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Not What, But How: Improving Essays with a Focus on Craft, Not Content - 4 week writing workshop with Chelsey Clammer

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WOW! Women On Writing Workshops & Classes

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Featured Online Essay Writing Class

Chelsey Clammer


START DATE: This class is currently closed.


DURATION:  6 weeks

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Face Your Fears: Women Writers Anonymous is a 6-week online creative nonfiction class in which all of the participants are anonymous (with the exception of the instructor). Students will face the stories and situations in their lives that they swore they would NEVER write about, and then not only write them, but also receive feedback based on craft, not content. Students will read assigned essays to see how authors have written about traumatic/shameful events. By the end of the class, students will have a complete draft of their brave essay, as well as the knowledge and skills to help them revise a personal essay in a more objective way. NOTE: this is not group therapy.

Having Chelsey for a writing teacher happily exceeded my expectations. She a gifted and accomplished writer, fully dedicated to the writing life and to sharing her talent and knowledge with others, and it felt to me she was a much a member of our class as she was the instructor, which allowed me to trust her and take risks with my writing. ~ Patricia Heim

Chelsey’s class has been absolutely amazing. I have produced three refined and excellent pieces—one has already been pubbed by The Nervous Breakdown, and I just got an acceptance from Hippocampus for the second! The third is still out there, submitted to three places. Chelsey provided me excellent edits and emailed back quickly when I had questions. The class was fun, I learned a lot and was inspired to continue writing after it ends using the prompts she gave. She was even generous enough to answer questions I had about MFA programs. I am thankful that I ended up in her class. ~ Sarah W. (Previous WOW class participant)

This past August I signed up for Chelsey Clammer’s four-week WOW! course, The Women Writers’ Book Group: Furiously Happy. Not only have I never participated in an online book club or writing class, but I have never tried my hand at flash/short fiction or humorous fiction. But I can read, and thought it would be fun to dissect the book with an instructor and other writers. And laugh a little along the way. I was blown away. Not only was the online class a lot of fun and very informative, but Chelsey’s exceptional insights into the book combined with her weekly exercises and feedback gave me some confidence and inspiration to try my hand at writing humor. She kept the pace and energy level of the class high, not easy to do online. Chelsey also expertly guided me with her edits and encouragement. She suggested I submit a couple of my pieces that came out of her exercises. I was so new to all this, I didn’t even know where to begin to submit. Chelsey walked me through that process, too! I thought you’d like to know that one was published online. I couldn’t have been published without Chelsey and the WOW! classroom. Thank you so much for offering the opportunity to grow as a writer! ~ Kate Bradley-Ferrall (Previous WOW class participant)

In May, I took Chelsey Clammer’s course on writing memoir based on the empathic writings of Leslie Jamison. Discussion and analysis of Jamison’s essays, formed the backdrop for our approaches to our essays. I worried; I’d been writing only poetry for the past five years. Would I have enough ideas and skills to shape a coherent essay for feedback from the mentor and classmates? Ms. Clammer taught me that, whether published or not, all of my writings are important. She showed me how rewarding it is to investigate a portion of one’s life and share it with an audience. I discovered I could write about a tiny segment of my past. The resultant essay gave information and a degree of entertainment to my readers. Two of the essays completed during the four-week course are now under consideration by editors: one at an essay contest at Under the Gum Tree and the other at Mom Egg Review. ~ Carole Mertz (Full review at 1888 Center.)

Chelsey is a careful and thoughtful editor who let’s other writers’ voices stand out while at the same time helping them clarify and distill their words. ~ David Olimpio

Chelsey Clammer is professional and prompt, with a keen eye for detail. I trust her editorial advice absolutely. ~ Jen Palmares Meadow

Working with Chelsey I feel I’m in a rich partnership that as much about preparing essay drafts for publication as it is about growth, discovery, and the joy that comes from telling the stories that matter to me. ~ Kineret Yardena


WEEK 1: Writing about what You Would NEVER Write about

For this first week of the class, we will read both creative and craft essays that address how to write about the hard subjects. We will also read other writers’ thoughts on why essayists must write about what we would rather keep secret. Finally, we will also read an essay about literature and trigger warnings.

Assignment: Read the three assigned essays, respond to at least one discussion question, complete two brief writing exercises, submit one of the exercises to the instructor.

WEEK 2: Roll Up Your Sleeves and Dive In

This week we will look at the number of ways in which one story can be told, and how there is no “right” way to tell a story. From this, we will discuss the most important step in writing about something traumatic—getting the story out of the brain and onto the page.

Assignment: Read the two assigned essays, respond to at least one discussion question, complete at least one of the writing exercises in order to write out your story, submit this essay-in-progress to the instructor (700-word limit), and provide feedback on 2-3 peers’ essays.

WEEK 3: Whittling Away at Experience to Find Meaning

Now that we have the story on the page, it’s time to return to it and see what is absolutely necessary for the piece. Often, writers believe that a certain scene, piece of dialogue or even just a specific description in their essays are essential to the story. This week we will look at shorter essays in which the author is able to get a lot of information and convey the complexity of emotions into a very small amount of words. Being able to do this will help writers to start looking at their work more critically. We will focus on two main elements for writing shorter: pacing and narrative arc. Students will re-visit their essay from the previous week to cut out anything they do not feel is vital to the story, and add in anything they had initially left out.

Assignment: Read the five assigned essays (each one is under 800 words), respond to at least one discussion question, complete two brief writing exercises, and submit your essay-in-progress to the instructor (700-word limit), and provide feedback on 2-3 peers’ essays.

WEEK 4: Finding Your Voice

When writing about hard topics, the narrator’s voice can come off as fragile or completely dissociated. Finding what your voice sounds like within an essay about trauma can be difficult. Now that we have the story written down and revised in a few different ways, we will start to look at the tiny mechanics that make big impacts on an essay: word choice, sentence structure, and subtle descriptions.

Assignment: Read the four assigned essays, respond to at least one discussion question, provide feedback on peers’ essays, and continue to add to and revise your own essay-in-progress as instructed.

Week 5: Focus on Context, Reach beyond Self

By this week, students will have one long, well-written essay or a few shorter ones. Students will have a good handle on what they want to say in their essays, and how they can approach revising them to make them truly speak to the experience. Now that we have a solid personal story written down, this week students will look at how they can put their essays in a larger context, or put something about the larger world into their essays. By doing this, students will see how even the most personal of personal essays reach beyond them and can speak to different readers.

Assignment: Read the three assigned essays, respond to at least one discussion question, complete one brief writing exercise, submit essay-in-progress to the instructor (800-word limit), and provide feedback on 2-3 peers’ essays.

Week 6: Now that We Have Reached the End

Ending an essay can be tricky. Depending on the organization of an essay, the end could be the place where the secret is revealed, it could be where what caused the trauma is finally explained, it could be a line that circles back to the beginning in order to convey a new point, or it could be... anything. We’ve written and shaped and polished and have a complete essay in front of us, but let’s look at that ending again. Is it the one that works best? This week we’ll look at three essays about death and the powerful ways in which each author chose to end their stories.

Assignment: Read the three assigned essays, respond to at least one discussion question, complete two brief writing exercises, submit final draft of essay to the instructor (700-word limit), and provide feedback on 2-3 peers’ essays.

Materials needed: All readings will be provided by the instructor.

Sample Lesson from one of Chelsey’s Classes: The Women Writers’ Book Group: The Empathy Exams: Week I.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR: Chelsey Clammer is the award-winning author of Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). A Pushcart Prize-nominated essayist, she has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School, Hobart, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown and a voluntary reader for Creative Nonfiction magazine. You can read more of her writing at:

COST:  $160, which includes weekly assignments, individual feedback from the instructor, and an emotionally safe space to explore your stories.

BUY NOW: FACE YOUR FEARS: WOMEN WRITERS ANONYMOUS with Chelsey Clammer (6 weeks, starting 1/1/2018) Limit: 12 students. Early registration is recommended.

This class is now closed. Please check here for our current schedule.

For Class Session Starting 1/1/2018


Notes: Upon successful completion of payment, your name, email address, and contact info will be submitted to your instructor. Just before class begins, she will e-mail you with instructions on how to get started.

Questions? Email Marcia & Angela at:

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