Pathway to the Personal Essay

A structured track of four online writing classes to be completed during 2020

Pathway to the Personal Essay

Make a yearlong commitment to your craft.

This structured track—four of our best online writing classes—is designed to help you raise your personal essay game from good to great.

Whether you’re new to the genre or you’re looking to add more rigor and accountability to your writing practice, this thoughtful progression of courses will help you learn (or revisit) the fundamentals of the genre, develop your craft, enrich your knowledge, and sharpen your skills.

By the end of the year, you’ll have mastered the basics, written and revised new work, and grown significantly as a writer.

Make 2020 the year you stay motivated and meet your writing goals. Join our vibrant and engaged writing community today.


FUNDAMENTALS :: Jan 6 - Mar 15
Foundations of Creative Nonfiction :: Instructor - Lori Jakiela

See course syllabus >

INTERMEDIATE :: Mar 30- Jun 7
Writing the Personal Essay :: Instructor - Meghan O’Gieblyn
See course syllabus >

SUMMER ELECTIVE :: Jun 29 - Aug 2
Choose a 5-week summer course that is most relevant to your focus and goals.

ADVANCED :: Sep 7 - Nov 15
Advanced Personal Essay: Finding a Way Through :: Instructor - Peter Mountford
See course syllabus >


  • Master literary techniques that can help turn bare facts and memories into compelling essays
  • Explore the building blocks of nonfiction, such as character, dialogue, and description
  • Try crafting different types of essays
  • Study the ground rules of memoir (and learn when to break them)
  • Build connections between the personal and the universal
  • Reach beyond your experiences to larger truths about our world
  • Become familiar with typical structures of the personal essay
  • Learn to avoid common pitfalls of the form, such as getting lost in a giant pile of information and/or coming off as solipsistic/maudlin
  • Discover research techniques and ways to locate promising source material
  • Recognize the difference between scene and summary and explore how to balance these two approaches
  • Experiment with tone and voice, theme and motif


  • Interacting with other students and the broader CNF student community via the classroom, Wet Ink software, and optional video conferences
  • Discussing assigned readings and general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • Reading and engaging with written lectures and a selection of readings
  • Writing and revising new personal essays (of up to 3,500 words each)
  • Receiving feedback from fellow students and instructors


  • You are ready to commit/dedicate a year to writing
  • You are new to the genre and want clear guidance
  • You are familiar with writing personal essay but want a refresher on the basics as you continue to sharpen and refine your skills
  • You work well with a plan and guidance
  • You could benefit from instructor feedback and a supportive community
  • You are up for the challenge
  • You want to develop and practice effective writing habits


$1,765 $1,305 *
Jan 6 - Nov 15, 2020
Only 14 spots are available.
This year-long program takes place entirely online.
Each student receives a one-year subscription to Creative Nonfiction and True Story magazines. Aside from the optional live video conferences, there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.

* Payment plans are available. See our FAQs for more info. 

What are you waiting for? Make 2020 the year you achieve your writing goals and take your personal essay game from good to great.