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YWC: Workshops

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Yale Writers' Conference Workshops

Session I

In Session I writers will participate in ten days of workshops, lectures, individual conferences and readings intended to broaden their understanding of the craft of writing. Visiting faculty will lead master classes limited to no more than thirty writers and deliver craft talks to all conference participants. And because we write to be read, in Session I we will have panels of agents and editors to provide insight into the publishing process and the realities of the writer’s life.

Session II

Session II is intended for writers concentrating in a specific genre. Over four days, participants will meet in a seminar with eleven fellow writers, led by a faculty member established in the field. The seminar will include exercises and readings as well as discussion of student work. During the conference faculty will hold half-hour, one-to-one meetings with participants.


Sybil Baker

In addition to workshopping each participant’s story or novel excerpt, we will also have mini-craft sessions, where we work on and discuss issues such as dialogue, scene building, as well as short story and novel structure and development. Short story and novel excerpts are welcome.

Jotham Burrello

Read, Workshop, Revise, Repeat. The classroom is our lab to experiment and take risks on the page. In this seminar writers will complete assigned reading prior to conference. In New Haven we’ll establish a supportive environment, and together we’ll workshop stories in the first three sessions and then dedicate time to revision exercises, reading work, journaling and discussion of craft. Expect to write during the conference. Writers will leave with a revision strategy for their manuscript or novel excerpt, and a full toolbox of ideas and techniques to help write the next story.

Trey Ellis

This intensive fiction workshop takes place over five, three-hour sessions over nine days. The workshop days consist of a mix of craft talks on a variety of subjects: character, dialogue, plot, etc., along with daily group critiquing of the student work. In the days in-between, students will write and have scheduled office hours with the professor.

Porochista Khakpour

Experimental Writing for Non-Experimental Writers. What does it mean for literature to be experimental? The great Margaret Atwood defines it as: “Fiction that sets up certain rules for itself . . .while subverting the conventions." In making its own rules, a lot of the old rules must be tossed out, and so this class provides examples of the most rule-busting, eclectic works of the postmodern, absurdist, metafictional and transgressive canon. We’ll untangle a wild and gutsy array of passages while examining why a non-experimental writer might actually need to investigate the more law-less avenues of prose. We'll also generate some experimental writing through exercises and workshops. All genres welcome, only open minds required.

Terra McVoy

Fiction Writing: Devil in the Details
In her book, Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott stresses the importance of keeping your writing “vivid and continuous” to move the reader smoothly through your story. This clarity and specificity is arguably more important than plot, since, as Eudora Welty once pointed out: “There are two types of stories in the world: someone comes to town, and someone leaves town.” Your challenge as a writer is to keep those stories fresh and memorable, regardless of the genre. This five-day workshop will have in-class lectures and exercises that concentrate on specificity of character, setting, language, and story arc, and the time spent workshopping your pieces will be led with an eye toward keeping it vibrant and distinct.

Lisa Page

“Everything comes from language. Plot is a juvenile idea.” Colum McCann.  
Language is the engine that drives the literary train. This fiction workshop will emphasize voice, persona, style, dialogue, tone and setting. It will also focus on narrative arc because, while plot may be a “juvenile idea,” it’s also a necessary one. This workshop will embrace novels-in-progress, short stories and flash fiction. It will also incorporate writing exercises designed to generate new work.

Marian Thurm

This is a traditional fiction workshop, led by the author of eleven books of fiction. As we critique your manuscripts (both short stories and novel excerpts), we will be discussing, among other topics, how to shape a strong narrative that will sustain a reader’s interest; how to create vivid characters that spring to life; voice and point of view; methods of revision; how to end your narrative on the perfect, resonant note. In addition, the instructor has many stories to share about her long history with numerous agents and editors over the years.

Non Fiction

Mishka Shubaly

True Lies: Nonfiction Workshop.
We understand fiction to be made-up and nonfiction to be true. But any linear narrative is a human construction, as life explodes constantly in all directions. A Hindu, a Catholic and a Jew don’t materialize out of thin air for the sole purpose of walking into a bar so you can warm up the crowd at your corporate retreat with a joke. They have lives of sorrow, struggle and triumph; they have blogs, smartphones and Instagram accounts full of conflicting information. Any first person narrative is a distorted, imperfect retelling from one limited perspective. So how can anyone write true stories? We’ll navigate this labyrinth aided by nonfiction and fiction readings, songs, jokes, and other real-life texts.

Sergio Troncoso

Our Nonfiction Workshop will focus on a detailed review of creative nonfiction, essays, biographies, family stories and memoirs. Writers will receive practical critiques to create tailored strategies for rewriting. The class will work collaboratively on exercises to sharpen writing skills as well to create new work. We will examine what makes a great sentence and paragraph, and consider narrative voice, narrative suspense, and metaphor in nonfiction. As homework, we will also be reading accomplished writers to study their craft. Our goals? Dedicate ourselves to creating a community in the service of the writing craft, while all workshop members receive the individual time and focus necessary to take their writing to the next level..

Children and Young Adult

Sarah Darer-Littman

Get Real! Finding your authentic children’s and young adult voice
How is it that a “woman of a certain age” gets fan mail from middle school kids asking questions like: “How do you know EXACTLY what teenage girls think, in the present day? I know you were once one too, but … you have really captured the inner thoughts of a teenage girl.” We were all either boys or girls once, and through writing exercises and discussion, we’ll tap into the thoughts and emotions which can be applied when writing about situations and challenges that young people face today. The workshop will focus on writing, group discussions, and critiquing in a constructive and supportive environment.

Historical Fiction

Louis Bayard

"The historical novel is, for me, condemned. You may multiply the little facts that can be got from pictures and documents, relics and prints, as much as you like—the real thing is almost impossible to do, and in its essence the whole effect is as nought.” That’s Henry James’ throwdown.  It’s up to the historical novelist to refute it … but how do we make the dead souls live again? What responsibilities do we have to fact? To ancient ways of speaking and doing? Does research enhance our task or get in the way? This course will explore both the challenges and promises of the historical-fiction genre as students work toward James’ impossible dream: “the invention, the representation of the old consciousness.”

Literary Writing at the Intersection of the Arts, Medicine and Science

Erika Goldman

“There is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.”— Nabokov
Are truth and fact one and the same? What are the responsibilities of the creative popular writer when treating real-world questions in the sciences or medicine? How can you make technical or complex subjects live on the page without oversimplifying them? We will explore some of the ways in which the authorial imagination can fruitfully engage in a dialogue with the medical or “hard” sciences. Through readings, we will examine an array of formal approaches and discuss issues you’ve encountered in your own work. For writers of fiction and narrative nonfiction that explore medical, technological, or scientific themes to get at deeper truths about the human condition.

Mini-Memoir in the Digital Era

Mishka Shubaly

As major publishers have narrowed their output to dubious life-hacking self-help tomes and celebrity tell-alls, the few periodicals that haven’t folded won’t print anything over 2000 words, and web publishing has devolved to Buzzfeed, clickbait, and listicles, what’s a starving writer to do? Digital publishing has embraced mini-memoirs: short, episodic first-person narratives covering the transformative to the seemingly trivial. We’ll dissect contemporary successes in this in-between genre. Which topics, what situations, which narrative arcs, which types of stories merit exposition of this length? This workshop covers the whole process, from germination to production to publication to commercial success.

Mystery and Crime Fiction

Lori Rader-Day

Crime fiction often gets a bad rap. In this course, you shall receive no apologies, no mention of “guilty pleasures.” Crime novels are social novels, taking on some of the most compelling topics of our world while also keeping readers up late into the night enjoying one of life’s greatest actual pleasures: a story, well told. In this course we will spend time on developing the characters of crime, on story construction and plotting, on the tools of mystery writing (suspense, misdirection, clues) that allow readers thrilling satisfaction, and on using elements of fiction in service of crime and punishment. Innocent—or criminal—enjoyment will be highly encouraged.

Personal Essay

Colleen Kinder

How do you bring yourself onto the page with skill, authenticity, and a singular voice? Such is the challenge of the personal essay. This course drills down on first-person narratives, ranging widely across sub-genres and topics--from memoir writing to travel essays, profiles to nature essays, as well as experimental forms, such as lyric and collage essays. Students will submit their work-in-progress for a peer workshop, and together we will rigorously examine these "I"-driven narratives, while also discussing writing techniques and principles that will empower us as storytellers in the nonfiction realm.


Lary Bloom

This playwriting workshop provides constructive feedback on working scripts and an opportunity to hear professional actors perform them in a staged reading. Among the elements examined: character development, dialogue, and audience anticipation. The workshop leader will highlight each play’s strengths and offer advice on how to build on them as well as address any weaknesses. Emphasis is placed on how good beginnings present the stakes of individual characters, and the need to make every word or action advance the plot. The leader will assign brief exercises that provide practice on these points. After the actors read selections from each play, the final session will include lessons learned from the performances.


Stephanie Hart

The goal of this seminar is to develop the poet’s ability to create vibrant imagery, effective line breaks and line integrity as well as make communicative language choices. Focusing on these basic elements will strengthen the work of both new and experienced poets. In-class exercises will not only generate material to manipulate in service of these goals but also introduce a random element to help access new areas of exploration. Homework assignments will further develop the material begun in class. Workshops will focus on the resulting poems, and students will also workshop poems they have written before taking this seminar. These workshops will help students to discover pleasure in revision and in abandoning, at times, one’s original conception for a poem. Individual conferences will further these goals and give students the opportunity to talk privately about their work.


Kristan Higgins

Romance and women’s fiction dominate the marketplace and bestseller lists, and readers are insatiable for this type of story. This course covers reader expectations of these two genres, what they share and how they differ, as well as character arc, plot structure, dialogue and secondary plotlines. Also included in the course are practical methods for how authors can stand out and excel in the crowded world of publishing through use of intelligent marketing, social media and time management.


Marc Lapadula

This screenwriting seminar will introduce writers to what they need to know to write a full-length screenplay. We will cover professional screenplay format, the proper definition of a scene, the crucial differences between cinematic and theatrical dialogue, how to create compelling, three-dimensional and memorable characters, story structure, text and sub-text, plot points, and cinematic pacing. Classic and contemporary film clips will be screened and analyzed to illustrate points. The seminar focuses on writing and group discussions in a constructive and supportive environment.

Short Stories

Kirsten Bakis

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is . . . the formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader.” – John Steinbeck
In this class, you'll have the opportunity to workshop and revise your short story. We'll also discuss how and where to submit finished work for publication. Will this make for an intense five days? You bet! It will also be exhilarating and fun, and you'll come out of it with new ideas and a revision strategy for your current story, a list of possible markets to submit, and a new confidence, as you begin the next one.

Molly Gaudry

Stories, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. For this workshop, writers may submit a diverse range of short fiction—traditional short stories, interconnected flash fictions, flashes that stand alone, and even first novel chapters. We will also read, discuss, and critique published stories as models for our own revisions, paying particular attention to how the same narrative strategies (point of view, structure, genre, style, etc.) are uniquely employed by the authors of these different forms. Students will return home with a clearer understanding of the functional relationship between form and content, and apply the knowledge and skills developed at Yale to their future writing projects.

Writing the Novel: The First Ten Pages

Sybil Baker

The first five to ten pages of a novel often determine whether an agent, editor, or reader wants to see more of your work. Whether you are just beginning a novel or revising it for the fifth time, chances are your first ten pages could still use revision and feedback at the sentence and content level. In addition to getting feedback on your own work, we will look at openings of notable recent novels, and discuss what makes those openings work. We will also spend time in class sessions discussing and applying revision strategies for the beginning of your work.