Telling the Stories Your Body Holds: Writing and Shaping Strong Personal Essays

with Sarah Herrington

telling the stories your body holds

May 15, 2024
8 weeks

$545.00

$545.00Enroll Now

Stories start in the body.

Powerful essay material lives in our bodies, via memories, hauntings, dreams, obsessions, traumas, injuries and longings. By listening to the sensations of the body (heartbreak, joy, longing…), we can clue into fertile writing material and generate vivid work. We can turn that recurring dream or itch of a memory into important language, as poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “for the relief of the body/ and the reconstruction of the mind,” and from there, we can publish.

In this course we will study the form of the personal essay, reading select work, noticing how and where that work lands in our body. We will then begin to craft our experiences and memories from hauntings that live in the gut or ramble around in the mind into art for outside readers. We will learn revision tools and publication best practices and methods of submission so your essay will be able to live beyond you, standing on its own two feet.

By the end of the course you’ll know how to take an essay through its whole life-span: from spark felt in the mind or heart to publication. You will leave with two new essays, one revised in class, and tools for generating work that feels alive and unique to you in the future. You will know how to continually source new language for speaking your body’s tales and have a practice that can carry you through different eras of your life.

How it Works

We will begin each class with a writing exercise and talk on craft.

In-class craft talks will be structured and themed around the body, from the ground up: we will begin with the foundations, move on to those stories that live in our guts and hearts, and then learn how to revise, owning our voices, before learning how to send them out into the world via publication.

We will then move into workshop. A large portion of Zoom class time will be workshop, where you’ll get in-depth feedback on your work and practice giving feedback to others. There are six workshops in this course and you’ll be workshopped three times. During week one we will set up a submission schedule. You will receive feedback on two essays with ONE essay receiving a revision-round. (note: the weeks you aren’t personally getting feedback you’ll practice giving feedback to your fellow writers. You’ll also have generative homework each week so you’ll be writing a lot!)

This will be a safe space, where all stories are honored, and you’ll be invited to experiment.

Learning Goals

1) Understand how to locate stories in your personal life that would make for powerful personal essays.

2) Develop a practice for tapping into the body and telling the stories it holds.

3) Understand effective shapes of personal essays including how to create a hook, when to have scene and when to have summary and the role of the ending.

4) Establish a regular writing schedule to keep generating and exploring new work.

5) Get feedback on your work and learn to become a better editor of your own work and others.

6) Have a deeper working relationship with your own body’s stories and your inner muse.

7) Know best practices for sending your work out into the world.

Writing Goals

1) Write two new essays (with one revised in class).

2) Create a list of possible future essays.

3) Develop your own revision practice.

Zoom Schedule

Thursdays May 16th- July 11th

7-9 PM EST

Please note: we are not meeting the week of July 4th. 

Weekly Syllabus

Week One: The Foundation: Locating Stories for Personal Essays Through Memory, Emotion, Hauntings

What are the stories our bodies need to tell?

We will read several successful personal essays in class, examining their shape and coming to understand where the heartbeat is in the work. We will then write in class to several generative prompts to help us locate our own material. We’ll also talk through setting up a foundation for our work: creating a writing practice for this course (and beyond!).

Homework: A generative writing exercise meant to help you create material for a new essay, in rough draft form. This exercise will be given in our first class.

Reading student work for workshop #1!

Week Two: Gifts of Emotion and Creative Flow: Exploratory Writing, Rough Drafts and Generating Material

Once we begin to sense the stories inside us, how do we let them speak through us?

This class talk will focus on creative flow. How do we get out of our own way to generate work, listening to the stories our bodies hold? We will write in class via a generative prompt. We will then move into our first writing workshop, giving and receiving feedback on student work.

Homework: A generative writing exercise on flow.

Reading student work for the next workshop.

Week Three: Discipline and Stamina in Your Stories: Basics of a Compelling Personal Essay Shape Part One

Once we have located the felt-spark of a story, and found some language via creative flow, it’s time to lean into stamina. We will study the beginnings and endings of several successful essays for clues to how they work. We will look at the body of successful personal essays to consider what shape our stories may want to take on. We will write in class with a generative exercise meant to help us connect to our own inner fire of resilience and stamina, tools needed to finish a personal essay.

In-class workshop #2

Homework: A generative writing exercise on stamina.

Reading student work for the next workshop.

Week Four: Writing from the Heart: Scene and Summary: Knowing When to Slow Down and When to Speed Up in your Personal Essay

Strong, compelling work comes from the heart, and is felt in the heart of the reader.

We will continue our work studying the anatomy of successful essays while working on our own. This week, we’ll study successful scenes and summary and investigate why and when we might implement these tools in our work. When is it emotionally effective to slow down? When do we summarize? We will write in class with a generative exercise meant to help us connect to our emotions in the piece at hand.

In-class workshop #3.

Homework: A generative writing exercise on writing from the heart.

Reading student work for the next workshop.

Week Five: Crafting Voice: Revision is Re-visioning: Key Things to Focus on in Revising Your Own Personal Essays

Once we’ve generated work with a beating heart, how do we shape it? How can we use revision to help the work feel more essential, without losing that initial spark?

We will receive (and explore!) a full toolbox of revision tips.

In-class workshop #4

Homework: A generative writing exercise on revision! How to take an existing body of work and make it into something new (standing it on its head or otherwise finding a new angle).

Reading student work for the next workshop.

Week Six: Using Intuition as You Write

How do we stay connected to ethereal realms, like dreams, subtle sensations and the creative urge as we generate new work? We will work on generating essay #2 in class, with exercises meant to help us connect to our spirits.

In-class workshop #5

Homework: A generative writing exercise on writing and intuition.

Reading student work for the next workshop.

Week Seven: Full Body Scan! From the Foundations of Your Essay to Its Very Heart

How do we ensure we’re getting to the heart of the matter in our essays? How can we be sure we’re telling the story our body needs to tell? We’ll practice several in-class writing exercises that take us from the foundations of an idea to the heart of the matter. This will be a chance to review the writing process of essays themselves before we talk about publication next week!

In-class workshop #6 (last workshop!)

Homework: A generative writing exercise on full-body writing you can repeat for years to come to help you feel and find the stories inside you.

Week Eight: An Essay Has a Body of Its Own:

Submissions and How to Send Your Work Out in the World

Now that your essays have legs, let them walk!

We’ll learn best-practices for submission.

For this final session we’ll have ample time for Q&A and a final in-class writing exercise so everyone leaves with a plan for post-workshop for continuing personal essay work.

$545.00Enroll Now

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Student Feedback for Sarah Herrington:

Sarah Herrington is a gifted instructor and writer. I feel I developed a deeper understanding of the balance of scene and summary as well as an appreciation of the other writers in the class. I highly recommend this course! Sarah Harley

“The edits and feedback from Sarah’s course were both deep and concise and I felt supported to go deeper into my story and self while we worked together.”
-Former Student

“Sarah offers a beautiful blend of supportive community, accessible tools, and time inside words. All goals and souls are honored in this space. Come curious, stay inspired, depart empowered.”
-Former Student

“Sarah’s writing guidance was invaluable. Her notes were insightful and always encouraging. I grew as a writer and a person working with her on my essay.”
-Former Student

May 15, 2024
8 weeks

$545.00

$545.00Enroll Now

Sarah Herrington headshot

About

Sarah Herrington is a writer, poet, and teacher. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Modern Love, Anxiety, Solver Stories and OpEd columns, the LATimes, SFChronicle, Tin House, Slice, NYLON, Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, Interview, Entropy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Poets and Writers magazine, Oprah magazine and other publications. She's the author of four books on yoga and wellness with presses from Rodale to Penguin. Sarah holds an MFA from New York University where she was a Goldwater Fellow, an MFA from Lesley University, and a BA from NYU. She currently teaches writing at Fordham. You can find her online at: www.sarahherrington.com