You’ve got the “shitty first draft” (to quote Anne Lamott) down. You know it isn’t where you want it to be, but now what? I know in my own writing life, I have seen my essays go from three pages to twenty-five, or twenty-five to three—each essay is a different ballgame and there isn’t a one-size fits all. I’ve worked on essays that took only a month to write, while others have taken over a year. Learning the revision techniques I’ll share in this class has changed the game for me and made me a more productive and confident writer and reviser.
In First Draft To Final, we will use a revision strategy each week including decoupe, the read-aloud, the print-out, with more announced in class. Structured through Susan Bell’s book The Artful Edit, you will be introduced to challenging and enlightening methods of revision. Each week, you’ll share your experience with Chloe and the class.
We will begin with your first draft, and each week look at the progression of your second draft, third draft, fourth, and finally, fifth. Though you will be working with the instructor and the class for accountability and guidance, this is not a workshop class, but an active craft class.
At the end of the course, we’ll go over the submission process, so that once you have a final draft, you’ll be able to find journals that might be a good fit for you. You will meet one on one with Chloe to discuss your essay(s) and can ask her any follow-up questions about your specific work.
In order to apply, please submit a complete essay draft by April 1st. It should be the essay you plan to revise over the course of the class, and it should be between 1,500 and 4,000 words. The draft doesn’t need to be perfect (it’s a first draft!), but it should give the instructor a sense of your writing and have a beginning, middle, and end without placeholders or explanatory notes. Do not submit a memoir excerpt or writing in any other genre.
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.
- At least one finished essay
- Access to Chloe and other writer’s shitty first drafts versus their final, published drafts.
- Knowledge of publications and editors to send your essay to
- Methods on how to create deeper meaning in your personal essay
- Tools for revision to move forward on your own, forever
- Understanding the distinction between editing and revision
- Learn how to self-edit
- Understanding how to know when an essay is “done”
- A 15 minute phone conference with Chloe
- Book recommendations specifically tailored to each student
- Have a “shitty first draft” prepared to work on before class begins
- The Artful Edit by Susan Bell is recommended but not at all mandatory (students must have access to their own copy if they choose to read)
- Meet deadlines
- Class meetings over text chat
Week 1: The Print Out: How can you see your work objectively, with fresh eyes? In Week 1 we will explore tools for gaining perspective including changing your font to a one you’d never actually write in.
Week 2: The Read-Aloud: Although it makes writers cringe, this is hands-down the best tool to find cliches, typos, clunky transitions, and more.
Week 3: The Hang-up or Lay Out: Seeing your essay as a visual object helps you gain perspective, plus makes for a fun quarantine activity.
Week 4: The Listen: As a follow-up to the read-aloud, writers will listen to the recording of their essay, while jotting down notes and making edits.
Week 5: Découpé: Even David Bowie relied on this tool for songwriting; cutting and taping will give you fresh ideas for moving around sentences and paragraphs.
Week 6: The Submission Plan: Together we will come up with literary journals where you will submit your essay.
CHLOE CALDWELL is the author of the essay collection I’ll Tell You in Person (Coffee House/Emily Books, 2016), the critically acclaimed novella, WOMEN (SF/LD, 2014), and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (SF/LD). Her memoir, The Red Zone, will release in April 2022 from Soft Skull Press. Chloe’s nonfiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Buzzfeed, New York Magazine, Longreads, Vice, Salon.com, The Rumpus, and many anthologies including "Goodbye To All That: Writers On Loving and Leaving NYC" and her essay "Hungry Ghost" was listed as Notable in the 2017 Best American Nonrequired Reading. She lives in Hudson, New York with her family. www.chloesimonne.com
"I started working with Chloe five years ago and she has guided my work ever since. She is a generous and gifted teacher. I can hear Chloe's voice as I write, reminding me to find action, add in details and remove words I don't need. Her feedback is gentle but precise, and she has a way of building community in all her classes. You will leave a better writer, and with new writer friends. I can't recommend her highly enough."
I first became acquainted with Chloe through her writing, and was so excited to find that the combination of heart and discernment I love in WOMEN and I'LL TELL YOU IN PERSON also comes out in her teaching. Her edits are sharp and her ideas for opening a piece up are plentiful--she's helped me gain a lot of confidence and drive when it comes to drafting, rewriting, and editing my own work."
"Everything I know about good writing I know from Chloe. She helped me get published for the first time on Long Reads. Her feedback is invaluable and elevated my writing to a whole new level. I'd be hard pressed to find someone with writing prompts and reading assignments as unique and powerful as hers. I always tell everyone, if you want to expand your writer's brain, talk to Chloe."
"Chloe's classes changed my life. She is so honest, thoughtful, and enthusiastic about her students and their work. She attracts smart, funny, open people to her classes. I've taken nearly a dozen workshops with her now and I consistently walk away feeling energized, inspired, and like I've known the people in the class for years. Chloe's guidance, support, and genuine interest in her students gave me the courage to take my writing seriously. I've learned so much from her and can't recommend her workshops highly enough."
"Chloe Caldwell writes with an emotional intensity that is insightful, heartfelt, and often hilarious. In her new essay collection, I'LL TELL YOU IN PERSON, she perfectly captures what it’s like to try and navigate your way through the traumatic first decade of adulthood. It’s filled with a raw honesty and voyeuristic allure that’s utterly captivating."
"One of the most endearing and exciting writers of a generation."
“Chloe Caldwell has written the ideal 'female companion book'—meaning, while reading, I felt like I had a female companion with at all times. On the subway, I had my female companion. In my backpack, I had my female companion. On the sidewalk, I held on tight to my female companion, and pedestrians would stare at her, so boldly yellow in my hands. Pretty soon my female companion took up residency in my head. She helped me process the world with sass, spite, sympathy, and wit. I don’t know what could be better than a book that allows you to be alone but to never feel lonely. I’LL TELL YOU IN PERSON does this and more. It projects the most potent afterglow, and Caldwell is a writer beyond gifted and generous. She is like a sage.”
"Chloe Caldwell’s LEGS GET LED ASTRAY is a scorching hot glitter box of youthful despair and dark delight. Tender and sharp, wide-eyed and searching, these essays have a reckless beauty that feels to me like magic."
"Prepare to shed skin. Chloe Caldwell’s essays will dare you to dissect your own life. Shot-through with sexuality and sass, her language will get up in you and turn you inside out in the best possible way."
"WOMEN by Chloe Caldwell is a beautiful read/a perfect primer for an explosive lesbian affair/an essential truth."
"Chloe was my first writing teacher in NYC, and I continue to follow her and her classes around like a writerly puppy. Not only are her classes rewarding, but she’s also a great writer to follow in the footsteps of! I mean, have you read Women?! She gives really good critiques and has the ability to find out what you need as an individual, rather than try to mold you into something she thinks you should be. She’s totally honest without being a dick. Her writing exercises are great too, and I am still hanging on to the fantastic handouts she gave us. Highly recommend any of her classes! "