Online | Nonfiction | Seminar

3-Week Nonfiction Seminar: Theory & Practices of Exploratory Writing

Before it ever reaches a reader, writing is a conversation we have with ourselves on the page—a complicated one full of meaningful silences and long meandering backstories, most of which won't make it into a final draft. Even if those parts aren't visible in the finished project, though, they're crucial to what it becomes—before it's a product to be consumed writing is a process of creative exploration and ways of thinking things through. From zero drafts to Notes app fragments to ideas scribbled on receipts, some of our most important writing work comes before or completely outside of an official 'first draft.'

Exploratory writing invites us to lean into this and do it on purpose, engaging with writing as a creative process unique to each person that can eventually support a published project(s) if we choose to, but is ultimately distinct from drafting. This class focuses on exploratory writing as a practice and a concrete process, offering pragmatic ways to start developing a body of writing through an exploratory lens and build personal practices around working through ideas, themes and experiences on the page.

Whether there's a specific project you're looking to do some exploratory writing around or you're interested in broadening your toolkit of approaches and practices for writing in general, you'll walk away from this course with new work generated, a set of exercises and practices to continue on your own, and new ways of thinking about developing ideas in writing.

Note: this is not a workshop, which means writers will not be receiving formal feedback on their writing, and we will not be sharing work with each other, but will discuss process and co-write.

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.  


- Concrete, reproducible processes to generate new writing and develop ideas further

- Paradigms of thinking for writing that are nonlinear, and which provide an approach that doesn't ask you to get it 'right,' prioritizing discovery and alleviating anxiety

- Practices for developing and interrogating your own perceptions and experiences when writing or ideating on your own, to be used in exploring complicated memories, fleshing out new ideas or moving past creative blocks

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students will receive weekly suggestions for writing exercises that build on what we practice together in class time, as well as some occasional light reading, nothing more than 30 min. The rest of the work will be completed in class.


Week 1: Exploring Structure

We'll discuss alternatives to linear development of writing, including the idea of a "zero draft." Exploratory writing as a concept and practice will be introduced, and we'll engage in several practical generative exercises designed to generate the beginnings of a writing project and unpack some of its themes and possibilities.

Week 2: Exploring Questions

We'll focus on open questions as both a guiding principle for exploratory writing and as a writing practice in and of themselves. We'll emphasize the potential of moving toward what is currently unknown rather than trying to articulate what we do know, and practice developing a voice and direction in the interrogative rather than the declarative.

Week 3: Exploring Dialogue

Continuing to inhabit an interrogative voice, we also use its counterpart and practice writing in exploratory forms that draw from back-and-forth conversation, both in dialogue with ourselves and our own work and by writing from and in response to found texts.

Rachel Kincaid

Rachel Kincaid is a writer and editor originally from Boston and now based in Minneapolis. Her background is in literary writing, and she has an MFA in fiction — her published work has appeared in publications like Paper Darts and Threepenny Review. She's also worked as a digital editor for over 10 years, working with journalists on cultural criticism, personal essays and original reporting.

Rachel has been teaching in writing spaces since 2011, leading classes on topics from composition to expressive writing to formal experimentation drawing from hauntology. Her teaching approach is drawn from writing center pedagogy, and she believes in valuing process over product.


"Wow. WOW. This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever read, and I won’t qualify it by saying ‘my favorite things about X’ because it’s about everything, which is kind of the point, isn’t it?...This is so generous and legitimately brilliant and I will be thinking about it for a long, long time."

Heather Hogan

"It’s the best essay I’ve read in YEARS and it DESERVES AWARDS??? Not to be dramatic but I actually had to lie down on the floor after reading."

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

"This class has been exactly what I needed. You've mastered the art of offering practical advice without losing the emphasis on and energy of discovery. I came in with a lot of exploratory writing that had fizzled out because I was taking on too much. Now I've got a complete draft of one piece and a solid plan for how to structure another one -- and a process for moving forward with other ideas I'd been unable to corral. The lesson on braided essays was especially helpful. Thank you so very much!"

former student

"This class was such a wonderful experience—I learned so much about the processes of approaching essay-writing that are both so different and so similar to the unconscious ways I've been doing things, and I really appreciated the approachability of your teaching style."

former student

"Thank you so much for that class. I learned a lot that I'm already applying to my writing, and it's actually inspired me to make my first "pitch" to get published."

former student