Upcoming Classes

Register now for upcoming classes at the Writers Grotto! Early enrollment is strongly recommended, as course offerings frequently sell out. If a class is filled to capacity, please contact the instructor to request waiting-list placement.

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Career Skills


Susan Ito




SATURDAY, AUGUST 24 | If you’ve longed to attend a writing residency, where quiet, food and uninterrupted time are provided, you can experience a taste of indulgent focus at the Grotto’s first weekend writing retreat. Bring that unfinished story, that new chapter, those poems to our writing nooks and crannies, and enjoy the time and space to write in community with others. You’ll be well fed, supported and inspired to make solid headway with whatever writing project you’re working on.

You’ll get tips from a seasoned writer and writing retreat facilitator on how to make the most of our time together. This full day will include writing time, brief periods of walking (to get those brain cells stimulated), both indoors and outdoors, as well as some sharing and brainstorming. When you’re feeling stuck, an on-call writing coach will be available to help with writing prompts or a pep talk. Nourishing snacks will appear throughout the day, and you’ll be treated to a delicious catered lunch. You’re guaranteed to leave the retreat with fresh pages and the momentum to continue on your own.


Susan Ito is the author of The Mouse Room. She co-edited the literary anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. Her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, Hyphen, Catapult, The Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is on the faculty at Mills College and Bay Path University. She has been leading writing and creativity retreats for over ten years.

Contact: susanito@mac.com.

Number of sessions: 1

Time: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm

Dates: Saturday, August 24

Course fee: $110

Lyzette Wanzer




WEDNESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 11-25 —OCTOBER 2  | Are you a writer who suffers from one of these misconceptions?

“LinkedIn is just about finding a job.”

“It’s for executives, lawyers, and doctors, not creative writers!”

“It doesn’t offer anything useful for writers.”

“I’m already on Facebook, so I don’t need it.”

LinkedIn is a social media marketing tool that writers often overlook. It’s a very powerful networking tool that offers a lot for us, and in the Bay Area, is one way to accelerate your success. Learn how to maximize LinkedIn to increase your audience, reinforce your funding applications, meet the Bay Area’s literary movers and shakers, and open opportunities for reading, conference invitations, and publishing. In this workshop, learn how to:

  • Prepare a profile that marks you as a professional, rather than a hobbyist
  • Promote yourself and your work by harnessing LinkedIn’s full features
  • Network with author organizations that help to spread news of your work to wider audiences
  • Use your profile to enhance your grant, residency, and writing conference applications
  • Learn the power of LinkedIn’s Groups

A laptop, notebook computer, or iPad is required for this workshop.

Lyzette Wanzer is a San Francisco writer, editor, and creative writing workshop instructor. She received her M.F.A. in Fiction from Mills College. A flash fiction connoisseur and essay aficionado, her work has appeared in Callaloo, Tampa Review, The MacGuffin, Ampersand Review, Journal of Advanced Development, Journal of Experimental Fiction, Pleiades, Flashquake, Glossalia Flash Fiction, Potomac Review, International Journal on Literature and Theory, Fringe Magazine, The Naked Truth, and many others. She is the recipient of an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, three Individual Artist Commission grants from San Francisco Arts Commission, and three Professional Development Grants from the Creative Capacity Fund.

Contact: RoadKing1200@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 4

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30pm

Dates: Wednesdays, September 11, 18, 25; October 2

Course fee: $275



SUNDAYS, SEPTEMBER 15 & 22  | Whether you have a short story fresh out of the printer, or a memoir piece tucked away in the drawer, this highly interactive, two-session workshop gives you concrete tools to strengthen your work and publish it. Students in this class have gone on to publish in online and print journals, as well as place in national writing contests. In the workshop, we’ll about revision as a process of “re-envisioning” your work, and you’ll learn how to accomplish this in do-able steps. You’ll have the chance to step back and look at your story, assess where it would benefit from more work, and select among different in-class revision exercises to get the process going. At the second session, we discuss strategies to successfully publish your work, detailing effective approaches used by the instructor and other widely-published writers. You’ll come away with a collection of time-tested resources, including recommended websites, sample cover letters, and submission tracking tools. There will also be plenty of time to address your specific questions and concerns, as well as get feedback on your revisions. This workshop is designed for both fiction and memoir writers.

Laurie Ann Doyle is the author of World Gone Missing, which won the Nautilus Book Award in fiction and was praised by New York Times bestselling author Edan Lepucki for delivering “astute portrayals of people desiring connection, hope, and renewal.” She has successfully published over twenty-five stories and essays in journals and anthologies such as The Los Angeles ReviewDogwood Journal, The Rumpus, 100 Word Story, Speak and Speak Again, and Under the Sun. Laurie teaches at The Writers Grotto and U.C. Berkeley Extension, where she is an honored instructor. www.laurieanndoyle.com

Contact: doyle.l@berkeley.edu

Number of sessions: 2

Time: 2:00 pm – 5:00pm

Dates: Sundays, September 15 & 22

Course fee: $150

Jenny Bitner



TUESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 17 & 24 —OCTOBER 1-22  | Do you want to write the Great American Novel but find it hard to finish a short story? Maybe you need to ease into writing with something you can write a first draft of in a few hours. I believe that before we can tackle a longer piece of writing, it’s important to learn the elements of what make good writing, and the perfect practice ground for this is short fiction.

This class will focus on learning these elements by writing flash fiction (stories under 1500 words). We will discuss different aspects of craft and read some of the best examples of flash. I will give you daily writing prompts, and each week the class will give you feedback on a new story. At the end of the class I will encourage you to send your finished work out into the world.

Jenny Bitner’s short stories and flash fiction have been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, PANK, The Sun, Mississippi Review and Fence magazine. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia.

Contact: jenny.bitner@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 6

Dates: Tuesdays, September 17 & 24; October 1, 8, 15, 22

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $395

Mark Wallace



WEDNESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 18-25 —OCTOBER 2-30  | Close reading of great work is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. In this class, you’ll learn how to unlock the secrets of great personal essays and apply them to your work.

The class combines focused, constructive workshopping of student work with an examination of outstanding published essays past and present. We’ll split our time each week between providing feedback on students’ essays and performing a close read of one or more published essays. We’ll talk about some techniques that can be used to “get inside” a piece, and students will put those techniques to work not just in understanding their own work but in learning to provide useful feedback for their fellow writers as well.

Essayists we’ll read in the class include Alexander Chee, Joan Didion, Melissa Febos, Mary Ruefle, and more. Along the way, we’ll get at the heart of what makes a great personal essay tick. Workshopping will focus on what each writer wants to accomplish, with constructive feedback provided to help move them closer to their goals. By the end of seven weeks, you’ll have gained deeper insights into how great writers approach the personal essay, and will understand how to bring many of these tools to bear in your own work. You may also arrange for feedback from Mark on a revision of your essay for an additional $100.

A freelance writer based in San Francisco, Mark Wallace has published essays in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Independent, The Sigh Press Literary Journal, and elsewhere, and his feature journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Salon, Wired, and many others.

Contact: markwallace@boyreporter.com

Number of sessions: 7

Time: 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm

Dates: Wednesdays, September 18, 25; October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Course fee: $395

Laura Fraser



THURSDAYS, SEPTEMBER 19-26 —OCTOBER 3  | Whatever kind of book you want to write – fiction, memoir, business, how-to, children’s– this class will help you take an idea you’re passionate about and show you how to develop it, and get it edited, published, and into the hands of readers. We will demystify how to pitch your book, write a proposal, land an agent, and find the right publisher. We’ll discuss ghostwriting, freelance editors, how to handle revisions, cover designs, excerpts, book publicists, and self-publishing vs. legacy publishers. We will also walk you through what you need on your author website, and how to attract readers via social media and other avenues.

This class is for anyone who wants to write a book, at whatever stage of the process. Note that this is not a class for workshopping your book, but for getting it into print. You’ll leave with an elevator pitch, a longer pitch, and a roadmap for turning your book idea into a reality.

Laura Fraser is the author of four non-fiction books, including the New York Times bestseller, An Italian Affair. As the co-founder and editorial director of Shebooks, she published 75 ebooks. She has also ghost-written a couple of books, and coached authors through several others. She’s familiar with the publishing process from agents and auctions to the font type of the pages. She has taught at numerous venues, including, recently, a class on book editing at the Aspen Institute. She brings snacks and a sense of humor to class.

Number of sessions
: 3

Contact: laura@laurafraser.com

Dates: Thursdays, September 19 & 26; October 3

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $225

Lit Starts: Writing Character

Constance Hale







MONDAYS, SEPTEMBER 23-30 —OCTOBER 7-21  | The Writers Grotto is launching a fun, light-hearted, smart series on the writing craft, called LitStarts. The first four books in the series—Writing Action, Writing Character, Writing Dialogue, and Writing Humor– will be released on September 10. This class will use the series as the basis of five weekly workshops. Constance Hale, who wrote the essay that kicks off Writing Character, will be joined each week by other contributors from the Writers Grotto. Four heads are better than one! The sessions will be lively, helpful, and provocative, and will include in-class writing, using prompts from the book. Longer assignments, which Connie will give feedback on, will use the prompts to generate works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or a hybrid. A copy of one of the books is included in the price of the class. Come and become an early adapter!

Constance Hale is a San Francisco–based journalist and the author of four cheeky writing manuals, a book for adults on hula, and a picture book for children set in Hawai‘i. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many national magazines, and she specializes in profiles and personality sketches. In 2019, her essay on writing profiles kicks off Writing Character, a book chockful of thoughts, tips, and prompts that is part of the Lit Starts series. She can be found at www.sinandsyntax.com

Contact: chale@well.com.

Number of sessions: 5

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Dates: Mondays, September 23, 30; October 7, 14, 21

Course fee: $280

Mark Wallace



TUESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 24 —OCTOBER 1-8  | For a freelance journalist, essayist, nonfiction writer, or marketing professional, pitch letters not only generate work but also can help open doors, build new relationships, or kickstart a career. A great pitch has power, but crafting one, targeting it to the right publication, and getting it in front of the right person isn’t simple. By the end of this workshop, you’ll have a well-honed pitch letter ready to go.

In this class, you’ll gain new insights into what editors are looking for and learn new ways to make your pitch letters as compelling as possible. Each class will include tips on sharpening your story ideas and presenting them to editors, plus focused and constructive workshopping of student pitches. We’ll also talk about generating ideas, how to find the right editor at the right title, and the kind of perseverance it takes to prevail in an extremely competitive environment. Even if you’ve never published before, you can still pitch and sell pieces—especially armed with the skills you’ll learn in this class.

With two decades of freelance experience, Mark Wallace‘s pitch letters have landed his byline in publications from the New York Times Magazine to The New Yorker, Wired, Salon, Fast Company and many others. He has reported from five continents, on everything from technology to politics, finance, culture, and the arts.

Number of sessions
: 3

Contact: markwallace@boyreporter.com

Dates: Tuesdays, September 24; October 1-8

Time: 5:45 pm – 8:15 pm

Course fee: $225

Sarah Pollock



SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28 | One of the toughest parts of being a freelancer can be figuring out what your editor wants from you and when they will want it. If you’ve never worked the other side of the desk, editors can seem capricious, demanding, and uncommunicative. Understanding the editorial process will minimize your frustration and can help you build solid relationships that lead to more work.

By the end of this three-hour, interactive workshop you will better understand the jobs of different levels of editors at various publications. You’ll have a good sense of how stories are developed, approved, and edited. And you’ll walk away with tips about how to smooth the process, and how to deal with revision requests, photo memos, and fact checking. We’ll talk about when and how to stick to your guns – and when to compromise.

Come with stories from the trenches! This is a facilitated conversation, not a top-down training. We’ll discuss your best- and worst-case experiences and brainstorm solutions and strategies. By the end, you should leave with some templates for difficult emails you’ll need to write as well as a class-list of peer freelancers who can become part of your trusted network for facing the challenges of freelancing.

Sarah Pollock has decades of experience as a writer and editor. She has managed magazines and been a senior editor at Mother Jones, developing stories for a national audience.  At the moment, she’s working the freelance writing side again – even though she’s appalled at what’s happened to pay rates. She’s also a veteran teacher and facilitator, having spent a couple of decades running the journalism program at Mills College.

Number of sessions
: 1

Contact: sarah.pollock@me.com

Dates: Saturday, September 28

Time: 10 am – 1:00 pm

Course fee: $100

Allison Landa



SUNDAYS, OCTOBER 6-27; NOVEMBER. 3 | You don’t need a jester’s cap or a red clown nose to make people laugh. It takes a pinch of craft and a judicious seasoning of self-awareness as a writer. Working together through class discussions as well as in-class reading and writing exercises, we’ll explore just how humor can make your writing sing–or caterwaul, depending on your particular voice. Fiction, non-fiction, journalism–this class is appropriate for any genre where you want to add a dash of humor.  Join us!

Allison Landa is a Berkeley-based writer of memoir and fiction whose work has been featured in The Guardian US, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other venues. A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California’s M.F.A. program in creative writing, Allison runs the On the Cusp reading series in San Francisco. You won’t, however, find her running marathons.

Number of sessions
: 5

Contact: allison@allisonlanda.com

Time: 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Dates: Sundays, October 6, 13, 20, 27; November 3

Course fee: $300

Jenny Bitner



WEDNESDAYS, OCTOBER 9-30; NOVEMBER 6, 13 | What happens when we approach writing like an experiment? Our minds are open, our writing is deep, and there is no room for writers’ block or cliché ideas. Burroughs used cut-up writing, Anaïs Nin made her diary her art, and now novels are being written in tweets and texts. Each week we will explore different experimental styles from surrealism to postmodernism and do exercises to loosen our minds and push us in new directions with our writing. With daily writing prompts and in-class exercises, this class is great for beginning or experienced writers wanting to push their writing in new directions. In the first session we will do a group hypnosis for creativity and for opening our imagination in new directions.

Jenny Bitner’s short stories and flash fiction have been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, PANK, The Sun, Mississippi Review and Fence magazine. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia. She is also a certified hypnotherapist with an interest in how we can use the unconscious mind for increased creativity.

Number of sessions
: 6

Contact: jenny.bitner@gmail.com

Time: 6 pm – 8:30 pm

Dates: Wednesdays, October 9-30; November 6, 13

Course fee: $395

Lindsey Crittenden




MONDAYS, OCTOBER 14-28; NOVEMBER 4-18 | In this class, we’ll spend six weeks building stories from the foundation up. We’ll celebrate the trouble at the heart of good short fiction. We’ll look at ways to get characters in and out of hot water. We’ll look closely at short stories that achieve unity of purpose, precision of craft, and an emotional wallop. From James Joyce’s “Araby” to Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer,” we’ll examine not only how each story builds from the first word to the last but how tightly the structure depends upon – and enhances – our understanding of character.

During these six weeks, each student will craft a short story from beginning to end, starting with in-class exercises and prompts. Homework will consist of weekly reading assignments as well as writing. Please be prepared to share your work in a supportive and constructive manner (with guidelines provided by the instructor). If you’ve written short fiction before, or are looking to start, this class will give you concrete help in developing (or tightening) your craft.

Our small class size will facilitate sharing and support.

Note: this class is generative rather than revision-oriented. While you may already have a draft, please be prepared to write (and share) new material.

Lindsey Crittenden‘s stories have won awards and been published in Cimarron Review, Mississippi Review, Glimmer Train, Quarterly West, Santa Monica Review, and other publications. She is the author of an award-winning collection of short fiction, The View from Below, and her story “The Ruins” will be performed on stage by Word for Word in November 2019. An Honored Instructor at U.C. Berkeley Extension, she has taught and developed curricula for creative writing classes since 1995 and loves working with students in finding the story within their stories.

Number of sessions
: 6

Contact: lindsey@lindseycrittenden.com

Dates: Mondays, October 14, 21, 28; November 4, 11, 18

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $395 (early bird, registery by Oct. 6); $410 after October 7



TUESDAYS, OCTOBER 15-29; NOVEMBER 5-19 | Feature stories are nonfiction pieces that focus more on human stories than factual exposition – but they still are deeply reported. They are meant to engage readers emotionally and create empathy for their subjects, and they’re an excellent way to draw readers into complicated topics. They are also some of the best stories to pitch as a freelancer, having a place in everything from travel magazines to general interest publications.

In this six-week workshop, we’ll study different types of feature stories and analyze what makes them work. Our central concerns will be story focus and story structure – we’ll use published models to explore various ways to create a compelling narrative. We’ll also talk about how reporting and interviewing for features is different from news reporting, and we’ll examine feature story elements such as setting, character, detail, dialogue, and action.

The course will include outside reading, weekly brainstorms, and exercises that take you through the process of finding a story, focusing it, reporting it, and producing a draft. By the end of the class you should have completed one story which I will critique. (The length and ambition of your story will depend upon the experience you had prior to taking this course.)

This workshop should be useful for new and mid-career writers.

Sarah Pollock has written and edited thousands of features in her decades as journalist. She has been a newspaper staff writer, written regular magazine features, managed several publications, and was a senior editor at Mother Jones, developing and editing stories for a national audience. She’s also a veteran teacher, having spent a couple of decades running the journalism program at Mills College..

Number of sessions: 6

Contact: sarah.pollock@me.com

Dates: Tuesdays, October 15, 22, 29; November 5, 12, 19

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $420

Kristen Cosby



WEDNESDAYS, OCTOBER 16-30;  NOVEMBER 6-13  | This course offers writers with an ongoing personal narrative project an opportunity to workshop and receive feedback on their work. In the first part of the course, we’ll be discussing the structure of long-form personal narratives. The second half of the course will be your laboratory– a workshop environment in which each writer is invited to bring a synopsis and a segment of their project to workshop.

Kristen Cosby is a freelance writer, editor, and educator.  Her writing has received support from the Jan Michalski Foundation (Switzerland), Can Serrat (Spain), the Corporation of Yaddo (USA), the MacDowell Artist Colony (USA), and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (USA), and garnered the Normal Prize in Nonfiction and a Pushcart Prize Special Mention. Her work has appeared in Atlas ObscuraThe Normal School, Kenyon Review Online, Alaska Quarterly Review, and several other journals and anthologies.

Contact: kristen.cosby@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 6

Time: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Dates: Wednesdays, October 16-30; November 6-13

Course fee: $395

Louise Nayer

Louise Nayer




SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20  | How do you draw readers into the world of your memoir—whether it’s a subway station in New York City or an outpost in Alaska? In a comfortable environment, we’ll go over the basic elements of great memoir writing. Exercises will help you heighten language through sensory detail, learn the difference between scene and summary, and deal with time shifts by using flashback and slow-motion techniques. We will also review the more challenging aspects of point of view so you can find the right voice and fully engage your readers. What makes certain voices sing on the page?

In the second part of the class you’ll learn about how to structure a memoir and the importance of narrative arc.

Excerpts from Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir and from various great memoir writers will be used for inspiration and to help with structure.  We will also discuss emotional blocks and ethical concerns about memoir writing. There will plenty of time for questions.  You’ll leave with a body of writing, many handouts and the inspiration and determination to keep up a writing schedule as well as some new writing friends.

Coffee and snacks provided! One-hour break for lunch. Beginners and intermediate students welcome.

Louise Nayer is the author of five books including two books of poetry.  Burned: A Memoir won the Wisconsin Library Association Award and was an Oprah Great Read. Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen, part memoir/part self-help, was reviewed in Forbes. She has also published over 40 poems in magazines including Rolling Stone and written for OZY, Wear Your Voice and the San Francisco Chronicle. She has been interviewed widely including on NPR. She is the recipient of six California Arts Council Awards, and she has taught creative writing for over forty years.


Number of sessions: 1

Time: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Date: Sunday, October 20

Course fee: $130

Lyzette Wanzer




SATURDAYS, OCTOBER 26; NOVEMBER 2-23 | Writers, it’s time to set aside the bevy of excuses about why you’re not sending your work out to journals, newspapers, magazines, and contests. In this boot camp-style workshop, you’ll focus on submitting a maximum of two short stories, articles, essays, and/or creative nonfiction pieces to 15 markets in just five weeks (poets should be prepared to submit a group of three to five related poems.) In a safe, supportive community, you’ll begin by learning proper submission etiquette and protocol, avoiding pitfalls that mark you as an amateur.

  • Learn where to locate legitimate, respectable markets, including literary journals, contests, and grants
  • Become proficient in navigating the publication landscape
  • Get practical tips on formatting professional submissions
  • Find out what the most popular submission platforms are and how they make your life easier
  • Write your author bio
  • Create a Research Collection Sheet to identify individualized markets
  • Select and use a professional submission tracker
  • This workshop is designed for committed writers who have one or two finished, polished pieces (three to five pieces for poets) of 5,000 words or less that are completed, proofread, and ready to send out for publication. A laptop, notebook computer, or iPad is required for this class.

Lyzette Wanzer is a San Francisco writer, editor, and creative writing workshop instructor. She received her M.F.A. in Fiction from Mills College. A flash fiction connoisseur and essay aficionado, her work has appeared in Callaloo, Tampa Review, The MacGuffin, Ampersand Review, Journal of Advanced Development, Journal of Experimental Fiction, Pleiades, Flashquake, Glossalia Flash Fiction, Potomac Review, International Journal on Literature and Theory, Fringe Magazine, The Naked Truth, and many others. She is the recipient of an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, three Individual Artist Commission grants from San Francisco Arts Commission, and three Professional Development Grants from the Creative Capacity Fund.

Number of sessions: 5

Contact: RoadKing1200@gmail.com

Time: 11:00 am – 1:30 pm

Dates: Saturdays, October 26; November 2, 9, 16, 23.

Course fee: $330

Laird Harrison





Getting published is a thrill, but competition is stiff. To succeed, you have to carefully plan your career.

In this survey course, you’ll create a roadmap to your fondest literary ambitions. Do you want to make money? Get published in top magazines? Hit the bestseller list? You’ll learn to evaluate the market for your work by analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, finding your competitive edge and identifying your niche. You’ll lay out each step you must take to get from where you are to where you want to be.

This course will include a concise overview of the following topics:

  • Setting goals
  • Psychological obstacles
  • Market research
  • Accounting
  • Negotiating rates
  • Pitching
  • Time management
  • Professional organizations
  • Contracts
  • Working with literary agents
  • Developing relationships with editors and publishers

Number of sessions: 1

Contact: lairdharrison@gmail.com

Time: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Dates: Sunday, October 27

Course fee: $95

Laura Fraser

MONDAYS, OCTOBER 28; NOVEMBER 4-25 |This is the class to take if you want to dip your toes into writing a full-length memoir. A memoir is a story from a life (autobiography is the story of a life). How do you take events from your life and shape them into a compelling read? This is a level one class for students who have some experience writing but haven’t yet written an entire draft of a memoir. We will talk about what to leave in and take out, structure, theme, stakes, and thorny questions about what if your Mom or ex-spouse reads it. Students will create an outline of their book with a narrative arc, and workshop a chapter or two. Included in the price of the class is a one-to-one half-hour session with the instructor, to be scheduled within a month of the final class.

Laura Fraser is a New York Times-bestselling author of the memoirs An Italian Affair, All Over the Map, and The Risotto Guru. She has written hundreds of articles for national publications, including at The New York TimesGourmet, Sunset, San Francisco MagazineO: the Oprah Magazine, and many others. She has taught writing at universities and writing conferences, as well as at the Grotto, for over 20 years.

Number of sessions: 5, plus individual critique session

Contact: laura@laurafraser.com

Dates: Mondays, 28; November 4, 11, 18, 25; individual critique session to be scheduled within by December 18.

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $395 Early Bird until October 15; $450 after. Includes half-hour personal critique.

Mark Wallace



TUESDAYS, OCTOBER 29; NOVEMBER 5-19 | No matter how compelling the characters, dialogue, or action, great scenes need a sense of place that all too often gets short shrift. And when your subject is a place itself, the task is only more demanding. It’s easy to fall back on list-making when writing about place, and that’s a tool that can be used to great effect, but there are so many more approaches to be explored.

We’ll dive into great writing about place, and will look at—and utilize—specific techniques great writers use to capture the world around them. We’ll focus on writing about the real world, but will look at genres from essay to fiction, poetry, science fiction, and more. The class will emphasize writing that takes a specific place as its primary subject, but will also look at place as a way to set a scene in which some other element is of primary importance.

We’ll explore the use of place by writers like Joan Didion, Richard Powers, Annie Proulx, Iain Sinclair, and William Least Heat-Moon (among others), and engage in brief writing exercises in each session. We’ll also visit (virtually) with one of editors and/or writers from The Common (thecommononline.org), Amherst College’s literary magazine devoted to “our individual and collective sense of place.”

A freelance writer in San Francisco, Mark Wallace has reported from all over the world, writing for publications from The New York Times Magazine to The New Yorker, Wired, Salon, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Sigh Press Literary Journal, the Philadelphia Independent, and many others.

Number of sessions: 4

Contact: markwallace@boyreporter.com

Time: 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm

Dates: Tuesdays, October 29; November 5, 12, 19

Course fee: $249

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard



SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2 | “Flat” writing hands off lifeless information in a two-dimensional exchange between reader and writer. Three-dimensional writing places the reader in a charged space of heightened experience, renewed perspective, and active meaning-making. How is that three-dimensionality created, and what do you do when you find your language stuck in 2-D? This combination lecture and workshop for writers of fiction and literary nonfiction examines specific strategies for three-dimensionality drawn from contemporary writers like Sheila Heti, Jo Ann Beard, and Maggie Nelson, and classics by Marguerite Duras and Bruno Schulz. We will try out new techniques and tricks—but ultimately what you will achieve is a shift in consciousness that will help make your writing spacious and transporting.

Rachel Howard is the author of a novel, The Risk of Us, and a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder, The Lost Night, described as “enthralling” by the New York Times. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Zyzzyva, Gulf Coast, Waxwing, the Hudson Review, the Arroyo Literary ReviewTheNewYorker.com, and the New York Times Magazine. This lecture/workshop is adapted from the craft talk she delivered as Distinguished Visiting Writer in the M.F.A. Program of St. Mary’s College of California. More on Rachel at www.rachelhoward.com

Number of sessions: 1

Contact: rachel.howard@gmail.com

Time: 9:30 am – 1:00 pm

Date: Saturday, November 2

Course fee: $95

Julia Scheeres




SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3  | The beauty of nonfiction books is that they can frequently be sold on the basis of a 40- to 60-page proposal. What is a proposal? Essentially, it is a business plan for a book – a document that outlines your basic premise, provides data on competing titles, includes audience research, summarizes chapter contents and includes other core information that convinces a publisher to give you a wad of money so you can take time off and write it. Memoirs, narrative journalism, business books, histories, and biographies can all be sold on proposal.

In this seminar, students will learn the seven components of a successful book proposal, study examples of proposals that led to book deals, and get the lowdown on the publishing industry – including the best way to find an agent.

This seminar is helpful for writers who are interested in sussing out an idea to see if it has market value or for writers who are “stuck” and need to step back and examine their book’s structure and big ideas to make sure they’re working with a solid, original premise.

Fresh coffee and light snacks included. 

Julia Scheeres is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Jesus Land and of the narrative history A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown. She has taught creative writing at San Jose State and Stanford University and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review. Her articles, essays and reviews have appeared in many publications, both large and small. A few clips: https://juliascheeres.contently.com

Contact: juliascheeres@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 1

Time: 9:00 am – 12:00 noon

Date: Sunday, November 3

Course fee: $125

Laura Fraser



THURSDAYS, NOVEMBER 7-21 |Whether you’ve always dreamed of writing professionally, you already do, or you’d like to figure out how to create better content for your job or business, this class will improve your writing in three weeks – guaranteed!

The first week, we’ll start off with Story and Structure. This will help you start the writing process: from getting over writers’ block, understanding your audience and purpose, doing research, brainstorming, and creating an outline so that your writing is engaging, logical, smooth, and satisfying to the reader. We’ll also remind you of stuff you should’ve learned in high school but may have forgotten: how to avoid the dreaded passive voice, weak verbs, excess verbiage, and a corporate or academic tone.

The second week, we’ll dive in to Revisions and Style. That will help you cast a critical eye on your creative efforts to become a clearer, more compelling writer. We’ll cover ways to cut clutter and make your writing sparkle. We’ll talk about the basics of good narrative and do a few writing exercises so that you will have hands-on experience revising your work as well as editing others’ pieces.

You’ll bring in a short piece you’ve written to the third class, Workshopping, so we can help you revise it. At the end of the three weeks we’ll toast our success as better writers. You’ll leave with that great feeling: Hey, I can write!

Laura Fraser is a New York Times-bestselling author of three books who has worked as a freelance journalist since she graduated from college. She has written hundreds of articles for national publications, including at The New York TimesGourmet, Sunset, San Francisco MagazineO: the Oprah Magazine, and many others. She has taught writing at universities and writing conferences, as well as at the Grotto, for over 20 years. She conducts workshops internationally in writing and digital storytelling for corporations and non-profits to help people everywhere be better writers. She’s also the niece and mentee of the late William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well.

Number of sessions: 3

Contact: laura@laurafraser.com

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Date: Thursdays, November 7, 14, 21

Course fee: $200

Xandra Castleton




SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10  |  Writers of all levels interested in screenwriting begin with the same questions (and some misconceptions) about how and why writing a screenplay is different from other forms of writing. What is the life cycle of a screenplay? What is different about writing with collaborators (such as directors and actors) in mind? What is the relationship of the screenwriter to the audience? What does it mean to write in the immediate present? Why do some ideas lend themselves well to the screenplay form and others not so well? What, in practical terms, does it mean to “write in pictures”? In this seminar and mini-workshop, we’ll tackle these questions and more through a mixture of lecture, examples, and opportunities for writing exercises.

Topics will include:

  • The unique challenges of screenwriting
  • The purpose of the screenplay format
  • The stages of screenwriting: idea, logline, treatment, screenplay
  • How to generate ideas and recognize promising ones
  • Learning screenplay structure without being limited by it
  • Creating unforgettable characters
  • Writing crisp dialogue
  • Writing cinematically
  • A mini-pitch session

This class is for writers of all levels and genres new to screenwriting. All students will receive an online packet with suggested screenplays, software recommendations, and links to useful resources, groups, and conferences.

Xandra Maria Castleton, M.F.A., is a screenwriter and producer whose scripts have served as the basis for award-winning documentary, television and narrative film projects, among them an Emmy Award-winning profile of John Waters. Her films have premiered at festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, AFI, and Rotterdam, while her feature dramatic comedy, Full Grown Men, was the winner of the 2007 Sundance Channel Audience Award prior to a critically successful theatrical release by Emerging Pictures. Xandra was the co-creator and writer of the scripted television documentary Stand Up Planet, starring Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show.

Contact: xcastleton@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 1

Time: 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm

Date: Sunday, November 10

Course fee: $150

Maw Shein Win

Susan Ito





In this interactive, one-day workshop, we will collaborate on producing a zine together. Instructors Susan Ito and Maw Shein Win will introduce a host of collaborative writing exercises to ignite your imagination and push your creative practice to new places. We will share inventive strategies to generate fresh ideas and inspire your writing through working and playing together. You will learn how to physically construct your own zine that includes work from the whole group.

At the end of the workshop, you will leave with a unique collaborative zine of words and images as well as an invaluable list of resources and exercises to keep you moving forward in your writing and creative life. This lively and engaging workshop is excellent for both poets and prose writers who have an interest in collaborative writing. Beginners are welcomed, as well as experienced poets, writers and artists who are looking to stretch their creative boundaries.

Light snacks and beverages provided. Bring a notebook.

Maw Shein Win is a poet, editor, and educator who lives and works in the Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Poetry International, Poets and WritersCimarron Review, Fanzine, and others. She is a member of the The Writers’ Grotto, and her poetry chapbook Score and Bone is on Nomadic Press (2016). Her collection Invisible Gifts: Poems was published by Manic D Press in 2018. Maw is the first poet laureate of El Cerrito (2016 – 2018), and her forthcoming full-length collection will be published by Omnidawn in 2020. She is a 2019 Visiting Scholar in the English Department at UC Berkeley.

Susan Ito is author of The Mouse Room. She co-edited the anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She has been a columnist and editor at Literary Mama, and her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, Catapult, The Bellevue Literary Review, Making More Waves and elsewhere.  She has performed her solo show, The Ice Cream Gene, around the United States. She writes and teaches at the Writers’ Grotto, at Bay Path University and Mills College.

Number of sessions: 1

Contact: elcerritopoet@gmail.com

Time: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm

Date: Sunday, November 17

Course fee: $100

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