Creative Nonfiction Crash Course

Everything you need to know to start writing your true story

Creative Nonfiction Crash Course

If novels are fiction and poems are, well, poetry, then what are memoirs? What about essays, narrative journalism, and so many of the true stories that we love?

From books to magazine articles to podcasts, creative nonfiction stories surround us. This seminar will introduce you to the history of the genre and show you how to use the building blocks of creative nonfiction—including scene, character, dialogue, and reflection—to write your own true stories. No writing experience is necessary.

During this workshop you will:

  • LEARN about the history and scope of creative nonfiction;
  • DISCOVER the genre through a variety of examples;
  • EXPLORE the building blocks of telling great true stories;
  • START writing using prompts; and
  • DISCUSS resources for future learning, reading, and writing.

The workshop is open to writers of all levels. Read on for the schedule overview.

Rescheduled for Saturday, February 2nd

Saturday, January 19, 2019
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Advance registration strongly recommended.
The workshop is limited to 30 students. SOLD OUT!

A copy of True Stories, Well Told is included in the price of registration.



1) What Is Creative Nonfiction?
The opening session will serve as an introduction to creative nonfiction. We'll start by exploring what the terms "creative" and "nonfiction" mean separately—and what they mean together. Through a mixture of instructor presentation, readings, and discussion, you will learn about the history of the genre. We'll also explore a variety of creative nonfiction excerpts to get a sense of the contemporary scope of the genre.

2) The Building Blocks of Creative Nonfiction
In the second part of the seminar, we will learn about the different layers present in personal writing. We'll look at Vivian Gornick's terms "the situation" (what happened) and "the story" (what it means). Next we'll identify the building blocks of CNF: scene and reflection. You will apply Lee Gutkind's "yellow test" to an analysis of several passages to understand how scenes (and moments of reflection) work to build a world rich with detail and meaning on the page.

3) Writing Personal Stories
We will have fun putting some words onto the page in an easygoing, accessible writing session. You’ll spend time writing to a variety of prompts meant to help you discover the kinds of stories you may want to write after class ends. There will be time for you to share your work (if you wish to) and to discuss and ask questions about common challenges of the writing process.

4) Resources & Wrap-Up
We'll end the day with a short, inspiring session with resources and tips for learning about, reading, and writing more creative nonfiction. You will set a writing goal or intention to carry with you into your writing life.

Location // 5119 Coral Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

The lower level of our workshop and gallery space is wheelchair accessible. Free on-street parking is available.

Doors open at 12 pm, event begins at 1 pm. Coffee & tea will be provided. 

Jennifer (Jenna) McGuiggan's essays have appeared in the Rappahannock Review, Essay Daily, Flycatcher, New World Writing, and on the blogs of Prairie Schooner and Brevity. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and chosen as a finalist in contests from Prime Number Magazine, Hunger Mountain, and the Orison Anthology. Jenna received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently writing a book of linked essays that explore longing and belonging, from where we live to what we believe. Through her business, The Word Cellar, she works as a freelance writer and editor and hosts an online membership community for writers.

Questions? Please call us at 412-404-2975 or email the director of education, Sharla Yates, at