Laurie Wagner & Gretchen Clark
Creative Nonfiction, Personal Essay, Writing Practice
Classes on this page are co-taught by Laurie Wagner & Gretchen Clark
Creative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay
Creative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay 2
The Lyric Essay
Piece of Cake: Writing Flash Nonfiction
Creative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay (10 weeks)
With Laurie Wagner & Gretchen Clark
If you have a story to tell, if you're fairly confessional and believe that truth is stranger than fiction, then the creative nonfiction, personal essay writing class is for you.
Creative nonfiction and personal essay are powerhouses in the story-telling genre. They're the volcanic marriage of real life and fiction, and a chance to deliver our stories with sass, color and voice. By using a variety of techniques such as dialogue, melody and narrative, creative non-fiction and personal essay breathe new life into the ordinary telling of our tales.
Anything is fodder for creative nonfiction; the fight you had with the supermarket check-out person, the time your brother ran you over with his bike, your first real kiss and the lessons you learned about yourself when you stopped to give change to the corner panhandler. By delving into our experiences we squeeze the marrow from our lives and explore our emotional territory, sharing and making meaning out of the events in our lives.
The ten-week class class will focus on finding our voice and discovering our stories, editing our material, and learning the non-fiction markets. There will be a weekly writing assignment and students will come away from class with at least four finished essays.
CLASS OUTLINE Topics listed will be covered in emailed "mini-lectures." In addition, every other week, beginning with week two, participants will be asked to email drafts of specified parts of their work to the entire list, and to provide feedback on the work of others.
Creative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay 2 (10 weeks)
With Laurie Wagner & Gretchen Clark
This is the natural next class for writers who have already taken Personal Essay part 1.
In this 10-week class we will continue our journey of drafting and polishing personal essays, as well as developing a more consistent and sturdy writing practice that writers can lean into and which will boost their confidence.
During our time together we will:
- Write and polish our personal essay with an opportunity to turn in a 1,200 words piece a week.
- Become story magnets, learning how to sniff out the stories that lurk in our lives and then write them.
- Dig into our nonfiction characters as well as scene, learning how to bring these people and places alive in our essays.
- Learn how to create a weekly writing practice that helps us become more organized and steadfast in our commitment to writing
- Receive feedback and become more comfortable with the critiquing process.
- Start to pay attention to the market with an eye on sending out work
There will be at least five lectures sprinkled throughout the 10-weeks, and small mini lectures meant to encourage and inspire will be posted in between.
The Lyric Essay (10 weeks)
With Laurie Wagner & Gretchen Clark
Meet the lyric essay, the beautiful wild child of personal essay meets poetry, meets your grocery list. The lyric essay is the girl with the literary lime streak in her hair who refuses to conform. Limits. Restrictions. Rules. These boundaries do not exist in the world of the lyric. Imagine instead, telling the story of your first true love through the wisdom of fortune cookies. Consider telling a tale about motherhood using song titles or street signs.
Through this fascinating writing genre that draws on all forms of nonfiction and poetical elements, we will push past preconceived literary boundaries and break out of self-constructed writing confines.
In our ten-weeks together we will create fresh new essays that look and sound like nothing you've written before. This course is for anyone who has been searching for something more, something different, something outside the mainstream. Our time together promises to be a completely different, super creative and totally freeing approach to essay writing. We will embrace experimentation, foster individual perspective and encourage the growth of your creativity through weekly lectures, drawing on interviews from established lyric essay writers as well as sample essays on the limitless style of the lyric. A fun and imaginative menu of assignments will also be provided weekly. Join us.
Lecture 1: She Of The Lime Green Streaks
In this first class we will meet the lyric essay and appreciate what makes it one of the most imaginative and creative writing genres around. We will talk about the ingredients of a good lyric essay, and what writers will need to leave at the classroom door before they enter this hall of abandon. We will talk about form, because the lyric is all about finding a lyrical swerve to our stories, and telling them in new and unusual ways. Students will also draft a list of stories they want to explore over the 10-weeks.
Lecture 2: What My Grocery List Will Tell You About My Mother-In-Law
Since the lyric is all about playful form, we will explore a number of different lyric shapes including the braided essay and the hermit crab essay, as well as read examples of what other lyric essayists have experimented with. Writers will look at their own stories and begin to get a sense for their shape and what lyric forms would compliment and enhance each piece.
Lecture 3: Jail Break
Because the lyric essay demands that we move away from formality and the old way of telling our stories, we will want to have as much access as possible to our more intuitive, creative and instinctual voices. We'll want to think outside of the box, in fact, let's run away from that box and break free from all of our previously learned literary limits to find ourselves in an entirely new and wide open writing territory. This week we will talk about how to write and think without a box and we'll focus on exercises that will help us to tap into our creative imagination. We will talk about how dreams, bits of overheard conversations, billboards, yogurt labels and song jingles can inform our stories and make them more interesting.
Lecture 4: On Fire
Choosing the kinds of stories we want to write about is important for two reasons. One, if you're writing for an audience your stories must offer the reader something and not just be an exercise that you alone appreciate. And two, the easiest stories to write are the ones that are burning up inside of us, the ones that want to come out, the ones that are teetering on some edge. So it's important to ask ourselves what we care about and what's worth writing about. In this lecture we will also talk about the tenets of a good story; showing not telling, and the importance of scene, dialog, and character detail.
Lecture 5: Ruby Slippers
The lyric can have a magical, out of this world quality. It wants to come alive in a melodic, expressive and energetic way. There are many ways to pull the melody out of our writings and so this week we'll talk about poetic expression, elements like rhythm, white space, line break, assonance, and inversion, that will lift and push our pieces past the mundane and toward that magic.
Lecture 6: It's My Party
A story should be a journey the writer takes the reader on and there needs to be a pact between reader and writer such that if you read my work you will come away with something. I'm not here to play with myself, but actually have something you might need. And so there is this obligation to the reader that the writer must be aware of, and which can make us more thoughtful and developed writers. We will also talk about the importance of meaning in our work and why the lyric isn't just a word salad that doesn't come together.
Lecture 7: TNT, It's Dynamite
At this point in the class students will have had access to at least 28 different writing assignments they can pick and choose from. We will spend this week uncovering even more of the lyric form to play with, as well as introducing the liberating concept of detonating that comfortable but oh-so-predictable linear narrative line which we've previously constructed our essays around.
Lecture 8: From Diving Boards to Ding Dongs
In more traditional essay writing we make a big deal out of transitions and logical steps that take the reader from one thoughtful paragraph to the next. Not so with the lyric. This week we will play with associative leaps; making connections that are inspired from the intuition as well as from the form. We will also talk about the difference between delivering ideas to readers verses posing questions, which can be equally triggering.
Lecture 9: Drop a Heart, Break a Name
These past few weeks have been about experimenting and getting comfortable with the lyric form. We've used a variety of pure nonfiction templates like recipes, CD catalogs and bumper stickers to get you rolling on the lyric road. This week the training wheels come off. We are going to get really broken and jagged and more than a little distorted in our writing this week because the lyric just doesn't look different, it FEELS different. We will introduce the mosaic and collage-like nature of the lyric, and by building our essays with diverse elements and focusing on fragmentation we will move into creating pieces that are raw and more emotionally authentic.
Lecture 10: A Day in the Life of the Lyric
During our last week we'll send writers out into the world to compile stories from their own lyrical landscapes. While classes can be a wonderful jumping off place, it's essential that writers remember that MAKING ART doesn't just happen when you clean off your desk and sit down to think. We want writers to get in the habit of writing even when they're not writing; when they're walking the street, when they're driving carpool, or standing in the grocery line. Writers can even write when they're dreaming. Everything is material for porous creatures who are hungry to capture the nuance of a moment. This week reminds students to act spontaneously, trust their instinct as they assemble the bits and pieces, the detritus that land along the path of one simple day.
Piece of Cake: Writing Flash Nonfiction (10 weeks)
With Laurie Wagner & Gretchen Clark
Piece of Cake is about slices of life rendered in 1000 words or less. It's about learning how to choose the right words and the right moments that will tell a reader everything they need to know about your world in only a few paragraphs.
Here's a sampling of what we'll be serving up in our ten weeks together:
What goes into a piece of flash nonfiction? In our introductory lecture we'll share with you the goods you'll need to get started.
2. Captain Hook
The beginning, the lead, that thing sometimes called the hook, is paramount because it's the reader's first taste of your piece. This lecture will show you how to find the best beginning to your story.
3. Tell Me A Story
The best stories are the ones that you've just got to tell, the ones that won't go away. This lecture is about generating and choosing the stories that will make the most impact and linger in the readers mind the longest.
What stylistic options are open to us? Sky's the limit, but to get you started this week we'll discuss our five favorite applications of style: vivid language, word count, unusual format, poetical components, and topic choice.
5. Radical Edit
We'll start with more story than we need this week, then we'll learn to whittle that baby down to a perfect, concise moment. What is essential to our stories and what is excess? What does it mean to kill your darlings? That's the radical edit.
How do we impart a sense of depth into these succinct essays? This week we're going to cut below the surface and answer this question. We'll talk about the importance of subtext, surprise, change, epiphany, and disclosure and about ways to incorporate them into our work to give the desired effect of a more layered confection. Tiny can be mighty.
7. Image Is Everything
You don't have two pages to set the stage and seduce the reader. You've got to get in and get out because you're about to drop a bomb. So get tight with an image, a voice or a central theme that will carry your piece to its finish. This is about being daring, coming on strong. Remember what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words? Choose a good one and you're on your way.
8. Truth or Consequences
In the nonfiction kitchen we guarantee that our essays are made from the hearty flour of truth, but we don't want them to be bricks either: we're not making weapons, we're making art ? so we add the accent of memory and emotional truth to give our flash pieces some spunk and meaning. In this lecture we will talk about emotional and factual truth, and how reality and perception can work together to make story happen.
Listening to our intuition ? our hearts, not our heads ? is an important part of writing, whatever its length. This week we're going to write uninhibited by any formula or preconceived notion. We're going to let our words lead us to the story we need to tell, not to the one we think we should be writing.
10. The Last Bite
In this lecture we'll talk about how to send out your flash nonfiction pieces, where to send them and what to do while waiting to hear back.
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