Learn what it takes to get your essay from the bottom of the slush pile to the front page of the Sunday Styles.
52 slots a year and one of them belongs to you. The New York Times’ Modern Love Column is one of the few publications where an award-winning author and a novice writer have the same shot at sharing their story with millions of readers. Wherever you are in the writing phase (whether your story is just a nagging thought in the back of your mind or whether it’s a draft that’s been sitting in a drawer for three months) this course will help you get out of your own way so that you can get started on the path to polishing and publishing your essay.
Over this four-week class, you will get over “writer’s block” and start producing work from week one. We will write, revise, write again and revise again, until we’ve sharpened the details, dialogue and overall arc of your story. You’ll learn how to embrace the revision process and understand why you need it. We will take a deep (like, real deep) dive into what all of those published essays have in common and apply their tricks to your pages. I’ll teach you some insider tips (many I learned from the Editor of Modern Love himself) on how to make your submission stand out from thousands of others in the stack. Through workshopping each of your essay drafts, you will be able to grasp which of your details work better in scene, which pieces of dialogue construct characters and propel your story forward, and which sentences aren’t pulling their weight and have got to go. Together, we will do the work it takes to identify the key factors that separate a cute love story from a compelling story that needs to be told.
Students can expect weekly feedback, assigned readings from a variety of past Modern Love essays (some that went viral and some that were forgotten immediately), weekly workshops and an in-class critique of your essay, discussions about the path to publication, and a one-on-one meeting with the instructor to discuss works-in-progress and future writing goals.
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 Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- Constructive and concentrated instructor feedback on one essay submission and one revision
- Familiarity with the Modern Love style and tone
- Strategies for marking time so that your essay reads like a story and not a summary
- Deep understanding of how and when to use dialogue in order to develop characters in a way that feels genuine
- The support of a nurturing community of writers and readers and access to an engaged mentor who is enthusiastic about your work
- 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, syllabus, discuss goals and reservations when it comes to writing personal essay, beginnings, and how to establish authority in 300 words or less; workshop #1
Week 2: Middles; building drama, conflict, and tension on the page; workshop #2
Week 3: Endings; workshop #3
Week 4: The What & Why of the story you’re telling; Q&A on submitting your essay; best case scenarios/ worst case scenario; workshop #4
Jessica Ciencin Henriquez is a Colombian-American writer and editor. Her personal essays and narrative journalism have appeared in the New York Times’ Modern Love column, Self Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, among others. Her essays have also been featured in multiple anthologies, most recently: Oprah's Little Guide to The Big Questions. Jessica holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA in elementary education/child studies from East Carolina University. Her forthcoming memoir is If You Loved Me You Would Know.
Photo credit: Michelle Rose Sulcov for Swearby
"Taking Jessica’s personal essay class changed my writing completely. Her edits have a way of leaving the page and planting themselves in the back of my mind."
"There is no instructor that has ever been more generous. Not just with her time and feedback, but Jessica is always ready and willing to share truths about her own creative process as well as her hard-earned industry contacts."
"When I signed up for Jessica’s class, I thought maybe she’d help me tighten up an essay I’d been working on and send me on my way. I never imagined that she would teach me step-by-step how to mine one experience for multiple essays."
”As a fiction writer, I was a bit more reserved than the other students in class, uncomfortable sharing more than the details I wrote down. Jessica was so considerate and respectful in the way she handled workshop sessions, she promoted vulnerability but never pushed it. She carefully criticized the writing making sure that the edits were never about the author. She was a teacher that was truly on my side from the beginning.”
"The Upsides of Jessica's class: Her assignments were creative and fun. Her feedback was honest and painfully spot on. Her personality is so fun and engaging that those two hours always seemed to fly by. The Downsides of Jessica’s class: That I had to share her with a dozen other students."