Essay Writing: The Hermit Crab

Most of the writing that I do at this point in my career is children’s nonfiction.  But I’ve also written book reviews, done test writing, and created how-tos for both children and adults.  I read all types of writing and like to learn new techniques.  After all, you never know when something will come in handy.

Yesterday, I was reading an interview with Jessica Pace who won third place in the Women on Writing Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest.  Her piece is a hermit crab essay.  You can check out the interview here and the essay here.  I had never heard of a hermit crab essay and looked it up.

The term hermit crab essay was first used by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola.  They use this name for essays that take the form of something other than an essay.  It could be a how-to or some kind of written document.

In “Essays in Strange Forms and Peculiar Places,” Vivian Wagner explains that the hermit crab essay is a modern form that celebrates our distractibility. By using a wide variety of forms, these essays help us see that the form information takes shapes what we perceive as much as does the information itself.

Think about the many forms such an essay could take for writers — an acceptance letter, an agent’s profile on Manuscript Wish List, an online submission, a series of computer errors and more.  I have to admit that I have an idea but I’m not sure that mine is actually a hermit crab essay.  My plan is to combine a definition with narrative nonfiction.  Hermit crab essay?  I don’t know and probably won’t know even after I draft it.

I suspect it is more important for me to draft it than it is to worry about what it should be called.  Of course, isn’t that what you would expect someone to say who can’t quite figure out how to label it?

–SueBE

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