We’ve all heard it before: “Write what you know.” But what does it really mean, and is it sage advice, or not? For the purpose of this class, I’d like to say that it’s both. As someone whose fiction is deeply inspired by the true stories of familial generations before me, I find that much of my imagined work comes from the places and people I know best. I am, in a sense, writing what I know, but the finished product is not autobiographical by definition. Somewhere in the writing process, a switch occurs, where what began in truth (an event, a moment, a person, a place, a childhood story I’ve been told again and again, a line of dialogue) becomes its own entity.
To find out what you know, each week we will dive into our personal backgrounds for artifacts of inspiration—I mean this literally. You will dig up letters, photographs, journal entries, talismans, and souvenirs. You will even pay mind to the items in your closet—or if you dare, the closet of someone else. These will be your guiding lights as you write your short story.
The first three weeks of class will be dedicated to the process of writing. During these weeks we will discuss our experimental writing exercises as a class in the chat-style salon. As we push into our creative process, I will also be assigning craft essays to read and exercises to go deeper into elements like dialogue and voice, building character, vivid description, and setting. You will experiment with modalities of language itself by applying constraints to your writing and executing experimental challenges. We will read invigorating works of fiction, some of which have their roots in true stories. The final three weeks will be dedicated to workshop. You will submit one full-length short story and receive written and verbal feedback from me and your classmates. Be prepared to spend several hours per week total reading and writing and mining your life for gold. This class is for intermediate and advanced writers seeking to enliven their writing (writer’s block be damned!) and newer writers eager to generate material. Some workshop experience is preferred but not required.
This class will meet over our text-only chat platform. There will not be any video or audio component to class.
- A new, inventive piece of short fiction workshopped by instructor and classmates
- Generative exercises each week to prompt the creation of new material
- A clear sense of how to go forward with your story in revision
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Weekly reading, craft exercises, commenting and workshopping, and writing at least one new short story.
Topic: Correspondence and Found Documents
Week One Reading: Claire Vaye Watkins and Jill McCorkle
Topic: Place: Where are you from, anyway?
Reading: Annie Proulx and Kimberly King Parsons
Topic: Description: The clothes on your back
Reading: Lesley Nneka Arimah and Genevieve Hudson
WEEK 4: (Workshop Round 1)
Topic: Freeze Frame: Photographs as narrative devices.
Reading: Alex Behr and T. Kira Madden
**Round two workshoppers turn in stories on Wed of this week (week 4)
WEEK 5 (Workshop) Family
Reading: Leni Zumas “Farewell Navigator” by Leni Zumas
**Round three workshoppers turn in stories by Wed of this week (week 5)
WEEK 6 (Workshop) Dreams/Oulipo
No reading this week, as we are focusing on our last workshop together and taking time for your personal phone call with me (scheduled via email)
Chelsea Bieker is the recipient of a 2018 Rona Jaffe Writer's Award, and the author of the forthcoming novel, Godshot (Catapult 2020), and the story collection, Cowboys and Angels. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Granta, McSweeney's Quarterly, Catapult, Joyland, The Cincinnati Review, The Normal School, No Tokens, and others. Her work has been supported by the MacDowell Colony and the Tin House Writer’s Workshop. She holds a BS in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and an MFA in creative writing from Portland State. She has taught since 2011.
"A truly epic journey through girlhood, divinity, and the blood that binds and divides us, GODSHOT is a feminist magnum opus of this, or any, time. Bieker is a pitch-perfect ventriloquist of extraordinary talent and ferocity. Terrifying, resplendent, and profoundly moving. Imagine if Annie Proulx wrote something like White Oleander crossed with Geek Love or Cruddy, and then add cults, God, motherhood, girlhood, class, deserts, witches, the divinity of women and the singular heart and mind of Chelsea Bieker. An absolute masterpiece."
"GODSHOT is wise, tough, electrifying, beautiful—every raw detail sings true. Chelsea Bieker writes about pain and resilience like nobody else."
"I cried as I finished reading GODSHOT. It's a novel of rebirth: baptism and heartbreak, daughterhood and motherhood. Lacey May is a yearning, whipsmart, brokenhearted believer and I miss her now that the novel has ended. Chelsea Bieker has written a wholly real and beautifully written coming-of-age tale that is sure to be an instant classic."
"Chelsea has a sixth sense for plot structure and story and seems to intuit the answer to writing problems in a way that feels like some sort of gift. I trust her feedback on my work and have greatly benefitted from the deep conversation around fiction she is able to have with me and her students."
"Chelsea Bieker has a keen sense of story and an eye for where things are going right, and where things might be veering off course. She helped me re-see my work and offered instrumental feedback about not just craft, but the spirit of a writing practice and writing life that has stayed with me for years."
"Chelsea helped me re-awaken my love for the process of writing. I had forgotten that writing is actually really fun, and in her class we we were challenged, encouraged, and brought back to why we ever set out to write in the first place."