Finding Confidence in the Braided Essay: A Craft and Empowerment Workshop for Literary Nonfiction

with Margo Steines

braided essay writing course

September 28, 2021 | 8 weeks |


Text and Live Video

Many writers come to the page with the desire to write about their own experiences—to tell their own story. And yet, telling the truth about ourselves can be one of the most challenging asks for a writer. We are culturally conditioned to keep certain aspects of our lives private, to quiet our voices, to let others speak for us. Self-doubt and self-censorship often come up. For many writers of personal narrative, finding the agency to access your own voice is the key to putting words on the page.

This workshop will guide you through how to write a braided essay, using both your own experiences and material that you’ll develop throughout the course. Some of the most successful braided essays utilize multiple modalities of nonfiction writing, from memoir and personal narrative to immersion journalism, cultural criticism, science writing, and academic and literary research, so with the goal of equipping you with as many tools as you need to write your essay with agency and authority, this course will explore the form and craft several of these modalities: memoir, immersion research, and cultural criticism.

In the eight weeks of the workshop, you will gain and deepen your familiarity with the form of the braided essay, using personal narrative to inform and resonate with outward-looking work. We will explore content and craft and will spend time researching and generating braids of memoir, experiential research, and secondary research/cultural criticism.

Throughout the course, you will work with the desire to write the self, and explore how to use the self as your unique lens through which to write about whatever you are interested in. Through craft practices, empowerment exercises, and a broad reframing of what personal narrative can do, the class will build toward writing a braided essay that puts your story on the page.

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals

In this workshop, you will study the braided essay through creative and craft work while generating drafts of new material toward your own braided essay. The class will delve into the practices of memoir, immersion research, and cultural criticism, as well as how to “do the braid”—that is, how to compose, edit, and organize material that can become unwieldy in draft form.

You will learn practical techniques (like how to use index cards and your wall or floor to visually represent ideas and structures, and how to use the sonic rhythms of poetry to link disparate chunks of text), and you will learn a series of empowerment exercises that you can return to when you find your voice stuck in your throat.

By the end of the class, you’ll learn how to deploy personal narrative and different styles of outward-looking writing to link seemingly unrelated ideas, and you’ll realize and capitalize on the textual currency embedded in your own memories, experiences, and curiosities. You’ll learn to read as a writer and write as an editor, homing your eye toward connections of ideas and language

Writing Goals

You will leave the class with a first draft of a braided essay and revision plan to guide you toward its completion.

Zoom Schedule

1-hour Zoom meetings will take place each Monday beginning October 3, at 5:30pm Pacific/8:30 Eastern (October 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, November 7, 14, 21)

Weekly Syllabus

Week One: Introductions and Overview

  • Introductions
  • Craft talk on the braided essay, overview of 3 parts we’re looking at, etc
  • Intro Morning Pages
  • Method exercise
  • Generate/develop idea pages
  • Reading (TBD)
  • Homework: daily pages on ideas

Week Two: Looking Inward: Memoir and Personal Narrative

  • Craft talk on memoir
  • Generate memoir pages
  • Method exercise on voice
  • Reading (TBD)
  • Homework: memoir pages

Week Three: The Body is the Tool: Experiential and Immersion Research

  • Craft talk on experiential and immersion research
  • Generate experiential or immersion plans and/or freewrite pages
  • First/second/third exercise
  • Reading (TBD)
  • Homework: do experiential/immersion research and write pages

Week Four: Looking Outward: Cultural Criticism and Secondary Research

  • Reader response to experiential/immersion pages
  • Craft talk on cultural criticism/secondary research
  • Generate cultural crit or secondary research pages
  • Authority of voice exercise
  • Reading (TBD)
  • Homework: cultural crit/secondary research pages

Week Five: Filling in the Gaps: Learning to See What Your Draft Needs

  • Reading as a writer exercise
  • Generate and act on expansion plan
  • Reading (TBD)
  • Homework (TBD)

Week Six: Structuring and Editing: Bringing Shape and Precision to Your Pages

  • Reader response to cultural crit/secondary research pages
  • Craft talk on structuring and editing
  • Generate edits
  • Reading (TBD)
  • Homework: edit (turn in draft mid-week), read other drafts

Week Seven: Workshop

Zoom workshop (possibly separated into two groups or sessions based on enrollment)

Week Eight: Revisions: How to Take Your Best and Make It Better

  • Mystery editor exercise
  • Lydia Davis exercise
  • Craft talk on editing
Questions about the course content? Contact instructor directly.
Learn more about how our courses work here, and contact us with any other questions.

Feedback for Instructor Margo Steines

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Student Feedback for Margo Steines:

Margo writes with insight and incisiveness you feel in your gut. Reading her work reminds me that I am human and alive and not alone in feeling what I feel. It's a privilege to read Margo and also to be edited by her. She's a thoughtful editor who possesses both empathy and sharp instincts, which do not always appear in the same package. She knows how to ask you thought-provoking questions about your work that lead you to your own solutions. Rachel Reeves, journalist

About Margo Steines

Margo Steines is a native New Yorker, a journeyman ironworker, and serves as mom to a wildly spirited small person. Margo holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona and lives and writes in Tucson, AZ. Her work was named Notable in Best American Essays 2021 and has appeared in The SunBrevity, The New York Times (Modern Love), the forthcoming anthology Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, and elsewhere. She is the author of the memoir The Zoology of Pain, forthcoming from W.W. Norton. Margo’s author photo is by Aidan Avery @aidanaveryphoto