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Featured Online Class on Short Forms

Specifics Tell the Story

SPECIFICS TELL THE STORY: Exercises and Strategies for Overcoming Exposition  by Sheila Bender

START DATE: Monday, February 20, 2023

END DATE: Sunday, April 2, 2023

DURATION:  6 weeks

LOCATION:  Private Google Group

FEEDBACK:  Detailed Instructor Feedback and Encouraging Peer Workshop

COURSE DESCRIPTION:   You’ve heard “show don’t tell” over and over and still writing group members, instructors and editors ask again for details that appeal to the senses, details that allow the reader to live the experience you are writing. Why as writers do we forget to provide the images and specifics and instead write broadly and bump the reader out of the experience they are having? Let’s find the answer and what to do about it for producing evocative, compelling writing.

I signed up for Sheila’s class during the pandemic because I desperately needed some structure to my days and craved deadlines to meet during this time of no time. I had also been going through a period of not writing except in my journal and hoped for a kick in the pants to get me moving. The class was perfect for me because it allowed me to write in short micro bursts but by the end of the six weeks I had completed an essay—something that I hadn’t been able to do for such a long time! The flash pieces unlocked some creative doors that I was able to walk through, and almost without my realizing it, ideas and enthusiasm started flowing. Sheila’s suggestions and edits helped me see my writing through a different lens and improve it immeasurably. At the end of the class, I have three pieces that, with more work, might be in shape to be submitted for publication. In the long run, though, the best result of the class was to interest me in my own writing again! ~ Nikki Hardin

We did it with wonderful inspiration from Sheila. Each day I was excited to see what was coming from Sheila and all of you. Sheila brought me out of the Covid fog where I was languishing. ~ Marion Karian

This was my first online class, and because my system isn’t compatible with Google it took a while to work out the kinks. During the adjustment, Sheila was the epitome of patience. Although out of my comfort zone, I learned so much from Sheila’s critiques as well as from my fellow classmates. A great way to spend a pandemic. ~ Mary Shehadey

Thanks Sheila, you’ve been an outstanding instructor. Challenging, creative, specific yet gentle in your feedback. I cannot thank you enough. ~ Christy Schwan

“Writing Short, Writing Deep” called to me. This assignment in particular, to write a flash piece, in this moment, resonated strongly. I received it as an invitation to be still and to let it flow. ... Most of all, I’m very appreciative, Sheila, of the curriculum you designed, the care you took with our writing, and the encouragement and enthusiasm you provided. ~ Joan Weber

So many things about this class and your methods improved my writing. The reader response approach for feedback you suggest, where we tell the writer what feelings their words evoke in us along with questions that arise, provides a clear framework for critique. Your feedback on my writing not only encouraged me, but also provided specific ways to improve my technique. I was excited to try the prompts, which also gave me a sense of the many different approaches to expression, from writing "in scene" about why I am moved by a vivid memory, to a second-person narration in epistolary form, to prose poetry. I will benefit from your craft expertise and warmth as a teacher for time to come, and will definitely take another of your classes! ~ Marilyn Guggenheim

I’ve taken several classes with Sheila. Always, she’s provided generous support, great tips for writing skills, and the kind of encouragement that makes me want to write more. I look forward to the process of learning how to write better. I think due to her instruction, I am becoming a better writer. ~ Cassandra Hamilton

Sheila, I will take every possible class you teach that I can get to. Your insight, knowledge, and incredible warmth and encouragement made our class the highlight of all those I’ve ever taken. Can’t thank you enough. ~ Shirley Clukey

This has been the most wonderful and challenging workshop I’ve ever taken. You introduced me to authors, techniques and mind-blowing assignments. Before this workshop, I would have never thought of writing a memoir in an essay format. You taught me a very powerful lesson of how writing to myself through a historical figure (very mysterious) can heal the spirit within, softly approaching life’s most heart wrenching problems on paper. I can’t wait to sign up for another one of your thought provoking workshops online. ~ Cheryl Kesling

I have taken several online courses with relatively famous women writers, and you have been the most giving and involved with genuine feedback and follow-through. I thank you for that. I have learned from reading your remarks to others and the assignments have been thought-provoking and challenging—just the right mix for an aspiring writer. ~ Lori Talarico


Week One:  Let’s talk about “just writing.”
Writers write. Writers have to start somewhere in drafting and sometimes they think they don’t have the words they need to express their take or their characters’ take on experience. We’ll use the freewrites you post for the assignment this week to talk about the issue and what writer’s do when they don’t think they have the words as well as what they might do to find the words they need.

Assignment: Write three 10 to 20-minute freewrites from prompts the instructor posts during this week and post what you write along with your own evaluation of the writing you did. What experience are you sharing for readers? Did the freewrite get you there? Where in the writing were you most there in your own opinion? The instructor and classmates will share their impressions.

Week Two:  Let’s talk about shaping the freewrite of our choice.
What do we look for when we are listening closely to what we have written? Sound, rhythm, specificity, and words that appeal to the senses. What shape do these elements suggest to the writer? How do we “go back in” to the drafts/freewrites to create the shape we have found?

Assignment: Working from models and ideas the instructor posts in response to your writings, you will dig under and into the sentences in one of your freewrites to heighten the sound, rhythms, specifics and imagery to create the shape you have begun to see in the writing. You will receive responses from classmates and the instructor.

Week Three:  What about reflections?
Sometimes writers or their characters find themselves wanting to tell the reader or others in a story more of what they judge, feel, know or hope for than the specifics seem to allow. We can call this commentary. How do we balance commentary with psychological moments that compel the reader to keep reading and most of all the writer to keep writing rather than to begin summing things up?

Assignment: You’ll practice what the Los Angeles master teacher and poet Jack Grapes has named “Image-Moments.” They include the sensory information available to the speaker or character in a piece of writing as well as commentary. You will write image moments into the freewrite you choose to expand for this assignment. This is another way of looking for and finding the shape the writing wants to be. Classmates and the instructor will respond to what you have written.

Week Four:  Now what? How can I keep from lapsing into exposition when I can write more compelling?
You will write a short essay on how you have approached writing over the past four weeks and what lessons you need to remember and practice going forward. Using anecdotes and description, your evaluation will be a compelling story that relies on details, specifics and good, convincing sound just as we have been developing in the previous weeks. I look forward to reading what you write as I will have all the postings these four weeks.

Weeks Five and Six:  Revision!
Here is your opportunity to present revisions of two of the pieces you have posted during class to gather response from classmates and the instructor. You will post one in week five for response and one in week six.

Materials needed:  The instructor will post each of the 6 weeks’ lessons with exercises and models at the opening of each week so students can work on generating that writing on their own time, at their own speed during the week. She will respond to posted work within 24 - 48 hours so the writer can get started on revising. Revisions can be posted at any time during our six weeks together.

Sheila Bender

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR:  Sheila Bender, founder of, is the author of many books on writing, including the popular Writing Personal Essays: Shaping and Sharing Your Life Experience and Creative Writing DeMystified. Her memoir is entitled A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. Her newest book, Since Then: Poems and Short Prose published in spring 2022. She has been updating previously published books. Two of them are now available in print and digitally on Amazon and through bookstores: Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down, co-authored with Christi Killien Glover, and Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief. As a writer, teacher and editor, she believes that writing so others understand our hearts and minds helps us understand ourselves, heal grief and sadness and grow. She has presented at conferences and writers' centers including Centrum Foundation's summer Port Townsend Writer's Conference, the Whidbey Island's writer's conference workshops, the Writer's Workshoppe in Port Townsend, WA, and the Kahini writing program's writer's workshops and served as a Distinguished Lecturer in Poetry at Seattle University.

COST:  $210. The class will use a Google Groups format, to which the instructor will provide access and help learning the ropes.

BUY NOW:  Specifics Tell the Story, by Sheila Bender (6 weeks, starting 2/20/23) Limit: 10 students. Early registration is recommended.

This class is full. Please check here for our current schedule.

For Class Session Starting 2/20/2023


Additional Testimonials for Sheila Bender:

. . . this has been a very productive class for me. I’ve learned a lot and feel like I have grown a lot in the process. ~ Margaret Riordon

My participation in Sheila’s “Creating the Five-Minute Memoir” class greatly expedited my work on my own memoir. Every single prompt resulted in an essay that I will easily be able to incorporate into my book; moreover, they are also evergreen and can be written from again and again. Sheila’s advice, edits, and coaching not only improved my writing, but also delivered a boost of confidence about the themes in my book. As part of our work together, she brilliantly whip-stitched my inner and outer questions together, a step that will save me untold hours as I go forward. Sheila is unique among teachers in that I believe she cares as much about her students as people as she does about their writing. This is my first class with her, and I know it will be one of many, many more! ~ Ashley Memory

Sheila, Thank you for another great writing course. I appreciated having the specific instructions each week and reading well-written models on the topic. And thanks for your invaluable feedback. ~ Debra Gilbreath

Thank you for your amazing insights and knowing just the right way to pluck at my threads to help me to open to the page. That in itself is a very rare and admirable art. ~ Cassandra Hamilton

First, I just want to say thank you for this course. I began focusing my time on writing last fall, but found that I needed some guidance. I was looking for a new perspective, a container that would help to create a form for what I was trying to capture. You have introduced some new authors that will help me to move in new directions. ~ Debra Gilbreath

What I am particularly struck by with Sheila is that she presents a great comforting wisdom from her background and experience; yet she also has an enthusiasm for the craft of writing that feels like she just got started yesterday. The enthusiasm is contagious and really inspired me to open up and let my inner critic take a break... it is a great skill and talent to mix nurturing support with honest critical comments. I feel Sheila possesses that type of talent and finesse. ~ Wendy A. Johnson


Notes: Upon successful completion of payment, your name, email address, and contact info will be submitted to your instructor.

Questions? Email Marcia & Angela at:

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