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Welcome back! I’m inspired by your work, and I hope you’re feeling inspired too. Today we’ll be using forms to approach material sideways.

Here’s what the poet Kim Addonizio has to say in 100 Word Story about the challenge of using forms or other constraints: “I’ve found that any constraint is a challenge, for me, and I seem to like challenges. Or rather, my imagination does. It’s like having a puzzle to solve. Can I make this work? Necessity is the mother, and all that. But it’s true: we get more creative when we have to work within limits. At least, I do.”


Emma Kaiser says that the complex poetic form she uses for her nonfiction prose flash “Called Shot: A Prose Sestina” in CRAFT allowed her to access material she couldn’t write about otherwise:

“I had tried several times before to write about this experience, but never felt I’d found the right entry point. The beauty of the form is that it offers a container to that which doesn’t quite feel solid—a structure to something that struggles to stand on its own. For subject matter as sensitive and elusive as this, the form provided me the first words when I’d continually struggled to find the right language.”


Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola coined the term “hermit crab essay” in their textbook Tell It Slant: “This kind of essay appropriates existing forms as an outer covering, to protect its soft, vulnerable underbelly.  … The ‘shells’ come where you can find them, anywhere out in the world.” In an essay in Brevity, Miller elaborates on the form, and also suggests that concentrating on form can free new content. “Hermit crab essays adopt already existing forms as the container for the writing at hand, such as the essay in the form of a ‘to-do’ list, or a field guide, or a recipe. Hermit crabs are creatures born without their own shells to protect them; they need to find empty shells to inhabit …”

Marisa Crane comments on the “how to” form she uses in “User’s Guide to Point Guards & Girlfriends,” CRAFT: “This essay was born from my desire to write about my emotionally abusive relationship in an experimental way, a way that gave me a window into an otherwise traumatic topic. I’d been trying, and failing, for years to write about this relationship, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t do it using a traditional style or form. Every time I tried, I froze. How to summarize my time with this person? How to get to the heart of the issue? … I also found it easier to be vulnerable when using an experimental form.”

Check out the full piece here.

Many writers have said that they wouldn’t have written about difficult subjects if they hadn’t been concentrating on an unusual form.