing is the whole idea! I’ll also take a look at your Facebook group as well. Thank you for reading and reaching out, Beth.

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