The Personal Essay, for Publication with Chris Colin (10/2 – 11/6)


Chris Colin

Instructor: Chris Colin
Number of sessions: 6
Meeting time: Tuesday nights, 6:30 to 9:00 pm
Dates: October 2 – November 6

Course fee: $350

To register, contact the instructor. All deposits are non-refundable. Note: Class limited to 10 students.

Description: I like sandwiches. My fridge is sticky. Dad wore a beard. Our lives are full of banal but vital little bits, and god knows we should get more of them on paper. But spinning those bits into a publishable personal essay — the kind enjoyed by people other than our mothers — requires a specific and sometimes counterintuitive approach. This six-week workshop will help anyone from absolute beginners to practiced writers onto this path.

We will dissect the many approaches to a successful personal essay, from the straightforward to the unconventional. Did you spend six months on a desert island, sending smoke signals and gnawing porcupine? Cool, we’ll get you writing about it. But incredible personal histories are absolutely unrequired for this course, and for this genre. Some of the most memorable and affecting essays come from the most ordinary experiences, the most perceptive and polished from people who’d never picked up a pen before.

Each week we’ll go over three or four different student pieces, at broad and granular levels: What is this story really about? How can this moment be stretched into more of a scene? Should the llama appear before or after the line break? There will be reading, there will be writing, there will mostly be workshopping — come prepared with a draft already written, or an idea you can turn into a draft fairly quickly. Each student will have the chance to workshop a piece two or three times by the end of the six weeks.  The conversation will always be supportive, always have an eye toward getting the writing where the author wants it to go.


The goal of this workshop is publishable work. We’ll discuss the pieces with that mind, and will touch on practical considerations as well (where to pitch? how to pitch? whom to sleep with?). By the end your pieces will be stronger, yes. But you’ll also go away away with a potentially lasting writing group, and an assortment of editing techniques you can bring to bear on your own work from here on out.

Instructor Bio: Chris Colin is the award-winning author of What Really Happened to the Class of ’93, and the Atavist ebook “Blindsight,” selected by Amazon as one of the top ten Kindle Singles of 2011. His essays have been published in the New York Times Magazine and other sections of the paper, as well as several anthologies. He’s also written for Wired, Mother Jones, Smithsonian, McSweeney’s, the New York Observer and other publications. He’s a contributing writer at Afar magazine, and was the longtime “On the Job” columnist for SFGate.