The Writer’s Studio

The Writer’s Studio is a free workshop series open to all students from all majors. 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 others. You’ll leave with an expanded understanding of what your writing can do.

All workshops are free, open to the entire Stanford community, and held from 6 pm to 7:30 pm virtually over Zoom. Join us here.




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.
Bilding a Scene: The Dramatic Moment
Monday, May 4
When building a scene, writers have recourse to a number of tools with character, action, and dialog—but perhaps the pivotal tool is the dramatic moment. In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus looks back—sending his bride Eurydice back to Hades again. In this studio, we will use the “don’t look back” dramatic moment to collaboratively construct a scene that repurposes the myth in a contemporary setting. We will source your own ideas for character, action, dialog, and movement. Reverse-engineering from the dramatic moment, we will practice layering in the central tension of the scene and build it to our dramatic moment–then craft out that exquisite falling tension. Participants will take away to their own prose, poetry, fiction, and script projects the skills of scene building: layering, raising, and enacting the moments of released tension. Kevin DiPirro is a playwright, theater-maker, and deviser who teaches in PWR as advanced lecturer. His plays have appeared in New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and at Stanford. A Hewlett Fellow for American Theatre Magazine, his current work, O ‘n E: Don’t (!?) Look Back, is slated for performances at SFMOMA, and in Galway, Ireland and Venice, Italy, this summer.
A Thing With Feathers: Poems About Birds
Monday, May 11
In this time of social distancing and quarantine, many of us are wondering how to engage with our creative spirits when so much seems closed and canceled. Throughout history, poets have written about birds in moments of physical and emotional and spiritual paralysis, identifying with various elements of the avian world: their flight, their song, the beauty and delicacy of their eggs and nests. They have written about watching, listening to, even killing birds. Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Robert Frost, Lorine Niedecker, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robinson Jeffers are amongst the poets who’ve written about winged things. We’ll discuss some of the most famous poems of this kind, and, because there should be birds wherever we find ourselves this spring, we’ll write our own bird poems too. 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.
Trailer Moments: Brainstorm Your Story by Writing its Movie Trailer
Monday, May 18
“In a world where …” writers are struggling to develop and organize their stories, what can we learn from movie trailers? Quite a bit, actually. These mini-stories jam-pack character, conflict, and memorable setpieces into just a few short minutes. By breaking down various trailers we’ll explore the core concepts and relationships of a story and the most powerful lines of dialogue. We’ll also begin to brainstorm the dramatized elements of your own original story, television episode, or film. Adam Tobin is a Senior Lecturer teaching screenwriting in the Film & Media Studies program in the Department of Art & Art History. He received his MFA in screenwriting from USC School of Cinematic Arts and worked in industry in Los Angeles and New York. He created the comedy series About a Girl and the reality show Best Friend’s Date for Viacom’s The-N Network, and has advised animation studios including DreamWorks Animation, Aardman Animation, and Twentieth Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios. He also wrote the book and lyrics for She Persisted: the Musical, a New York Times Critic’s pick at the Atlantic Theatre Company.
Emergency!: Writing Vital Drama
Monday, June 1
The very word “emergency” derives from the phenomenon of emergence, the experience of an object or concept or circumstance becoming suddenly visible. As we know from our current emergency, dramatic or dangerous events can reveal great forces such as inequality, kindness, community, and anxiety. In fiction, emergencies are often much smaller in scale – a fight with a friend, a death, a divorce – but they, too, reveal and make visible things about character, relationships, and truths. In this workshop, we’ll practice writing scenes of great drama or conflict as a way of surfacing elements of character and theme. In particular, we’ll study setting and physical gesture as techniques that heighten drama and produce feelings of fear or anxiety in readers, in the service of emerging truths. This workshop will lead very nicely to the following week, when Kevin Dipirro will discuss scene writing.
Shannon Pufahl is a Jones Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program and the author of the novel On Swift Horses. She is a former Stegner Fellow in Fiction. She grew up in rural Kansas. For many years she worked as a freelance music writer and bartender. Her essays, on topics ranging from eighteenth-century America to her childhood, have appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Monterey, CA, with her wife and their dog.


Winter 2020

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

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