The raw ingredients that make up a piece of writing 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 not just another visiting writer. In most every creative work we can pick up, one research method or many was used for inspiration, the development of a character, a setting, or a world, in understanding potential narrative structures, to mention only a few.
A reader might hear of countless stored banker boxes, filled with photocopied archival documents, and the single carbon sheet that writer stumbled upon that utterly changed their understanding of a story. Creating the circumstances that might lead you to a similar eureka moment is less frequently noted. This is particularly true for creative writers. Facts and research help build immersive stories and meaningful prose, but how creative writers use those bytes of information varies depending on a writer’s sense of ethics, a range of narrative structures, and the unique interplay of fact and fiction available to those not bound by journalistic, historical, or sociological obligations.
In this course we’ll consider the research methods available to fiction and nonfiction writers, as well as how these sources can be used to shape a work. In addition to lecture sections, the class will offer students the opportunity to workshop a portion of a work-in-progress. It is recommended that students have at least a project idea or work-in-progress they’d like to develop during the six weeks.
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 archival searches, interviews, academic reviews, and experiential research, among other research methods
- How different sources can be used in conjunction with one another to create effects in a reader
- How to develop a research plan and how to respond to roadblocks in finding sources
- How to consider 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 four 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. Optional craft assignments will be available to students who are just starting a project.
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."