Branches of Creative Nonfiction

with Tess Fahlgren

branches of creative nonfiction

February 23, 2022
8 Weeks


Learn how to tell your story, your way.

In this course, we’ll explore the contours of the elusive genre named “Creative Nonfiction.” Just what does “Creative Nonfiction” look like? How does the CNF writer adopt elements of fiction to shape true stories into somehow—more? How can we use language to tell true stories that transcend story, while still being a joy to read?

In pursuit of answers, students will read, write and workshop every week. Each will we will study essays of various forms—memoir to journalism, personal essay to the hermit crab—as well as writing on the genre itself by the masters of Creative Nonfiction.

As we read, we will discuss how writers shape nonfiction in “creative” ways. We will also have a chance to apply the techniques discussed in class to our own writing through assigned weekly writing exercises and text-based peer workshop of those exercises.

In addition to these short exercises, students will work towards a complete draft of a full length (8-12 page) essay, which will be peer workshopped in the final two weeks of the course.

This course is open to all writers. No prior experience is necessary, but do come prepared to discuss the readings, share your own writing, try new ways of writing, and provide feedback to your peers. Weekly sessions will run 60 minutes.

Learning & Writing Objectives

By the end of this course, we will have:

  • Come to a working definition of what creative nonfiction is and can be; become acquainted with the many forms and genres within creative nonfiction
  • Developed an appreciation of the aesthetic elements of writing and learned to read with an eye for craft
  • Gained firsthand workshop experience as both a participant and a writer
  • Applied a variety of writing techniques to our own writing through weekly writing exercises
  • Written a complete draft of one essay, and received detailed feedback on your draft, which you will be able to work on and submit for publishing after the course ends

Zoom Schedule

Branches of Creative Nonfiction will meet every Wednesday at 7 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. Zoom sessions will be approximately 60 minutes in length.

Weekly Syllabus: Branches of Creative Nonfiction

Just how many ways can one tell a nonfiction story? From the lyric essay to the hermit crab, we will explore the many forms of creative nonfiction.

Week 1: Creative Nonfiction?

What’s creative nonfiction? This week, we’ll talk about definitions and histories, read some flash creative nonfiction, and try our hand at a generative writing exercise.

Week 2: “I”

We’ll begin up close and personal with the memoir and the personal essay, both forms that privilege the experience of the narrator. We’ll use free writes to explore materials from our own lives.

Week 3: Features & Cultural Criticism

Tired of the personal? In week four, we’ll read essays that toe the line between journalism and creative nonfiction. You’ll get your last generative writing exercise. You’ll then be asked to choose one of the many pieces of writing you’ve generated over the last four weeks to build on and revise.

Week 4: Profile Writing

As a continuation of our lesson in looking “out” rather than “in,” this week we will read journalistic profiles and practice communicating someone else’s character and humanity through language.

Week 5: Hermit Crabs & Other Hybrid Forms

Now that you’ve decided what you’d like to write about, we’ll use this week to explore the possibilities in form and structure.

Week 6: The Lyric

This week, we’ll talk about and read examples of the elusive form called the “lyric essay.” We’ll continue working on our essays before we share them in workshop in the next two weeks.

Weeks 7 & 8: Workshop

In weeks 7 & 8, we will share the essays we’ve been working on and provide feedback to one another in class.

Why Take a Creative Nonfiction Course with

  • We welcome writers of all backgrounds and experience levels, and we are here for one reason: to support you on your writing journey.
  • Small groups keep our online writing classes lively and intimate.
  • Work through your weekly written lectures, course materials, and writing assignments at your own pace.
  • Share and discuss your work with classmates in a supportive class environment.
  • Award-winning instructor Tess Fahlgren will offer you direct, personal feedback and suggestions on every assignment you submit.

Master the wide range of nonfiction writing. Reserve your spot today!

Student Comments

Course type:

Student Feedback for Tess Fahlgren:

Tess was smart, kind, encouraging, and knowledgeable. I thought she was great. She gave good feedback. I appreciated her sharing information about publishing with us. Carol Severino

"Tess is warm, supportive, helpful, and overall a wonderful teaching mentor."

"I think the biggest thing that helped my learning, especially in a creative writing course like this, she made sure that we kept trying and writing and pushing ourselves and pursuing what we were interested in. The diversity of assignments allowed each of us to explore and develop our own writing styles, as well as challenge ourselves."

"Tess assigned very engaging readings and provided amazing feedback on short stories."

“Tess brought a passion and creativity to class that made learning exciting and engaging.”

"The most helpful thing was how adaptive and fluid the assignments were, without much pressure to follow overly specific instructions. It felt open and welcoming, like a creative writing class should. There was a sense of community that was built because of the more loose teaching style, a great environment for creative expression."

February 23, 2022
8 Weeks


tess fahlfren headshot


Tess Fahlgren spends her time thinking about rurality, loneliness and the geology of personal identity. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Joyland, Blue Mesa Review, Permafrost Magazine, Five on the Fifth, The Missoula Independent and more. She was the recipient of Blue Mesa Review’s 2020 Summer Nonfiction Contest and Montana Quarterly’s 2016 Big Snowy Prize for Nonfiction. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, where she was awarded the College of Liberal Arts Travel Grant, the Gesell Fellowship, and twice the O’Rourke Travel Grant. Previously, she co-directed the Montana Book Festival and taught art in rural Montana, where she lives with her partner and dog. She is at work on a memoir.