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Unlocking Tough Stories (online)

ONLINE through Catapult

Mondays, 8:30-10:00 p.m. ET/5:30-7:00 p.m. PT 
Apr. 8-May 27, 2019


Our most powerful stories can be the most brutal to write, leaving us frustrated, traumatized, and stuck. What gets in the way? How can we push forward without damaging our mental and physical health? In this 8-week online nonfiction workshop for writers of any level, we’ll build a craft toolbox for unlocking urgent stories that have so far resisted telling.

The class opens with a lesson on how physiological trauma and shame interact with a writing practice, helping participants to pinpoint what’s getting in the way of their storytelling. Then we’ll dive into a series of craft exercises that help us uncover new layers and angles. How might adding research help to reframe and de-stigmatize what we’ve been through? How can embedding the personal within a cultural critique make it more resonant? We’ll play with chronology and braiding to discover overlooked narrative arcs, and we’ll seek beauty where it seems there shouldn’t be any. We’ll also bring a fearless eye to our characterizations, scrapping the flat black-and-white renderings we write to protect ourselves, in favor of contradictory and complex characters.

Through two workshops, one individual 15-minute meeting with the instructor, and weekly readings and exercises, writers will see their stories shift and break open. In our final week, the instructor will support students in thinking about the next steps for their essays.

Writers should feel comfortable bringing a wide range of difficult topics into this space—from personal illness to family secrets, from violence to natural disasters, from classism and racism to addiction—and should be prepared to treat their peers’ stories with empathy and respect.


- An understanding of how physiological trauma and social stigma interact with a writing practice

- A one-on-one conference with the instructor to discuss your work and chart a path forward

- Craft tools that can break down emotionally intimidating writing projects

- A supportive community for working on topically-difficult essays

- Two essays workshopped and ready for revision

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Week 1: Introduction to the class, Workshop Scheduling, Mini-lesson on the Physiology of Trauma and Shame, Group Writing Process Check-in

Week 2: Exploding Structure (Or: How To Make Fragments Your Friends)

Week 3: Playing with Micro-Arcs, Workshop #1

Week 4: Chronology Part I, Workshop #2

Week 5: Chronology Part II, Workshop #3

Week 6: Finding Context through Research, Workshop #4

Week 7: Treating the Story Like A Reporting Mission, Workshop #5

Week 8: Self-Characterization, Group Reflection and Goal Setting, Workshop #6