Online | Nonfiction | Workshop

8-Week Nonfiction Workshop: Unlocking Tough Stories

Our most powerful stories can be the most brutal to write, leaving us frustrated, traumatized, and stuck. What gets in the way? How can we push forward without damaging our mental and physical health? In this 8-week nonfiction class for writers of any level, we’ll build a craft toolbox for unlocking urgent stories that have so far resisted telling.

The class opens with a lesson on how physiological trauma and shame interact with a writing practice, helping participants to pinpoint what’s getting in the way of their storytelling. Then we’ll dive into a series of craft exercises that help us uncover new layers and angles. How might adding research help to reframe and de-stigmatize what we’ve been through? How can embedding the personal within a cultural critique make it more resonant? We’ll play with chronology and braiding to discover overlooked narrative arcs, and we’ll seek beauty where it seems there shouldn’t be any. We’ll also bring a fearless eye to our characterizations, scrapping the flat black-and-white renderings we write to protect ourselves, in favor of contradictory and complex characters.

Through two workshops, one individual 15-minute meeting with the instructor, and weekly readings and exercises, writers will see their stories shift and break open. In our final week, the instructor will support students in thinking about the next steps for their essays.

Writers should feel comfortable bringing a wide range of difficult topics into this space—from personal illness to family secrets, from violence to natural disasters, from classism and racism to addiction—and should be prepared to treat their peers’ stories with empathy and respect.

*No class March 15

Our class platform works best on laptop or desktop computers. 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. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- An understanding of how physiological trauma and social stigma interact with a writing practice

- A one-on-one conference with the instructor to discuss your work and chart a path forward

- Craft tools that can break down emotionally intimidating writing projects

- A supportive community for working on topically-difficult essays

- Two essays workshopped and ready for revision

-  10% discount on all future Catapult classes


During the course of the class, each student will have the opportunity to workshop 15 double-spaced pages of writing, which can be workshopped in one session or split up into two different workshop submissions.


Week 1: Introduction to the class, Workshop Scheduling, Mini-lesson on the Physiology of Trauma and Shame, Group Writing Process Check-in

Week 2: Exploding Structure (Or: How To Make Fragments Your Friends)

Week 3: Playing with Micro-Arcs, Workshop #1

Week 4: Chronology Part I, Workshop #2

Week 5: Chronology Part II, Workshop #3

Week 6: Finding Context through Research, Workshop #4

Week 7: Treating the Story Like A Reporting Mission, Workshop #5

Week 8: Self-Characterization, Group Reflection and Goal Setting, Workshop #6

Katherine Standefer

Katherine Standefer's debut book LIGHTNING FLOWERS was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction and the Arizona/New Mexico Book Award in Memoir, selected as a New York Times Editor's Choice/Staff Pick, and shortlisted for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. The book was named one of Oprah Magazine's "Best Books of Fall 2020," selected as the Common Read 2022-2023 at Colorado College, and featured in People Magazine, on the goop podcast, and on NPR's Fresh Air. Standefer's previous writing appeared in The Best American Essays 2016 and won the Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Arizona and spent time as a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good. She lives in Wyoming.


"Ms. Standefer found hidden writerly places in my soul and encouraged me to dig deeper. I am eternally grateful for the impact her skill has on my writing."

Onita Morgan-Edwards graduate student at Ashland Low-Residency MFA

"This was my first writing class ever. I was nervous - unsure if I could hold my own. Kati blew away my fears with the kindest breath, welcoming my story and beckoning forth new details, descriptions and angles. It was a revelation; I thought I could only tell my story one way. Kati taught me differently - through prompts, exercises and masterful facilitation. I gained not only new skills, new friends and a new community, but a whole new way of seeing my narrative."

Daisye Orr illness writing and trauma writing student at Seattle’s Hugo House

"It’s difficult for me to refer to Kati as a ‘teacher’ as she does not simply treat each of her students as someone to teach, but rather someone to inspire. She takes specific care in making sure that she gets to know each student, their interests, their strengths, and their weaknesses, so that she can customize her feedback and optimize their experience in her course. I never felt like I was overlooked, but rather that each assignment I completed and each comment that I made was important. She took a personal interest in each of our work, our processes, our goals, and us. The only improvement I could ask for in her course is to simply have more of it."

Jennifer Sedler former creative nonfiction and narrative medicine student at University of Arizona

"This was my first writing course and Kati created a fine introduction to the craft, helping me start on a new and fantastic journey. Kati distilled so much about the craft to create focus and liveliness, without the ideas being overwhelming or out of reach. She inspired an atmosphere of discovery and ease so each student felt her own voice and understood more of her own story in a way that could only occur by group effect. No one wanted the course to end! The impact was deep—changing how I read, think, and write. Kati helped free something in me, dissolving a fear and a holding back, leaving me with excitement to keep journeying in the country of writing."

Julia Jurgens illness writing student at The University of Arizona Poetry Center, Tucson, AZ

"‘In Praise of Contempt' takes a no-nonsense approach to sexual morality, and sets forth a surprisingly unconventional theory of how to live and how to love, with some of the freshness of such feminist classics as Virginie Despentes's King Kong Theory or Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex. The sexual stories that 'In Praise of Contempt' contains are refreshingly anti-pious; the author's voice is clear, cool, and committed to an erotics that is blissfully contrarian and unruly. I especially admired the author's insights into the interlocking relation between desire and contempt."

Wayne Koestenbaum judge of the 2015 Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction and author

"I am a besotted fan of Katherine Standefer’s writing, especially about sex, especially about sex and its relationship to pain and power. When Standefer is away from e-mail, she sends an automatic message reminding her correspondent to “run toward what scares you.” In such blisteringly complicit, precise, and intelligent essays such as 'Animalis,' 'In Praise of Contempt,' 'The Taste of Lavender,' 'Clearcut,' and 'Breaking the Body,' she runs exactly toward what scares her (and you). She refuses to write about sex with either an ounce of sentimentality or an ounce of false cool. Martha Graham said, ‘The body never lies.’ Nietzsche: ‘There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.’ Standefer’s work beautifully and powerfully embodies and proves the irreducible truth that sex is everything."

David Shields international best-selling author of twenty-two books

"There are few writers for whom I drop everything when I see their byline. Katherine Standefer is one of those few. Her writing is essential to our cultural understanding of sexuality, technology, health care, poverty, and the body. But listing her subject matter misses what is truly important in Standefer’s work, for in it, she employs the pumping heart of the personal to that inform nuanced and well-considered cultural criticism. In truth, I’d follow her words anywhere they would want to take me—and on any subject."

Christian Kiefer author of PHANTOMS and West Coast Editor of THE PARIS REVIEW