The Building Blocks of Personal Essay

Intermediate Level // 10-Week Online Course

The Building Blocks of Personal Essay

April 12 - June 20 

$435 if registered by 03/22/2021
$485 if registered after 03/22/2021

Refund, discount, and cancellation policies

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Instructor: Meghan O'Gieblyn

Each of us has stories that are worth telling, but how can we fit the messiness of our lives through the narrow corridor of an essay? How can we resuscitate those moments on the page so that they live in the readers’ imaginations with the same force and freight as when we experienced them? How can we dramatize these events so that they attain the qualities of literature?

Over the course of ten weeks, students will learn the building blocks of writing a personal essay—establishing a compelling narrative persona, creating strong characters, conjuring vivid descriptions, and building satisfying plots. Most importantly, students will learn how to connect their experiences to larger truths about our world. To do so, we’ll dissect the work of published authors and tweeze out for examination various elements of the personal essay. We will also look at contemporary trends in creative nonfiction, discussing recent developments in voice, essay structure, and hybrid genres. Students will write three 3,500-word essays, as well as participate in optional writing assignments and class discussions.


Week 1: Detail and Description 
Week 2: The Blueprint of a Scene 
Week 3: Establishing Character and Conflict 
Week 4: Personae—The Many Voices of an Essayist 
Week 5: Structure—How to Scaffold Our Experiences 
Week 6: The Nature of Truth 
Week 7: Research—How to Find and Incorporate Outside Help 
Week 8: Moving from the Personal to the Universal 
Week 9: Revision 
Week 10: Publishing 

See the complete syllabus here »

See schedule of all available classes »

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Refund and cancellation policies

By 5pm EST on the Monday before classes begin (one week prior to start date):

  • Students may request a refund (less a $50 application fee) or request a transfer to another course in the same term (no fee).

By 5pm EST on the Friday at the end of the first week of classes:

  • Students may transfer their enrollment credit to a future course (less a $95 processing fee for 10-week courses or a $75 processing fee for 5-week courses). Transfer credits must be applied within two years from your cancellation date.
  • Students may switch to another class in the same term (subject to availability) for a $25 fee.

No refunds or transfers will be offered after this deadline.

* Learn how to receive a "refer-a-friend" discount.