Online | Nonfiction | Workshop

6-Week Online Nonfiction Workshop: Research & Metaphor in Personal Essay

For essayists, research is an essential tool and even a way of life. Whether we're closing our eyes to mine our memories, studying orchid anatomy in an encyclopedia, or visiting the site of Buddy Holly's plane crash, research takes on many forms. Without it, as poet Susan Briante puts it, we risk "falling into the abyss of ourselves: the limits of our own autobiography, language, and knowledge. Research can expose you to a new vocabulary and syntax providing another way to radically ‘defamiliarize’ your subject, which is what the best art always does, right?" Research in its many iterations can help us turn an interesting personal experience into a riveting, nuanced essay; a basic story into a layered narrative experience.

Each week we'll read and discuss successful, cutting-edge personal essays in braided, collage, and other lyric forms to learn how and why writers incorporate research to find powerful metaphor, craft memorable imagery, and ultimately create voice, meaning, and originality on the page. I'll also provide craft essays on the topic (such as "A Case Against Courage in Creative Nonfiction," "Researching What We Think We Know" and "Organized Curiosity") and writing prompts to help you find your way into research. You'll have a chance to workshop an essay in progress, and you'll come away with exciting and surprising new work. Whether you're writing a memoir, or dabbling in creative nonfiction, this class offers concrete tools and techniques to take your work to the next level. This class is targeted towards writers with at least some experience in workshop settings and with nonfiction writing.

This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome to join your class meetings.


- Uncover methods for researching as an essayist

- Learn how to write creative, arresting essays that literary magazine editors will want to publish

- Discover the importance of a parallel narrative in the lyric form and how to find and apply yours

- Find the essay voice you didn't know you had

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


In the first three weeks students will be asked to read one or two essays per week -- personal essays that exemplify modes of creative research, as well as craft essays that discuss merits and best practices of research. Readings will be accompanied by a weekly writing prompt or exercise, which will be submitted to me each week for feedback and support. In the last three weeks, students will be asked to read and comment on each other's personal essay drafts, which should incorporate the practices we’ve discussed (may be an extension of a prompt or inspired by anything we’ve read or discussed). Each student will be asked to submit one complete essay draft with a word requirement of at least 800 and a page limit of 15. Optional writing prompts will also be offered throughout the last three weeks.


Week 1: Introductions, Reading Discussion, Prompts 1

Week 2: Reading Discussion, Homework Discussion, Prompts 2

Week 3: Reading Discussion, Homework Discussion, Prompts 3

Week 4: Reading Discussion, Homework Discussion, Workshopping Group 1

Week 5: Reading Discussion, Homework Discussion, Workshopping Group 2

Week 6: Reading Discussion, Homework Discussion, Workshopping Group 3

Nina Boutsikaris

Nina Boutsikaris is the author of I'm Trying to Tell You I'm Sorry: An Intimacy Triptych . Her essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, Assay, Third Coast, Hobart, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere, and among the Notable Essays in Best American Essays 2016. Her essay “Surrender” was recently selected for Brevity magazine's forthcoming anthology, The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction. She has taught at The University of Arizona, where she completed her MFA in creative nonfiction, The Gotham Writers Workshop, and Eugene Lang College.


“Nina has a gentle way with criticism. I don’t know what I was expecting, but her comments were so insightful that after reading them I would go back to my piece and have a real aha moment.”

GWW Memoir Student 2018

“I’ve worked with Nina on various projects (ranging from short form to book length work) for the past three years, and her feedback has always been incisive, smart, and most importantly, actionable. In addition to providing line notes and “big picture” comments, she often supplements her feedback with readings to inform my revisions. As a writing teacher myself, I know how useful it is for writers to read model texts alongside their own work, and Nina’s inclusion of pieces that illustrate her notes has always shaped my rewrites in really productive, meaningful ways. I’ve had several hitherto mushy, somewhat meandering pieces accepted for publication thanks to Nina’s critical perspective.”


“Be prepared to fully immerse yourself in a world that’s both gorgeous and dangerous, led by a guide who has found herself at the outermost edges of what language can bear. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Nina Boutsikaris is a compelling new voice in creative nonfiction.”

Brenda Miller author of AN EARLIER LIFE

“No one is safe from Nina Boutsikaris’ gaze in this book—she looks at the world and people around her just as intensely as she turns her gaze inward, questioning her desires, her actions, and asking what it means to see something for what it truly is. I'M TRYING TO TELL YOU I'M SORRY pairs art with experience, youth with introspection, and gender with power—the dance between these topics makes for an utterly absorbing read.”

Chelsea Hodson author of TONIGHT I'M SOMEONE ELSE