A Cinematic Approach to the Personal Essay

Wednesday Writing Workshop

A Cinematic Approach to the Personal Essay


This session of Creative Nonfiction’s Wednesday Writing Workshops will be taught by Maggie Messitt, author of The Rainy Season, long-listed for the 2016 Alan Paton Award, a previous contributor to Creative Nonfiction, and faculty member of the low-residency MFA programs at Carlow University and Goucher College.

Maggie will work with workshop participants through the construction of a new personal essay — exploring how slowing down our process early on can speed up our process later; thinking more visually and intentionally about scene and structure; and writing a first (and second) draft.

Where: 5119 Coral Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
When: Wednesdays (January 25, February 1, 15, 22, March 1)*   
Time: 6:00 - 8:30pm
Cost: $190 (space is limited to 10 students) 

*Please note: there is no workshop on February 8th.


This interactive five-workshop series combines hands-on craft lessons with the traditional workshop method. Participants will have assignments to complete (reading / writing) between each workshop and a small recommended supplies list. Read on for week-by-week descriptions. 

Week 1: Scenes & Storyboarding
We’ll explore the cinematic approach to writing; discuss (and complicate) story through two critical building blocks: scene and summary; analyze the work of published authors; and think about perspective and intimacy. You’ll play with storyboarding (one of Maggie’s early process methods) and draft scenes of your own.

Week 2: Structure & Narrative Design
We’ll begin by reviewing scenes written by workshop participants and then move into writing exercises designed to explore the larger narratives within which these scenes might fit. We’ll ask the hard questions (What is this story really about?  versus — what narrative action exists on the page?), discuss structure and narrative design, and explore more ways to visually draft our early writing process. 

Weeks 3 & 4: Peer Critique
Students will distribute their work in advance for peer critique. In the second half of our workshop, we’ll continue our discussions and exercises around scene, structure, and our foundational understanding of narrative.  

Week 5: Revision
Students will bring a revised essay draft to workshop during which we’ll reflect upon and discuss the revision process and its relationship to our early, visual exercises. This workshop will introduce new visual methods writers can bring into the revision phase and prepare students to end workshop with an eye toward a final draft and applying lessons learned to their future work.