Tag Archives: creative writing

Excerpt from The Portable MFA: Advice on Essay Writing

Excerpt: The Portable MFA


Here are some excerpts from The Portable MFA, a book I just reviewed.

From Chapter 2: Personal Essay and Memoir, by Peter Bricklebank:

The Personal Presence of the Author

“A characteristic of the personal essay is a voice that seems to speak directly to the reader.  It is an easy voice, a spoken voice, an intimate voice, that of a confidant.  It is the voice of the writer.  An essay gives the impression  of a tete–a-tete between author and reader, the intimacy of the friendly, receptive ear cupped at the articulate mouth of an observant mind.  A writer’s experiences in life, filtered through the limitations and strengths of his character, articulated in his own words in his own singular way create a distinct vision of our shared existence as sentient beings.  Your personal essay provides a window on the world, on our shared human experience.”

“When you, as a writer, express things that readers recognize as somewhat akin to their own experience, you confirm their humanity; where you differ from others, your individuality and the individuality of those reading you are enhanced by being acknowledged, voiced, described, made plain in the light of day.  The essay, then, provides an inner dialogue in an outfacing form.  In seeking to make discoveries about your own life in an essay, you find patterns, meanings, and understanding that extend beyond you.”

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Book Review: The Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Book Review:  The Portable MFA in Creative Writing


The Portable MFA in Creative Writing is a book on writing technique put together by the teachers at the New York Writers Workshop.  It covers fiction writing, personal essay and memoir, magazine writing, poetry, and playwriting.   This is from the back cover:  “Get the core knowledge of a prestigious MFA education without the tuition.  Have you always wanted to get an MFA, but couldn’t because of the cost, time commitment, or admission requirements?  Well, now you can fulfill that dream without having to devote tons of money or time.  The Portable MFA gives you all of the essential information you would learn in an MFA program in one book.”  The author of the introduction thinks that the average MFA program does not spend enough time on craft, and says a lot of people think that writing can’t be taught.  About this last point, he says:  “Have you ever heard someone say:  ‘Why on earth are you taking piano instruction?  Music can’t be taught’?  Of course not, but you hear this nonsense all the time about writing.”  This is an interesting book that is like an anthology really, as every chapter is written by a different author, and they all have different personalities and styles of writing.  For myself, I found the most useful chapters to be personal essay and memoir, and poetry.


Reference:  The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, New York Writers Workshop, Cincinnati, OH: Writers Digest Books, 2006.

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