emily stoddard Posts

Writing takes so many forms. Sometimes it’s a joyful and personal practice. Sometimes it’s a letter to a loved one. Sometimes it’s a story that cracks open a new world. And sometimes writing is a tool for change. I’m thinking about that last one in the wake of another police shooting.

I haven’t always been sure about my relationship to writing as advocacy, even though I worked in social change for a long time. When you’re at the table with people trading money, influence, and political strategies to end homelessness or fight childhood hunger or get equal pay for women, one poem starts to feel small. But I’ve been rethinking that as I move into a different space in my life and creative process, and as the times prove again and again that money, influence, and political strategies aren’t enough. There is a gap in empathy, connection, and awareness that maybe only art can fill.

Maybe this is the advocacy of writing: the poetry of waking people up. Over at Voice & Vessel, I posted more about this and shared some of the writers who are asking me to wake up.

identity reading writing

Today is the day — An Alphabet of Embers is live and ready for readers! The book is available on Amazon, with reviews and more on Goodreads as well.

Like I’ve shared before, this is a pinch-me moment in my writing journey. I’m so honored that my story, “Outfitting the Restless Heart, or How the Sky Was Made” is part of this anthology. It’s the first short story of mine to be published, and I can’t imagine a better home for it. Watching the early reviews come out has been surreal… it was a part of the process that I didn’t anticipate, to be honest. This review at Nerds of a Feather caught me off guard in the best of ways. It’s a gift just to have this story out in the world. Seeing how someone connected with it, and how they sensed where my heart was when I wrote it, is a gift on another level.


We spent part of last weekend at our family’s new cabin in Oceana County. Everyone else wants to say, “We’re going to the cabin.” or “We’re going up north.” but I prefer “I’m going to Oceana,” because of all the county names in Michigan, that has to be one of the most beautiful.

Oceana, Oceana, Oceana. It’s like an incantation of water and wilderness. It reminds me of how, when Carl and I moved back to Michigan from San Francisco, we mentioned that Lake Michigan was one of the things we missed. His San Francisco co-workers wondered, “Is it like Lake Tahoe?” And we laughed — no, better. Like an ocean. Sunsets and rolling dunes and somewhere on the other side, which you can’t see, sits Chicago, Milwaukee, etc.

We spent the day walking the land, checking the trail cams for deer and turkey activity, and breaking in the hammock for the season. I practiced with my longbow until my arms got tired and my aim got embarrassing. We came home with the mark of bonfire and pine in our hair, a kind of Michigan incense that says summer is here.

nature Science is Poetry

I’m excited to share that the spring 2016 issue of Watershed Review is live and includes my essay, “Orienteering.” I’m excited to have this one out in the world, as it includes some moments that really wanted to be written about.

This is the first essay I’ve had out in the world in over 10 years, after experiences that led me to step away from essays entirely. I recently shared that story on The Writing Cooperative:

Poetry is my first love, but essays were calling to me. I was reading Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion and seeing bits of myself in not just what they wrote, but how they thought. There was a sharpness and a synthesis that felt different in essays than it did in poetry. I was struck with that just-right mix of curiosity, kinship, and intimidation that gives you enough gumption to try something new.

So I signed up for a creative nonfiction course in my English department. On the first day of class, I was transparent: I was a poet who wanted to try writing essays. It would be 10 years before I would introduce myself like that again. It was like announcing I was a hummingbird that wanted to become a horse. The division in the class was felt — there were the nonfiction students, a few fiction students (who were okay, because they dealt in narrative), and then me, The Poet.

I could deal with this as a matter of the culture or group dynamic in the class. Maybe it could even become a kind of pride, to be The Poet. But where it did damage was in practice, in the learning. Instead of becoming a guide, the professor became a gatekeeper. She had decided what an essay was, and she had decided which students had the right keys to access it. I learned that poetry was not one of the keys, as most of her feedback was some form of “This is poetry, not an essay.” or announcing, “Well, doesn’t that sound like poetry?” to the class when I shared my work.

I started trying to strip the poetic language out of my essays. I tried to focus on the more concrete, linear moments that were part of the story. As you might expect, those essays fell flat. They couldn’t find their natural shape. They had experiences but no voice. I couldn’t find the threads to follow into my drafts. Without poetry, I didn’t have my intuition.

It wasn’t until years after those classes that I came across lyric essays, and a door into essay writing opened up:

I thought the essay form could be Only One Thing, and I didn’t have the key to it. I thought it was more narrative than symbol. I thought it was more head than heart, more linear and cohesive than experimental and stretching. But here was this idea of the lyric essay. And it seemed that even established essay writers could not easily define it, and that was part of what made it attractive. Here was a form that even the best essayists (i.e., Authority) acknowledged might sometimes be more poetry than essay.

You know that wave of relief you feel when you finally recall the word that’s been loitering on the tip of your tongue? Imagine that, and you might have an idea of how it felt to find the lyric essay.

I’m still learning a lot about essays, and about the lyric essay in particular. “Orienteering” is hopefully the start. But I’m happy just to have a way in, after so many years of believing that essays were off-limits.

creative nonfiction essay publications writing

I’m excited to have a guest post up at All Nine this week! It’s about how to stir up inspiration and signal our muses before we arrive at the empty page. How do we build trust, so we know a creative invitation when we see one? Is it possible to seed the conversation with our muses before the writing even begins?

I believe there are many ways that ideas, stories, and creative energy try to find us. But too often we’ve been taught to silence, ignore, or even fear the inner space where ideas say hello. It doesn’t have to be a hard or even esoteric journey to undo this teaching. I tend to believe that simple, down-to-earth practices are actually the key.

In my guest post, I share a few of what I hope are simple, fun ways to listen for inspiration and invite your muses to come closer in your writing life. I hope you’ll stop by All Nine and gather some creative energy for yourself — the site is full of it! Click here to read more.

inner life writing

One of the best parts of starting Voice & Vessel has been learning about people’s writing journeys and finding kindred spirits to share the writing process. Between that and recent events I’ve attended, I’m noticing common questions pop up, like:

  • Is it okay to do (insert technique or style here) when I write? For example: Is it okay if I rhyme when I write poetry?
  • I’ve heard I should _____ when I’m getting started. What do you think? For example: I’ve heard I should never lift my pen and write nonstop for as long as I can when I’m getting started, but it’s been hard to do that. What do you think?
  • I feel like I got stuck on ______. Should I start over when I get stuck on something? For example: A duck showed up in my story, and I thought I shouldn’t be writing a story about a duck. Should I have restarted with the prompt?

These questions seem straightforward, but that’s part of their seduction. It’s human nature to want to fix things, and questions like this often get heard as: “Something is broken in my writing process. Can you help me fix it?”

On the Voice & Vessel blog, I wonder whether we need more rules for our process or if these questions simply mean we are hungry for permission to write at all. I also share four ways to spot a helpful writing practice and a set of practices for getting unblocked (if the rules have been in your way). Read more here.

writing writing prompts

Writing the Big Heart of Small MomentsLast week, I inched toward a final draft of a poem I have written and re-written for six years. The seeds of the poem are more than seven years old, and there are at least a dozen drafts. And just because a draft is newer doesn’t mean it’s better. This has been the kind of writing process where things get worse, sometimes much worse, before they get better.

Poetry is the only thing in my life that gets this much of my patience. And it’s not because of the poem, really. It’s because of the thing I’m scraping at within the writing, using the poem like a hammer to break it open.

When we write in pursuit of something, especially a small moment or a memory that calls to us, there’s often a pause when we step back and wonder: Is this worth it? What am I chasing, and why?

More at Voice & Vessel

Over on the Voice & Vessel blog, I wrote about the memorable, tough-to-shake moments that drive us to write. How do you follow a “shimmering” moment until it becomes a strong poem, essay, or story? I’m sharing what one stubborn poem taught me, plus three writing prompts to help you write into the idea, memory, or moment that won’t let go. Click here to read the full post.

writing writing prompts