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.
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.