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Writing Outside the Lines

Experimental Forms and Process in Creative Nonfiction

Writing Outside the Lines

There are many ways to tell stories that are true.

In this lively five-workshop series, examples and writing prompts will help you practice innovative ways of breaking through traditional essay structure and thinking about how form can complement content in creative nonfiction.

Activities and prompts will include writing a short food memoir in the form of a recipe card, a flash nonfiction piece about a transformative moment that leaps in time, a six-word memoir, an encyclopedia entry, and a sensory map. You’ll examine how the fine art of perhaps-ing, or the speculative, can broaden the reach of your storytelling. Between sessions, you'll revise your work to share with the instructor and your peers at the next meeting, and for the final workshop, you will choose one piece to revise for possible publication. We'll also learn more about magazines that publish experimental and traditional forms. 

Read on for week-by-week descriptions.

Thursdays (January 11, 18, 25, February 1, and 8)
6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Advance registration strongly recommended. 
The workshop is limited to 12 students.


Week 1: Matching Form to Content
Using writing prompts and examples from published authors, you will begin to examine new ways to craft narratives that are engaging, energetic, and fresh. We’ll consider how form must serve not only content, but readers, and how choosing the best form for our work can enhance its emotional impact. By the end of this first session, you'll have drafts of two experimental pieces—one encyclopedic entry and one flash memoir piece—and will choose one to revise and share in workshop during Week 2. 

Week 2: Finding the Artifact in Artifacts
This week, we'll look at how form complements content and vice versa, and consider how re-imagining form expands perceived boundaries of nonfiction prose. Most of this week's activities will focus on the use of artifacts in creative nonfiction. We'll use artifacts provided by workshop participants to examine what we talk about when we talk about artifact or the “so what” that lies beneath the situation and the story, and your artifacts will inspire your next draft.

Week 3:  Sensory Mapping—Internal Landscapes and the World
This week's discussion will focus on internal and external landscapes. How do our internal landscapes—our preoccupations, our experiences, the kind of day we’ve had—affect how we perceive the world? How can we use our perceptions of the external world to better understand and translate our internal worlds? How can we build a bridge between our conscious and unconscious writer-selves? And what kinds of new forms/approaches can we use when building that bridge? You’ll explore these questions and more through a discussion and an exercise in sensory mapping.

Week 4: The Fine Art of Perhaps-ing
This week explores the use of the speculative in creative nonfiction, starting with a brief lecture, “Maybe It Went Like This: The Fine Art of Perhaps-ing." How can we expand the possibilities of telling true stories by acknowledging everything we don’t know or everything we imagine? What do we do when memory and research fail us? Using a writing prompt, you will experiment with the speculative to draft a new piece. 

Week 5: Workshop/Revised Pieces and Where to Publish
The course wraps up with an intensive discussion of the revision process and its relationship to our early prompts and exercises. You and your instructor will discuss publication – where, how, and why to publish – and you’ll have a chance to explore some magazines that publish innovative as well as traditional forms of creative nonfiction.

Location // 5119 Coral Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

The workshop space is wheelchair accessible. Free on-street parking is available. Coffee, tea, water and light refreshments will be provided each week.

Lori Jakiela is the author of four memoirs, including Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, which received the William Saroyan Prize for International Writing from Stanford University. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, LitHub, The Rumpus and more. She directs the undergraduate Creative and Professional Writing program at The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, teaches community workshops in her hometown of Trafford, PA, and is co-director of The Veterans Write workshops. Learn more here

Questions? Please call us at 412-404-2975 or email our events manager, Lauren Boehm, at boehm@creativenonfiction.org