Current classes and upcoming opportunities

Come and join the Pitch Laboratory, my summer 2019 class on the secrets of publishing and story-building at Seattle’s Hugo House.

Register here.

The class meets for four evening sessions, at 7:10 pm, on 6/24, 7/8, 7/15, and 7/22. Each of our last two sessions includes a guest appearance from an editor who can offer additional insight on the pitching and publication process: Florangela Davila, managing editor of Crosscut, and Andrew Engelson, executive editor and founder of Cascadia Magazine. We’ll also talk about how to pitch a wide range of other outlets.

To pitch is to distill a story to its fundamentals. In few words, you must conjure plot, characters, story structure and execution, so that your editor trusts you and will give you a chance to grow the story into a full-fledged narrative. In this workshop, you will have the chance to bring your story ideas to life in pitch form – in order to entice editors and find opportunities for publishing your work.

The pitch laboratory will be a place of experimentation, in which we learn from each other’s story ideas and provide collective support and encouragement. You will have the chance to present your pitch to the class and receive feedback to help strengthen the pitch and increase its chances of publication.

Writers will come away from this class with:

*Tips for what makes a strong and publishable story.

*How to find a good story idea, from both predictable and surprising sources.

*Tools for researching nonfiction stories: using interviews to develop character, gathering facts and sensory details to craft scenes, and creating plot from real-life tension.

*A draft of a story pitch and strategies for making that pitch more successful.

Past offerings

Writing Radical Essays and Personal Opinions

A three-session workshop, three hours per session, last offered in Spring 2018 at the Hugo House. 

Opinion-writing is one of the most powerful vehicles for using personal stories to inspire change. In this two-session, generative class, you’ll explore strategies for writing personal stories that function both as political pieces and as literary work. You’ll practice mining your own experiences in order to explain and humanize your convictions. The class will draw inspiration from essayists and columnists whose work is both literary and polemical — such as Rebecca Solnit, Bill McKibben, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Timothy Egan, and the writers of the New York Times opinion pages — and from Louise Dunlap’s book, Undoing the Silence, about overcoming the barriers that make us reluctant to speak out. You’ll learn tips for structuring different forms of opinion pieces, including blogs, op-eds, and narrative essays.

You will come away from this class with:

*Writing prompts to help you extract story ideas from personal experience.

*Tools for making connections between personal stories and opinion, including “clustering” and concept-mapping.

*Tips for pitching and publishing opinion-writing and political essay.

*Strategies for plotting and structuring opinion-writing.

*A rough draft of an opinion piece or essay and/or a pitch.

Introduction to Feature Stories

A six-week class, two hours per session, at the Hugo House, last offered in Fall 2016.

The feature is a flexible narrative form that allows writers to combine a literary voice with the timeliness of newswriting—and get their work into top-tier, well-compensated publications. This generative class teaches the art and pragmatism of feature-writing. Through exercises, readings, and discussion, you’ll develop enticing story ideas and learn to weave together the characters, scenes, and “big idea” exposition that are characteristic of features.

You will come away from this class with:

*Tips for what makes a strong and publishable feature story.
*Strategies for finding a good story idea, from both predictable and surprising sources, including techniques for spinning features out of memoir and personal essay.
*An understanding of the rules and structure of a feature story—angles and nut grafs, ledes and kickers. Guidance for when to stick within these rules and when to “color outside the lines.”
*Tools for researching feature stories: using interviews to develop character; gathering facts and sensory details to craft scenes; and creating plot from real-life tension.
*Approaches for story-blocking, scene-writing, and artful exposition.
*Tips for finding your publication niche. How to research, analyze, and pitch print and online forums for your work.
*How to sing with the feature-writing chorus: Honoring your writer’s voice while accommodating the needs of your editors and publications.

You will also develop:

*A series of ideas and leads for feature stories.
* One or more draft story pitches and the tools to craft many successful features.

We will draw on examples from masters of narrative journalism and feature writing, such as Elizabeth Kolbert, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Katherine Boo, Rebecca Skloot, and Isabel Wilkerson.

Building Characters from Real Life

A six-session class at the Hugo House, two hours per session, last offered in Spring 2017.

Characters are what sell a story, turning an abstract idea into a living, breathing representation of human experience. In nonfiction and journalism, writers build characters from the raw and messy material of real life. In this six-week, generative class, you’ll explore techniques for rendering yourself and others as characters through scenes, dialog, and telling details. You’ll also learn strategies for researching and digging deeply into the thoughts, habits, manners, quirks, and substance of your characters. The class will draw on examples from writers who are masters of character development, such as Susan Orlean, Isabel Wilkerson, Tracy Kidder, and Lane DeGregory.

Through reading, writing assignments, discussion, and in-class exercises, students will learn strategies for:

*Finding characters anywhere in the world: tools for seeking out the inner struggles, dramas, anecdotes, and hidden stories that exist in nearly everyone’s life.

*Interviewing for character: how to build trust, understand motive, and extract details for building scenes and plot.

*Turning yourself into a character: tips for writing your own quirks, habits, and personality traits.

*Using scenes and telling details to reveal personality and motive.

*Building stories around characters: such as the profile, the essay, and others.

You will also develop:

*A brief draft of a character-driven story or a pitch for a feature, profile, or essay.