Many wonderful courses serve writers by providing close readings of chapters, stories, and essays. In this class we will work with the issues in writing that do NOT fall neatly into a sequential set of pages. This course is for writers who are looking to troubleshoot sticking points in their longform or shortform work and want the constructive feedback and guided support of an instructor and community of fellow writers. For example, we might assist a writer who got stuck halfway through her novel by discussing the plot work she’s done so far and analyzing specific opportunities for restructuring to revitalize suspense, drama, or other elements needing attention. Or, we’ll address a student’s concern over an unconvincing scene by assigning a tailored exercise that challenges him to re-imagine the situation from another character’s perspective, providing the insight necessary for re-layering and development. Think of us as your personalized team of brainstormers. I will “prescribe” short and personalized exercises as a means of writing your way out of a particular web. You may wish to engage in the exercises assigned to your peers, as well, though this is optional. The assignments will vary based on the issues brought to the class by its participants. We may focus on underutilized options for timing in the narrative one day and move on to tools for polishing dialogue the next, but all exercises and discussions will be constructed with an eye toward benefitting every member of the class. This class is less about close edits than it is about listening, identifying potential problems in our own work as well as our classmates’, and putting our heads together for a solution. While optional exercises will be assigned every day, we will keep turned-in work to a minimum to allow the maximum time available for discussion and brainstorming. We will seek to fix macro issues by identifying and then sharpening the micro components that contribute to the big picture. The goal of this class is not only for participants to emerge with a game plan for tackling the obstacles they brought in, but also to bolster the writer’s long term ability to write himself/herself out of future obstacles in plot, character, dialogue, and structure. After the class I’ll Skype with each student to offer some ideas about moving forward.
Alicia Oltuski is the author of Precious Objects, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her work has appeared in Tin House magazine, W magazine, on NPR's Berlin Stories, and elsewhere. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University, where she received a David Berg Foundation Fellowship, and a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Interviews or features with her have appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, Marketplace Radio, Newstalk Radio in Ireland, and in the Wall Street Journal.