Five Styles of the Personal Essay

with Susan Pohlman

Five Styles of the Personal Essay

May 22, 2024
6 Weeks


Zoom sessions Wednesdays from 7-8 PM Eastern

$445.00Enroll Now

How do we take experiences from our own lives and turn them into powerful personal essays? The standard narrative essay fits many stories, but other experimental essay forms can open up new ways of sharing your life experiences. In this course, you will learn how to gather your own stories, find the form that best suits them, and transform them into essays with emotional impact and universal resonance. 

We will explore five unique styles of personal essay: narrative, braided, flash, segmented and hermit crab. Each week, we will read a craft lecture on that week’s form, and explore some successful essays that use it. You’ll receive a suggested creative exercise to help prompt your writing for the week. I’ll also provide optional readings if you want to explore further. 

You’ll come away with five new essays, along with feedback on each one from me for further revision. Through these new techniques and exciting nonfiction forms, you will bring the stories of your life alive on the page.

This course is for:

Writers of all levels who are looking to learn classic and experimental forms of the personal essay. You do not need prior experience writing personal essays to join us! 

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals

In this course, you will:

  • Learn and evaluate the defining characteristics of five personal essay styles.
  • Discern which style of essay best suits various subject matters.
  • Analyze provided example essays in each style.

Writing Goals

Each week, we will focus on a different style of personal essay, and you will have the opportunity to write an essay in that style. By the end of class, you will have drafts of five new essays, along with feedback and revision suggestions from me.

Zoom Schedule

Beginning on May 22nd, we will meet weekly on Zoom on Wednesdays from 7-8pm Eastern. 

Weekly Syllabus

Week One: The Narrative Essay

The classic form of personal storytelling is a favorite of many. We’ll take a look at essays by E.B. White and Eudora Welty as examples.
Assignment: Draft a narrative essay.

Week Two: The Braided Essay

How do we weave two or more story strands? This powerful style packs a punch. We will study essays by Lauren Slater and Jo Ann Beard.
Assignment: Draft a braided essay.

Week Three: The Flash Essay

This popular form shares the personal story in a short expressive burst. We will study a variety of flash essays.
Assignment: Draft a flash essay.

Week Four: The Segmented Essay

When bits and pieces tell a story. Segmented and mosaic essays bring playfulness to the essay form. We will take a look at a variety of these.
Assignment: Draft a segmented essay.

Week Five: The Hermit Crab Essay

Using found forms to create a delightful experience for the reader. Based on the work of Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, we will read a variety of these entertaining essays.
Assignment: Draft a hermit crab essay.

Week Six: Group Share

This week, you’ll have the option of sharing work with the group and receiving feedback over Zoom. Sharing is optional, but I hope you’ll join us! 

$445.00Enroll Now

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Student Feedback for Susan Pohlman:

Susan’s classes taught me to identify and analyze story elements and scenes.  I now understand how to write an effective scene and how to improve the scenes I’ve previously written. I am in control of my storytelling in a new and wonderful way and have the tools and confidence to write the next draft of my novel. Windy Lynn Harris

It’s been delightful taking your class these past several weeks!  I have learned so much about various aspects of writing, especially dialogue, characterization, and overall technique, and how to clean up and tighten up my writing, just to mention a few things.  Your knowledge and wisdom are priceless.  I appreciate how you are able to take a group of strangers, with a myriad of writing backgrounds, ranging from little to no experience, to seasoned writers, and create an environment that is inviting and non-threatening. I know you made it very easy for me to let my guard down from the very beginning. Frank L.

This was one of the most helpful writing classes I’ve ever taken. Susan Pohlman clarified just exactly what a scene should do. I was very pleased with the class, and will look for opportunities to work with her again! Joan Sampieri

This was my first writing class. As a novice, I was concerned about others in the class being more knowledgeable and I might feel out of place. Those concerns quickly disappeared as I felt embraced by the warmth of Susan’s smile and the camaraderie she created. Her teaching style is just as warm. She has the ability to deliver a large amount of information in a clear, concise and fun way. The exercises dump you into the deep end of the pool without fear of drowning and you soon realize you are not just swimming but making progress. Give yourself a gift and take this class. I am so glad I did. Barbara Desman

Susan was both very professional and well organized, with excellent class materials and assignments, on the one hand; on the other hand, she provided personalized feedback that was both supportive and critical. I would take another class from her without hesitation. Nicholas Lapham

This course opened my mind to how deep and technical the art of constructing scenes is. Susan was a deeply knowledgeable, passionate and extremely kind and open teacher who you could tell was invested in students. Amazing course! Saif Nizam

Susan Pohlman is very encouraging and her critiques of our work (not just suggestions but reasons for them) were most helpful. She’s warm, welcoming and obviously very knowledgeable and experienced in the writing field, as well as very talented. Her enthusiasm and love of sharing that knowledge is palpable and encouraging in itself. Chris Peterson

This class was great. Susan went above and beyond what I expected. Her feedback and workshopping with the other students was extremely helpful. Susan is a gem! Maria Warner

Susan is a gifted teacher. She created an atmosphere of safety to express ourselves. Use of strongly written scenes along with lecture on technique was very helpful as a set up for our assignments. I especially enjoyed the break out sessions in class which allowed for time to meet classmates more intimately. I learned quite a bit! Lori Posdal

“I learned so much from this class. There were so many concepts that I was struggling with in my memoir and this class not only made sense of them, but made them seem so simple. I’m so glad I took this class, it gave me so much confidence to move forward with my book.”  Julia Halls

“I really feel like this is the hardest course I’ve ever taken in writing, you have very high standards and that is exactly what I need as a novice. I look forward to sending you my second draft with all the recommendations from you and the class.” Becky S.

“Susan masterfully presents writing technique. I loved her class.”  Meg Smeck

“I loved taking Susan’s class — it’s great for all types of writers, whether you’re starting out or you just need to refresh your writing soul! It was wonderful to meet like-minded writing women and to feel the energy of people who love to share their stories. I wish she held this class weekly because I would definitely be there all the time — Thank you for re-energizing me Susan, I got my writing mojo back!”  Stephanie Elliot

“Susan Pohlman’s “Scene Study Class” was informative and instructional. She walked the class through the elements of scene writing as she exposed us to excellent pieces of short story fiction. Her teaching style is direct and positive. I look forward to taking many more classes with her.” Marie Derminio

“Susan teaches with passion and humor. Great for writers at any level.”  Mary McDermott Slawsby

“For anyone interested in opening the door to that writer that lives in us all, I highly recommend Susan Pohlman’s writing classes. The weekly topics and organizational breakdown of memoir writing techniques, from getting started to getting published, were easy to understand. Sue’s encouraging words and positive outlook on life motivated everyone in the class.”  Pricilla Bertling

“As a person who has worked in the administration of training for over 20 years, I want to say that Susan is a great trainer. She knows her audience, has great pacing, effective balance of formal to informal with ease, respectful and delightfully human. Susan is very relatable and authentic as well as knowledgeable.” Mary O.

“Susan has a way of blending inspiration and spirituality with the technical aspects of writing to help evoke the emotion our readers crave. The curriculum and coaching has pushed me to take honing my craft much more seriously.”  Suzy D.

“Susan presents both craft knowledge and creative skills training in her curriculum. I left understanding my own voice and appreciating the work of others.” WH

“Susan is a wealth of information and really cares about her students.”  Julie O.

May 22, 2024
6 Weeks


Zoom sessions Wednesdays from 7-8 PM Eastern

$445.00Enroll Now

susan pohlman headshot


Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach based in Scottsdale, AZ. Her essays have been published in a variety of print and online publications. She is the author of two travel memoirs: Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home was awarded WINNER in the Relationships category and RUNNER-UP in the Memoir category at The 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.  It was shortlisted for the 2010 Inspy Awards. A Time to Seek: Meaning, Purpose and Spirituality at Midlife debuted as an Amazon bestseller in two categories: Florence Travel and Mid-life Management.

She has written six short films. The Toast received two awards in the 2008 TIVA-DC Peer Awards,  Here, There, and Everywhere received awards in four categories in the 2009 TIVA-DC Peer Awards, and The Misadventures of Matilda Mensch received the award for best screenwriter for the 2010 Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project and the 2010 CINE Golden Eagle Award for best Independent Fiction Short.

Susan is the founder and director of The Phoenix Writers Network and a frequent presenter at writing workshops around the country. In her previous life she was a middle-school educator and school administrator.