The raw ingredients that make up a short or long work vary in the lengths gone to find them—stopping an extra moment on the street to think about the going out of business sign you just saw, joining a seismologist forum to better understand what language scientists use when discussing earthquakes, moving to rural Texas for three years in an attempt to get people to talk to you as someone who’s not just another visiting writer—but one research method or another exists in nearly every creative work you can pick up.
In an interview with a journalist, a reader might hear of countless bankers boxes in storage, filled with copied archival documents, and the single carbon sheet the individual stumbled upon that utterly changed their story. Creating the circumstances that can lead you to come upon a similar eureka moment, and the particular ways a writer can and should think about each piece of research are less well-explored. This fact is particularly true for creative writers, for whom facts and research can matter just as much, but whose decisions vary depending on a writer’s sense of ethics, a wide range of potential narrative structures, and the unique interplay of fact and fiction available to those not bound by journalistic obligations.
In this course we’ll consider the research methods available to fiction and nonfiction writers, as well as how these sources’ use can affect a writer’s work. In addition to lecture sections, the class will offer students the opportunity to workshop a section of a work-in-progress. It is recommended that students have a project idea or a work-in-progress they’d like to develop along the class term.
*No class on December 26th or January 2nd
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.
- How, when, and why to use methods like archival searches, academic reviews, and experiential research
- How to use multiple types of sources in order to create new understandings
- How to develop a research plan and how to respond to roadblocks in finding sources
- How to consider one's personal ethics in writing about real life and history
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each class will combine a lecture and craft discussion with a discussion of a reading. In the last three weeks of the course, half of each meeting will be taken up with an abbreviated, research-centric workshop.
Students will be expected to read and contribute to class discussions as well as share a 10-20 double-spaced page workshop submission, if they'd like. The instructor will also hand out a few shorter assignments in the first weeks of the class so that students can start thinking about how these lessons can be applied to their research questions. These assignments and any readings on top of the one to be discussed are optional, but are one way students will be able to get direct feedback from the instructor prior to their workshop submissions.
Week 1: The Archives
Week 2: Experts and Witnesses
Week 3: Synthesizing Research
Week 4: Setting Research Aims and What to Do When You're Stuck
Week 5: The Other Uses of Fact and Fiction (Hoaxes, Fudged Memories, etc.)
Week 6: The Ethics of Real Life
Adin Dobkin is the author of the forthcoming Sprinting Through No Man's Land, a narrative nonfiction book about the first Tour de France after World War I. His essays and reporting have been featured in New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Catapult, and The Paris Review Daily, among others. He received his MFA from Columbia University.
"I felt like I was back in grad school (without the stress)... This was the most useful and enjoyable writing class I’ve taken, anywhere."
"From my own experience with writing workshops, I know that the two hours a writing instructor spends in the class is a fraction of the work required...[Adin's] willingness to make himself available to those in the workshop did not go unnoticed."