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"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


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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

Is it Time to Share Your Work?

The issue of when to share your work is a two-part issue. The first part concerns you—your skill as a writer, your confidence and humility level, and your willingness to learn from response to your work. If you’re a beginning writer, or if you’re unskilled in such rudiments as proper sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar, you should probably hone these skills before you present your work to others; if you don’t, responses to your work may well be negative, or, at the very least, will focus on skill-level problems while ignoring the big picture you’ve tried to paint.

Yet even if you’re a skilled writer, you may not be ready to share your work, particularly if your confidence is low or if you’re extremely sensitive to criticism. We usually think of criticism only as negative response, but in fact any response to one’s work that implies judgment is a critical response, and it’s possible to be overly sensitive to positive responses as well as to negative. To be ready to share your work, you must be confident enough to receive negative criticism without becoming defensive, falling to pieces, or deciding that the piece has failed simply because someone points up a flaw. At the same time, you must be humble and level-headed enough to receive positive criticism without floating away on a cloud of euphoria. You must be ready to listen openly to all responses, sift through them, and apply what you’ve learned based on your own personal standards and goals.

The second element to take into consideration before you make your writing public deals with the work itself. What stage is the work in? Is it ready to be shared? Though sharing a work-in-progress can sometimes encourage you to complete it, sharing might halt your progress as well, particularly if a piece is so new that it’s still a germ, a seed of an idea. Much of writing’s power lies in the writer’s urgent need to express what has yet to be expressed. If you talk through a piece before you actually write it, you risk defusing this urgency. The talking, in effect, substitutes for the writing. Energy that you might have put into writing goes into explaining, theorizing, or otherwise talking “around” the piece rather than writing “into” it.

And if you get feedback on a piece before you’ve fully written your way into and out of it, the piece may become a committee effort rather than an expression of your heart’s truth. You may get so many suggestions that you’re confused rather than encouraged. Collaborations can be exciting, useful ventures. But when you’re the sole author of a piece, you don’t need so many visions coming at you that you’re unable to form your own. And you certainly don’t need to be talked out of an idea, insight, or creative possibility before you’ve even have a chance to discover how it might play itself out on the page. On the other hand, you don’t want to wait so long to share your work that you lose interest in it altogether. A proverb attributed to the Seneca Indian tribe warns against telling stories at the wrong time: “The bees will come and sting your lips.” Be attentive to your work. Don’t tell your stories too early; don’t tell them too late. Release your work when, and only when, you feel the time is right.

Excerpted from Write Your Heart Out