Nonfiction | Intensive

4-Week Nonfiction Intensive: Writing the Personal Essay

When you have a big, formless personal story to tell, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin. In this class, you’ll learn how to zero in on the tiny, specific moments and objects that are often the best entry points for wrestling with something larger—the sweater left hanging in the closet, the song whose words you can’t quite remember, the pet snail who kept you company through a long and lonely winter. Once you’ve found these small things, you’ll learn what to do with them: how long a piece should truly be, how much of yourself to put into it, and how to arrive at the heart of what you’re really trying to say. (And not every story has to be about something giant—sometimes, after all, a snail is just a snail.)

This will be an intense and intimate class, but writers of all backgrounds and experience levels are encouraged to come learn. More advanced writers will be introduced to a fresh way of thinking about how to generate and refine personal essays, and writers just beginning to explore the form will be introduced to a variety of tools for developing and heightening their work. In addition to writing and workshopping one full piece per student, we’ll read and discuss a wide range of samples, practice strategies for getting satisfying work done, and talk candidly about pitching; this includes writing eye-catching yet honest headlines, titles, and email subject lines.

Writers will leave with a workshopped draft of a new essay, a sense of where and how to pitch it, and new community of writer peers. 


- One in-depth workshop for each student, plus a private one-on-one session with the instructor.

- A strong sense of what makes a great essay, and where it should begin and end.

- Tips for pitching, from print to digital to book publishing.

- An inspiring and eclectic reading list.

- Access to a bright, motivated group of fellow students and an instructor who’ll help you be your best.

- Exclusive access to our alumni newsletter, a monthly roundup of submission opportunities (prizes, residencies, lit mags, grants, and more), plus a 10% discount on all future classes.


Week 1: Introductions; scheduling workshops; outlining goals; reading and discussing example pieces.

Week 2: How to identify the right topics, entry points, and story lengths; workshop #1.

Week 3: Structure and strategies; workshop #2.

Week 4: How and where to pitch, from outlets to agents, and navigating what comes next; workshop #3. 

Alanna Okun

Alanna Okun is the author of the essay collection The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater (Flatiron, 2018). She is currently a senior editor at Racked and previously worked at BuzzFeed, and her work has appeared on NPR, Brooklyn Magazine, Apartment Therapy, The Hairpin, and The Billfold, among others. She’s done segments for The Today Show and Good Morning America, as well as other local and national television and radio shows. 


“Not only is Alanna an incredibly gifted writer with an enviably lucid and warm voice, she is an empathetic editor who knows how to nurture talent both emerging and established.”

Julia Rubin executive editor at Racked

“Alanna was my mentor at BuzzFeed and thanks to her incredible talent as a teacher, I was better able to find the confidence to become the writer I always wanted to be.”

Esra Erol former BuzzFeed fellow

“I have learned so much from writing and editing alongside Alanna. Her talents and accomplishments are numerous, but I am most often impressed by her ability to help frame a half-baked (or extremely baked) idea so that it will communicate what the writer is hoping to say and also truly resonate with the intended audience. She is incredibly thoughtful; when considering a casual idea, a tentative first draft, or a published piece, she thinks seriously and generously about the topic at hand, and can quickly drill down to the heart of the matter. She is clever and funny and warm and supportive; she edits with confidence and reason; and I—and so many of the other writers she has shepherded over the years—trust her tremendously.”

Rachel W. Miller senior editor at BuzzFeed