Online | Nonfiction | Seminar

2-Day Nonfiction Seminar: Essay Revision

Revising your own work is hard, some might even say impossible. Sure, there’s the old adage “kill your darlings” (has that helped anyone ever?) and freelance editors—if you can afford them. Are you simply doomed to wander in the tangles of your own story forever, desperately trying to make sense of it all?

Revision (unlike writing) can be boiled down to a two-part science: macro and micro-level editing. In this intensive seminar, nonfiction writers of all levels will learn the art of both. Sometimes, your nouns and adjectives and verbs seem to flow together seamlessly—as your larger idea falls apart. Grasping an essay’s backbone happens on a different level than your lines. But then, you could also have a strong skeleton, and the sentences fleshing it out could use some work. Whether you’re struggling to communicate your central “so what?” or refining a piece before pressing submit, editing your own writing on a macro and micro level is possible with the right tools.

By the end of this course, students will have just that: a strong understanding of what makes a sentence tick (Is it grammatical? Is it “true”? Is there a surprise in it?) as well as how to fix the ones that aren’t quite working (track changes is your friend; so is taking a beat and stepping away from the Word doc). Students will also study examples of how those same strategies can be applied on the macro level to make essays come full circle—it hurts, but sometimes cutting is necessary. We’ll look at example essays in before and after stages of this process so students can see how pieces function, for better or worse, without certain scenes and details.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Line-level editing skills

- Macro-level editing skills

- How to effectively cut your essay down to only what’s necessary

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students will be expected to complete one reading before class begins, a second reading between days 1 and 2, and will be expected to complete a short revision exercise.


Day One: Overview, macro-editing, and free writing

Day Two: Line editing and revision

Haley Swanson

Haley Swanson is an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College and co-editor of Sex and the Single Woman: 24 Writers Reimagine Helen Gurley Brown's Cult Classic (Harper Perennial, 2022). Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Glamour, Electric Literature, Bustle, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and elsewhere. She's received support from Disquiet International, an NES Artist Residency, and teaches writing at Catapult. She lives in New York. 


"Haley's high-level feedback is always spot on, balancing artistic concerns with that of commercial viability, informed by her background as a professional Big Five editor. But what I appreciated the most were her line edits. They always formed the basis for my revisions!"

Emi Nietfeld author of Acceptance (Penguin Press, 2022)

"Ever since I first met Haley, over seven years ago, she's been my go-to first reader. Her editorial eye is as sharp as her tongue, and she has a keen sense of what the core of the story should truly be. (Whether or not it's what you realize it is at the time.)"

Samantha Leach Bustle's entertainment editor at large and author of The Elissas (Hachette, 2022)

"Her editing not only elevates your writing but also injects possibility and confidence into your process so you can push your work further."

Mona Kirschner Longreads, Catapult