The Writer’s Studio Weekly Workshop

Come study the art of writing in intensive, fun, hands-on workshops with dynamic faculty from the Creative Writing program, the Stanford Storytelling Project, and other arts programs at Stanford.  Each week focuses on a specific craft element or process, with opportunity to experiment and practice. You’ll leave with an expanded understanding of what your writing can do.  Designed for students but open to the whole Stanford community, the workshops are held most Mondays from 6:00-7:30pm when classes are in session at Stanford.  See each quarter’s schedule for details.  

FALL SCHEDULE, TO BEGIN OCT 4, 2021, WILL BE POSTED SEPT 28.  
SESSIONS WILL BE HELD AGAIN IN PERSON AT THE HUME CENTER.


Spring 2021  

SESSION DESCRIPTION FACILITATOR
What’s Next?
Monday, April 12 
Sometimes, stories come in flashes: we see one character, or one concept, or one line of dialogue. We might have the seed of an idea but get stuck wondering – now what? How can I turn this flicker of inspiration into a full-fledged story? Join us for a night of ideation and exploration as we practice taking that critical next step. Together, we’ll spend the first half of this workshop mining for story ideas and grow our bank of potential projects. Then, we’ll dive deeper and learn strategies to flesh out the world behind that seed of a thought. You’ll walk away with new tools for whenever you face the question: what comes next? Megan Calfas is a playwright, journalist, and podcast producer. She’s also a mentor with the Stanford Storytelling Project – sign up to work with her here. Outside of Stanford, she teaches live, personal storytelling with StoryCraft and is in the process of co-creating an original musical. Previously, she’s reported on the environment for the Los Angeles Times, investigated maternal mortality in Zanzibar, and once convinced Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to perform in a musical alongside personified, dancing peanuts.
The Micro Story
Monday, April 19 
The really short form—prose of 1-3 pages—has been around for more than a century, but has gained new popularity since the 1990s, when all kinds of new names were invented for it—flash fiction, micro fiction, short memoir, etc. The very short piece uses all of the art of longer prose forms, but it is also a form unto itself, with its own special constraints and opportunities. We will take a quick but deep dive into both process and craft, giving you an opportunity to practice the kinds of attention and writing that produce powerful short pieces. We will focus equally on fiction and non-fiction, with emphasis on how to use skills common to both, to create a vivid lightning strikes of truth and beauty (why not?). Jonah Willihnganz is the Director of the Stanford Storytelling Project and Co-Director of the LifeWorks Progam for Integrative Learning in the School of Medicine. He has published fiction, essays, and literary criticism and has taught writing and literature at Stanford since 2002. This spring he is teaching, with Shannon Pufahl, Fight the Future, a course on speculative film and fiction, and he cannot wait for a lot of Octavia Butler’s work to finally be coming to the screen over the next year.
My FLI-Called Life: FLI Creative Writing
Monday, April 26
“Greatness is all the more admirable if it’s achieved against the odds,” writes R.S. Pine-Coffin, reflecting on St. Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions. We won’t have enough time to write our own full-blown FLI autobiographies in this workshop, but we will have the time to discuss our cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to create “moment maps” of prose that illustrate key points in our lives. We’ll write and share where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and where we’re headed so that we can carry these maps with us into any future creative project — whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays, etc. We’ll never feel lost again. Jenn Alandy Trahan was a first-generation college student herself at the University of California, Irvine, in the early-mid aughts and then went on to earn her MA in English and MFA in Fiction at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, she’s currently a Jones Lecturer teaching English 9CE: Creative Expression all year (her favorite undergraduate course to teach). Also, in a recent virtual event hosted by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Alec MacGillis discussed his new book Fulfillment; Jenn took messy notes in her journal as MacGillis talked about the “toxicity of hyper-prosperity” in certain areas of the country (ahem, this one), something that we can also discuss in this FLI workshop.
Melody as Muse: Writing About Music in Fiction
Monday, May 3
Musical artists such as Frank Zappa and Laurie Andersen have famously stated, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” These are compelling words, their force relying in part on the irony of the formulation—in effect, the quote does that which it claims isimpossible to do, explicating in words the difficulties of translating musical experience into prose while at the same time using words to communicate some of the elusive affective power of music. When writers attempt to describe a distinctive mood, or emotion they must be quite creative in order to truly get the audience to feel it. Examining how people have written about music can help us write about the ineffable in any kind of story you would like to produce; plays, poems, short stories, novels. In this workshop, through a series of listening and writing exercises we practice rendering the ineffable into compelling prose. Tiffany Naiman is a scholar of popular music, temporality, and gender. She is the Managing Editor of State of the Human, the podcast of the Stanford Storytelling Project, and lecturer at Stanford University where she teaches classes on David Bowie, podcasting, music documentaries, concept albums, and sound stories. Along with her musicological research and teaching, Tiffany is a DJ, electronic music composer, and award-winning documentary film producer.
Exploring Our Place Inside of Nature Through Metaphor
Monday, May 10

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things telling a story can do is help us investigate an experience we’ve had—especially if we use figurative language. In this workshop we’ll focus on our experience of the natural world and discover what emerges when we describe it from a position beyond human supremacy. We will develop metaphors based on the biogeochemical cycles of the earth, the behavior of other animals, plants, and fungi. We’ll explore how these metaphors lead us to see greater detail and meaning in our patterns, including how you can use story creation to “compost” narratives from your own life.
Christy Hartman is a storyteller with nearly a decade of experience working in higher education. In addition to being a longtime Senior Producer for the Storytelling project, she is currently the Program Coordinator for Stanford’s Medicine and the Muse program, in the School of Medicine. Skilled in mentoring, narrativizing research, and podcast production, she is interested in amplifying the wisdom of lived experience. She holds graduate certificate in writing from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and prefers the forest.
Identity Writing: Excavating Your Narrative
Monday, May 17

 

 

 

 

 

You are the expert on your own life, but what is your story? Often, it’s more than just yours alone. It can be a part of a collective: your generation, your team, your tribe. In this class, we’ll examine remarkable voices that speak for both the singular and the collective with true authority and dive into narratives that pack emotional heat. Along the way we’ll examine our own anthems, memories, and histories through exploratory writing prompts. We’ll deconstruct point of view through exercises meant to catapult moving, energetic writing into a powerful and personal essay. Don’t think you have a story to tell? Come anyway and surprise yourself. Rose Whitmore’s writing has recently appeared in The Southern Review, Image, The Kenyon Review and Alaska Quarterly Review. She is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford where she is working on a novel about Olympic Weightlifting during Enver Hoxha’s communist regime in post-World War II Albania. 

 

Spring 2020

SESSION DESCRIPTION FACILITATOR
Pitching into Story
Monday, April 20

Pitching a story, whether it’s for a class project or for your favorite outlet in the world, can feel totally overwhelming. Especially when you’re asking permission to go out and investigate a narrative that’s still mysterious to you! But fear not. Crafting your pitch can be a surprisingly deep exercise in storytelling. In this workshop, we’ll focus on how to use the process of writing a pitch to investigate deep narrative questions, and also develop a sense of how different editors (or, perhaps, professors) evaluate the pitches they receive. Please bring a story idea, or several.  Rachel Hamburg is a senior producer at Audible, where she has produced a storytelling show with Dan Savage about sex and relationships, a sound collage of American cities using stand up comedy and interviews on the street, an audiobook about the women who took down Larry Nassar, a short story collection written from the perspectives of animals, a science series, and a one-man play slash sales workshop. Before Audible, she worked at The Stanford Storytelling Project, where she helped undergraduates hone their storytelling skills.
Funny Business
Monday, January 27
In this workshop, we’ll examine some of the time-honored principles of how writing is made funny, and then you’ll respond to short prompts designed to get your personal sense of humor out in the open, where it can run free and play with others. Edward Porter’s humor writing has appeared in places such as Barrelhouse, Booth, and Miracle Monocle, and has been anthologized in Winesburg Indiana and My Name Was Never Frankenstein. A former Stegner Fellow, he is currently a Jones Lecturer in creative writing at Stanford University.
Monster! Mother! Sweater! Strider! Choosing a Strong Perspective for Your Story
Monday, February 3
Sometimes we think of stories as existing beyond the teller. Ancient myths, for example, survived through the mouths of anonymous speakers. Traditional journalism in its own way, too, often invokes an objective perspective – a bodiless questioner who hovers above the subject matter. But every Beowulf begs for a Grendel – a radical re-imagination of problem, protagonist, and perspective. In this workshop, we will hear from a little girl, an old sweater, a lusty insect, and more. We will discuss how those perspectives are achieved through writing, voice, and audio technique, as well as what they offer their stories that a more obvious perspective could not. Then we will spend time developing radically different views into the same story, before broadening the exercise to an examination of the stories we are waiting to tell and what carefully choosing the story’s perspective can do. Rachel Hamburg is a senior producer at Audible, where she has produced a storytelling show with Dan Savage about sex and relationships, a sound collage of American cities using stand up comedy and interviews on the street, an audiobook about the women who took down Larry Nassar, a short story collection written from the perspectives of animals, a science series, and a one-man play slash sales workshop. Before Audible, she worked at The Stanford Storytelling Project, where she helped undergraduates hone their storytelling skills.
If You’ll Let a Guide Direct You: Poems That Command
Monday, February 10
All poems address the reader either directly or obliquely, but certain poems address the reader in a more specific way, guiding us, goading us, commanding us. These poems can be both comforting and challenging. In perhaps the most famous poem of this kind, “Directive,” Robert Frost assures us that we need only let the poet-guide direct us, before admitting that this poet-guide “has at heart [our] getting lost.” In this workshop, we will consider poems by Frost, William Matthews, Rainer Maria Rilke, and others. In doing so, we will discuss how to approach poems that command. What is the proper way to read such a poem? And how can mere words on the page inspire us to make actual changes in our lives? In the second half of the workshop, we will draft “directive” poems of our own. Austin Smith is the author of two poetry collections, Almanac and Flyover Country. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction, he is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, where he teaches courses in poetry, fiction, environmental literature and documentary journalism.
Places that Make Us: Harnessing the Power of Setting
Monday, February 24
From Tbilisi to Tulsa to last year’s road trip, place can be a powerful tool in writing. We all remember Gatsby’s green light, can feel the cinders of Dresden, and yes, even picture the halls of Hogwarts. In fiction and non-fiction, place has the power to sculpt identity on the page and create lasting and memorable images. It can be the nexus from which narrative tension springs—political, personal, or otherwise—and action initiates. In this class, we’ll examine how place in fiction and non-fiction can carry important metaphor, elevate meaning, and augment our character’s experience. We’ll dive into settings rich with emotional detail and engage in writing prompts that will help you unearth the heart of where your story takes place. Students can expect to leave with the setting of a short story or personal essay and plenty of ideas of where to go from there.
Rose Whitmore’s writing has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, The Missouri Review, The Sun, The Iowa Review, The Colorado Review, Fourth Genre and shortlisted in Best American Essays, 2017. A former Wallace Stegner fellow, she is currently a Jones Lecturer at work on a novel about Olympic Weightlifting during Enver Hoxa’s communist regime in post-World War II Albania.
Playing with Time
Monday, March 2
How can we bend, control, and play with time to increase the power of the stories we want to tell? In this workshop, we will experiment with manipulating time to create more impactful moments, scenes, and plots. We’ll start by looking at writers who manage time in their work in effective and innovative ways. We’ll also consider ways music and image can help us think analogously about time. Most of our workshop will then be devoted to our own experiments with time in story. Whether your goal is to build suspense, create patterns, or capture a single ground-shifting moment, this workshop will give you new options to explore. Valerie Kinsey is a Lecturer in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. Her fiction has appeared in Angel City Review, Adelaide, Arcturus and elsewhere; she also writes personal essays, which have been published in Evening Street Press and Streetlight Magazine. She earned her MFA (creative writing) and PhD (English) at the University of New Mexico.

 

SESSION DESCRIPTION FACILITATOR
Writing Wild with the Senses
Monday, January 13
In this workshop, we’ll use visceral engagement with the senses as a way of opening doors to writing that will make elements of your story more accessible as well as offer new avenues of inspiration. We’ll use various images, unexpected smells, and diverse sounds from the wild along with several guided writing prompts to conjure forgotten stories and to inspire you to imagine new ones. Please come with a sense of adventure, ready to do some wild writing together.  Emily Polk, an Advanced Lecturer in PWR and the author of Communicating Global to Local Resiliency, has worked around the world as a media professional, supporting documentaries and human rights-based media in refugee camps from Burma to Ghana. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Creative Nonfiction, The National Radio Project and elsewhere. Richard Nevle is the Deputy Director of the Earth Systems Program, a scientist, teacher, dad, and writer in love with the natural world. He muses at The Feral Naturalist and is working on a book of essays and prose poems focused on the natural history of the Sierra Nevada.
Funny Business
Monday, January 27
In this workshop, we’ll examine some of the time-honored principles of how writing is made funny, and then you’ll respond to short prompts designed to get your personal sense of humor out in the open, where it can run free and play with others. Edward Porter’s humor writing has appeared in places such as Barrelhouse, Booth, and Miracle Monocle, and has been anthologized in Winesburg Indiana and My Name Was Never Frankenstein. A former Stegner Fellow, he is currently a Jones Lecturer in creative writing at Stanford University.
Monster! Mother! Sweater! Strider! Choosing a Strong Perspective for Your Story
Monday, February 3
Sometimes we think of stories as existing beyond the teller. Ancient myths, for example, survived through the mouths of anonymous speakers. Traditional journalism in its own way, too, often invokes an objective perspective – a bodiless questioner who hovers above the subject matter. But every Beowulf begs for a Grendel – a radical re-imagination of problem, protagonist, and perspective. In this workshop, we will hear from a little girl, an old sweater, a lusty insect, and more. We will discuss how those perspectives are achieved through writing, voice, and audio technique, as well as what they offer their stories that a more obvious perspective could not. Then we will spend time developing radically different views into the same story, before broadening the exercise to an examination of the stories we are waiting to tell and what carefully choosing the story’s perspective can do. Rachel Hamburg is a senior producer at Audible, where she has produced a storytelling show with Dan Savage about sex and relationships, a sound collage of American cities using stand up comedy and interviews on the street, an audiobook about the women who took down Larry Nassar, a short story collection written from the perspectives of animals, a science series, and a one-man play slash sales workshop. Before Audible, she worked at The Stanford Storytelling Project, where she helped undergraduates hone their storytelling skills.
If You’ll Let a Guide Direct You: Poems That Command
Monday, February 10
All poems address the reader either directly or obliquely, but certain poems address the reader in a more specific way, guiding us, goading us, commanding us. These poems can be both comforting and challenging. In perhaps the most famous poem of this kind, “Directive,” Robert Frost assures us that we need only let the poet-guide direct us, before admitting that this poet-guide “has at heart [our] getting lost.” In this workshop, we will consider poems by Frost, William Matthews, Rainer Maria Rilke, and others. In doing so, we will discuss how to approach poems that command. What is the proper way to read such a poem? And how can mere words on the page inspire us to make actual changes in our lives? In the second half of the workshop, we will draft “directive” poems of our own. Austin Smith is the author of two poetry collections, Almanac and Flyover Country. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction, he is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, where he teaches courses in poetry, fiction, environmental literature and documentary journalism.
Places that Make Us: Harnessing the Power of Setting
Monday, February 24
From Tbilisi to Tulsa to last year’s road trip, place can be a powerful tool in writing. We all remember Gatsby’s green light, can feel the cinders of Dresden, and yes, even picture the halls of Hogwarts. In fiction and non-fiction, place has the power to sculpt identity on the page and create lasting and memorable images. It can be the nexus from which narrative tension springs—political, personal, or otherwise—and action initiates. In this class, we’ll examine how place in fiction and non-fiction can carry important metaphor, elevate meaning, and augment our character’s experience. We’ll dive into settings rich with emotional detail and engage in writing prompts that will help you unearth the heart of where your story takes place. Students can expect to leave with the setting of a short story or personal essay and plenty of ideas of where to go from there.
Rose Whitmore’s writing has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, The Missouri Review, The Sun, The Iowa Review, The Colorado Review, Fourth Genre and shortlisted in Best American Essays, 2017. A former Wallace Stegner fellow, she is currently a Jones Lecturer at work on a novel about Olympic Weightlifting during Enver Hoxa’s communist regime in post-World War II Albania.
Playing with Time
Monday, March 2
How can we bend, control, and play with time to increase the power of the stories we want to tell? In this workshop, we will experiment with manipulating time to create more impactful moments, scenes, and plots. We’ll start by looking at writers who manage time in their work in effective and innovative ways. We’ll also consider ways music and image can help us think analogously about time. Most of our workshop will then be devoted to our own experiments with time in story. Whether your goal is to build suspense, create patterns, or capture a single ground-shifting moment, this workshop will give you new options to explore. Valerie Kinsey is a Lecturer in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. Her fiction has appeared in Angel City Review, Adelaide, Arcturus and elsewhere; she also writes personal essays, which have been published in Evening Street Press and Streetlight Magazine. She earned her MFA (creative writing) and PhD (English) at the University of New Mexico.

 

Fall 2019

SESSION DESCRIPTION FACILITATOR
Flash Fiction and the Freedom of Story
Monday, October 14
In this workshop, you’ll write complete pieces of fiction in two hundred words or less, working from a variety of examples and prompts. Extreme brevity may look like a constraint, but it can free the writer to take chances and make leaps of faith. Make icebergs speak! Tell the history of a marriage in a sip of coffee. It’s speed dating with your imagination! Edward Porter’s short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Hudson Review, The Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere. A former Stegner Fellow, he is currently a Jones Lecturer in creative writing at Stanford University.
Collaboration and Imagination: Writers Inspiring Writers
Monday, October 21
This workshop offers a chance to experience the benefits of working with other writers, whether just at the start or throughout the process of creating a story. We’ll explore how collaboration helps take ego out of the process, focus on the “thing” we are creating, and forget, a little, how that thing is a part of us. We will also work with a variety of modes of expression—stories, essays, poems, drawings, songs—to see how working in different modes can open up new possibilities for our work. We will experiment with Google Docs, try speed writing, practice meditation, tell as many jokes as possible, and get some writing “things” started–or finished! Wear comfortable clothing and please bring your laptops. Feel free to bring musical instruments. John Peterson is an Advanced Lecturer in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. He is researching the relationships between collaboration, improvisation, and electronic sharing in environments such as Google Docs and social media for his book project, Free Speech and Improvisation: The Danger and Beauty of Speaking Off the Cuff. He received his MFA in fiction from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Two Households, Both Unalike in Dignity: Writing about Class and Race
Monday, October 28
Gatsby and Daisy in Louisville, Lady Chatterley and Oliver in Wragby, Sammy and Queenie in the A&P. What is it about class-created chasms that make character motivation so compelling? Should writers speak to class and race in their narratives? How do we weave in these details? We will read selected snippets by contemporary fiction writers, including Dorothy Allison, Alexia Arthurs, Jamel Brinkley, Junot Diaz, and Callan Wink, and then we will generate exposition, craft our own scenes, and discuss how to bring our characters and their stories to life. Jenn Alandy Trahan was a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction and currently teaches here at Stanford. Her work can be found in Permafrost, Blue Mesa Review, Harper’s, and The Best American Short Stories 2019. She currently lives in Silicon Valley, where she can’t help but think about class and race more than she typically would.
Who’s Talking Here?
Monday, November 4
Have you ever read a passage of fiction and felt like there was something wrong, but been unable to figure out what it was? Chances are, narrative distance had something to do with it. Come learn about this recondite technical aspect of fiction, which is also, line by line, the way the reader answers the question “Who’s talking here?” Nina Schloesser Tárano was born and grew up in Guatemala. She has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, where she’s now a lecturer in the Creative Writing Program. She lives in San Francisco with her wife, sister, two sons, and three dogs.
Collaborative Story Games
Monday, November 11
Making up stories with your friends is a profoundly human endeavor. Over the past 50+ years, improvisational theater has been exploring ways to practice and perform engaging narratives. Come learn skills you can apply to any kind of storytelling you are doing right now, from memoir and fiction to film and performance. This is an invitation to come play and to see what happens next!
Dan Klein is a Lecturer in the TAPS department and a Lecturer of Management at the GSB. He leads workshops all over the world, and is the former Dean of the School at BATS Improv in SF.
Songwriting and Lyrics 
Monday, November 18
What makes for good lyrics? What is the difference between a poem and a song? How do we translate our language into music, our feelings into lyrical form? In this Writer’s Studio we will be listening to songs, looking at the musical structure of language, and working to write our own lyrical pieces. All levels of experience are welcome! Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of Rail (BOA Editions, 2018). His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine, and his poetry film, Riding the Highline, has screened at film festivals across the country. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and is a lecturer at Stanford University.

 

Previous Writer's Studio Workshops

Spring 2019

Winter 2019

Fall 2018


Spring 2018


Winter 2018


Fall 2017