A Northwest Based Literary Journal

From Riff to Essay, by Janet Buttenwieser

My essay “The Dash,” began as a one-paragraph riff. In the online classroom of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (NILA), where I was pursuing an MFA, we had a forum called “The Playroom.” The idea was to have a critique-free space where we could post writing experiments of all kinds. We were supposed to limit our writing time to ten minutes, and someone introduced the idea of posting the beverage you were consuming when you wrote the piece.

One week a couple of students wrote poems about running. Playing off of theirs, I wrote a flash nonfiction piece about running the 100-yard dash in the cemetery. 11 minutes I wrote at the bottom. San Pellegrino, no ice.

David Wagoner, who we have the fortune of having on the NILA faculty, wrote a comment. “That could be a poem, you know.” I hadn’t written one since high school, but with David’s help I turned my micro essay into a poem. A month later I entered it in a writing contest and won honorable mention.

I’ve been working on a book-length memoir for several years, and I like to take frequent breaks to write short essays. While digging around in my files on one such break I came across that poem. I realized I had more to say about my grade-school experience. I didn’t know that my friend and classmate James would enter the piece until I was most of the way through the draft. It’s always a good writing day when you can surprise yourself with what appears on the page.

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Categorised in: Nonfiction, TLR News

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