Online | Fiction | Workshop

8-Week Online Fiction Workshop: Playing with the Clock in Fiction

NOTE: Due to precautions being taken in the interest of community safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, this in-person course has been moved online. Please contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions or concerns.

E.M. Forster once said that stories capture “the life in time” and all compelling fiction must contain a faithfully ticking clock. His ideas have been repackaged and still circulate today in popular ideas about the craft of fiction (e.g., the present moment is of supreme importance; stories should unfold more or less chronologically; any writer who manipulates the clock in fiction must have a good reason for doing so). And yet, writers are always playing with time in fiction. We decide when to start, end, visit the past, dilate moments, and leap ahead.

In this workshop, we will examine texts, complete in-class writing exercises, and discuss workshop submissions in order to understand different techniques writers deploy to manipulate and play with the clock in fiction. Questions we might address include: How do writers create a sense of progression without a ticking clock in fiction? What are different techniques for moving into the past in fiction? Why go back in time in a story at all? How can writers craft past time so that it is as vital as present time? How do writers manage leaps into the future?

Our focus, above all, will be on student work. It’s recommended that students should have some prior workshop experience, though writers of every level are welcome. Each participant will have the opportunity to submit two pieces to workshop in the form of short stories or novel excerpts. We’ll examine each submission as we would in any un-themed workshop, primarily to give the writer feedback on the elements of the fiction that are working effectively as well as the elements that could be reimagined and rewritten to generate greater power. We’ll also be sure to address pacing and the management of time in each and every submission.

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.


- Each student will have the opportunity to meet for a fifteen-minute one-on-one conference, in person or via phone, to discuss submissions to workshop, writing goals, and strategies for growing as a writer beyond the course.

- A detailed, individualized feedback letter from the instructor for each of your workshop submissions, as well as written feedback from your peers

- A deeper understanding of popular conventions for managing time in fiction, as well as an understanding of strategies for playing with the clock and manipulating time, gained by examining and discussing the works of other writers and their experiments

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


All students will have to read and respond to the work of their peers each week. Typed feedback letters should be at least a page double-spaced but can certainly be longer. There will likely be two submissions per week. Every student will have the opportunity to submit to workshop twice, either a complete short story or an excerpt of a novel. Workshop submissions can be up to twenty double-spaced pages. If submitting short fiction, it is best to submit only one story at a time; we won’t be able to do justice in our discussion to multiple pieces. There will be a few weeks during the course when I will assign a short story, provided by me, as additional reading material.

Naima Coster

Naima Coster is the author of Halsey Street, a novel of family, loss, and renewal, set in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. Halsey Street was recommended as a must-read by People, Essence, The Skimm, Well-Read Black Girl, and the Brooklyn Public Library. It was a Finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Naima's second novel, What’s Mine and Yours, is forthcoming. Naima holds an MFA from Columbia University, and she has taught writing to students in jail, youth programs, and universities. She lives in New York City with her family.


“I first had the pleasure of meeting Naima Coster in a creative writing workshop at Columbia. Since then, and following the publication of her excellent novel HALSEY STREET, I have often found myself thinking of her exquisite descriptions and incisive social commentary. When she read my work in workshop, Naima's feedback was consistently astute, wise, and generous. As a writer, editor, and teacher, Naima offers a thoughtful and perceptive take, with concrete steps for improvement and suggestions to transform writing into its optimal state. Any student of hers will be in exquisite hands.”

Amy Feltman author of WILLA & HESPER

“Naima Coster is definitely a writer to watch. Her clear-eyed writing interrogates race, class, and family in a refreshing and thoroughly engaging way. A lovely and thoughtful book.”

Jacqueline Woodson author of BROWN GIRL DREAMING and ANOTHER BROOKLYN

“In this lovely novel, Naima Coster captures, with depth and nuance, the yearnings, ambivalence, and insecurities of a woman on the brink of adulthood. In the process of healing old wounds, Penelope Grand must mend complex fractures in relationships with her estranged mother in the Dominican Republic and her father in Brooklyn. An exceptional debut that explores how to find meaning within the shifting emotions and tangled webs of connection.”

Christina Baker Kline NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of ORPHAN TRAIN and PIECE OF THE WORLD

“With this debut, Naima Coster has established herself as a major new talent of literary realism. A tale of what happens when your own past is rendered as unknowable as your future, this family story looks at all the different ways loss defines us. Brooklyn is under trial for Coster’s Grand family in a way any New Yorker can recognize, but Coster goes the additional mile to investigate the nuances of the gentrified and the gentrifiers. Race, ethnicity, and class are masterfully challenged in this narrative of self-discovery and the quest to preserve one’s heritage while honoring lifesaving transformation. A brilliant debut.”

Porochista Khakpour author of SICK and THE LAST ILLUSION

“Naima Coster is a dream editor: generous, insightful, incisive, and astute. She’ll kill your darlings with kindness while helping you hone the themes running beneath and reinforcing the foundations of the work. She’s smart, very well read, and wide open to the possibilities in her art and yours. She’s as gentle an editor as she is a teacher, and just as gifted.”

Meghan Flaherty author of TANGO LESSONS

“Naima is an incredible writer and editor. She reads with generosity and good faith, always aiming to help the writer achieve their goals. She asks probing yet respectful questions that helped me see my work in new ways. I feel lucky to have worked with Naima, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity.”

Crystal Hana Kim author of IF YOU LEAVE ME