Newest Brief Essays

"Women's Hour, YMCA" featured in Kenyon Review Online

"I Second That Emotion" (craft essay) featured in New Ohio Review


Other Brief Essays

"Advanced Directive to My Future Roommate…"

"Things Gone the Way of Time," recently reprinted in Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction (Norton)


Study with Rebecca this summer

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, June 18-25


Kenyon Review PODCAST with Rebecca

(on memoir, genre-crossing, writing practice, and more)


Word Painting Revised Edition: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

New edition includes over 100 writing exercises for all genres.

Word Painting

The Tribal Knot

Rebecca'a newest nonfiction book, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change is now available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.

Tribal Knot

A Review of Write Your Heart Out

from The Pilot
by Sally Buckner

The title, Write Your Heart Out, made me expect Rebecca McClanahan's newest book to be designed for those pursuing writing as a career. After all, McClanahan, who has won major awards for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, is a noted teacher of creative writing. Well, I wasn't entirely mistaken; even accomplished professionals will find much of value here. But this volume is intended for a much wider audience: for anyone who has ever considered undertaking what she calls "a writing journey."

In her introduction McClanahan discusses ten rewards of such a journey, including creating "a time capsule sealed for the future"; helping clarify our often chaotic lives, our often cloudy thinking; helping "reshape the pain" we experience; and making discoveries and rediscoveries: "We write, in part, the words we need to read." 
Chapter 1 deals with a subject familiar to almost any writer, novice or professional: the excuses we have for not writing, the misconceptions on which they are based. McClanahan holds up those misconceptions one by one and demolishes them. Then she gets down to the nuts and bolts of getting words onto paper.

Her second chapter sensibly deals with step one in the process: finding time and space for writing. How many fine books, meaningful letters, useful journals have remained unwritten because the unwriter claims that his/her life is too crowded and provides no fitting space for writing? McClanahan acknowledges that our lives are indeed crowded, but she suggests where we can find the moments and hours to compose, and offers any number of alternatives to the well-outfitted private study.

Now that we have pen in hand or computer keys under our fingers, she gets to the heart of the matter: the actual act of composing. McClanahan begins with private writing. She spends three entire chapter on personal exploration, describing the different forms that journals can take and the values of each. She acknowledges the importance of recording life, both for oneself and perhaps for later generations, but the main motif is exploration: examining experience, ideas, dreams, fears; confronting oneself honestly and in depth. She provides practical tips for undertaking that exploration: using timelines, making lists, even creating "A Small Book of Joys and Sorrows." Throughout she illustrates her points with anecdotes, some from her personal writing journey, some from famous writers, others from students or friends. 

The remainder of the book moves from purely private writing to public writing beginning with letters, a literary form much neglected in our era of cell phones. Yet letters are among the most valuable documents we have for preserving the past, revealing personalities, establishing relationships. She takes up almost every kind of letter: sympathy notes, letters of gratitude, revelation, and confrontation, and of course love letters. She even devotes two pages to e-mail. "I think of e-mail as the fast food of the correspondence cuisine," she says. "It's quick, convenient, cheap, and sometimes even tasty, but it doesn't nourish me the way a carefully prepared, home-cooked letter does." 

The final section deals with public writing, beginning with collaborative writing and moving to the work we want to share with others. She explains the value of writing groups, but she doesn't get into the business of preparing material for publication and find a publisher, a complex matter which would require several hundred more pages. Her final chapter is filled with heart-felt encouragement, cheering us on as "Writing Becomes [Our] Heart."

Whether you have your name on the spines of several worthy publications or are still hesitating to write anything but checks and grocery lists, I recommend this book. I can't imagine anyone completing it and not realizing that for him/her writing is not only possible but an experience promising immense rewards.

Write Your Heart Out
Reviewers' Comments

"This book is for those wanting inspiration and new ways of looking at their own world rather than aloof advice on how to improve their technique…Her warm and friendly tone is sure to inspire many. Well written and browsable, this book is highly recommended for public libraries." -- Library Journal

"Rebecca McClanahan has created a passionate, opinionated guide that could inspire the beginning writer toward a first epiphany and help more experienced writers further develop their skills.... Whether one is writing for pleasure or for publication, Write Your Heart Out can help simplify the journey of self-discovery and can enrich the work of almost any writer." --The Bloomsbury Review