Class Title: How to Write About Your Family: And Still Talk to Them Afterwards
Instructor: Andrea Simon
Class Term: January 22-February 26, 2018
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Every practicing or would-be writer thinks about, worries about, and agonizes about presenting characters that are either true representatives or fictional counterparts of real people, especially family members. Whether you're researching your genealogical roots and discover that Grandpa Seymour was a bigamist or you're writing a coming-of-age novel based on autobiographical models, you'll undoubtedly want to distinguish between the facts and the truth — your truth.
I've known those steeped in the literary world who have shied away from nonfictional writing or who have written anonymously in fear of offending someone close to them. If we are encouraged to write what we know, what we are comfortable with, to draw on our experience, can we be totally honest about those we care about? What is the line between privacy and truth? Do we show our work to our subjects and ask for permission or editing approval? Do we trust ourselves to be fair and honest? How do we remain true to ourselves? How do we approach family members for interviews and discussions?
Whether we want to write fiction or nonfiction, these are some of the questions and issues we will explore in this course. It's important — rather it's essential — that if we are to give ourselves to the process of creatively expressing ourselves, we do so with a sure sense of moral confidence.
As we write about family members and close friends, we will be dealing with many significant conflicts and issues: privacy, loyalty, literary integrity, legalities. We will explore the rich potential of personal inspiration, examining your family history and influential role models. Now that you are on this journey, the most important thing is to go forward with your work. This is the time to free your mind from conflict and worry. You can always make changes before Knopf comes a calling. The goal of this class is to foster a supportive atmosphere to create meaningful work.
Each class will be devoted to a writing genre. I will be posting supportive material on specific craft concerns, as well as supplementary reading. I will also be supplying prompt ideas to help facilitate each writing assignment.
What is required of you? On each Monday morning, I will post (on Yahoo Group) the writing assignment and supportive materials. Each assignment will be approximately 800 words (three pages, 12 pt. type, double space). Your deadline will be that Thursday (or sooner). You will be paired with another student and he/she will be your editing buddy. You will read your buddy's work and post your comments, which will be supportive and constructive. You can write a paragraph or two at the end of the buddy's writing piece, and, if you feel able, lightly edit. You will be expected to complete your editing before the next assignment on the following Monday. I will also be editing each student's work.
Each assignment is designed to not only deal with the issues of writing about your family, but to guide you through the week's genre. By the end of the course, you will create a revised finished piece based on one of your assignments (approximately 1,200 words).
At the end of this class, students will be able to:
The course will begin with a conference call to introduce ourselves and discuss the required work. In addition, I will be scheduling private phone conversation twice: once during the third week and one during the last week.
- Feel comfortable writing about your family.
- Experience the different genres of writing.
- Know how to criticize and accept criticism.
- Create work that is meaningful.
- Learn craft techniques and confidence to guide future projects.
- Unit 1: Introduction: Issues and Conflicts. Autobiographical Sketch: The role of memory. Craft handouts: Freewriting, Process Insights, What Makes a Good Workshop Participant.
- Unit 2: The Interview. Craft handouts: Character Development, Dialogue Rules, Interview Tips. Insights on Family Reactions.
- Unit 3: The Personal Essay. Craft handouts: Proofreading Checklist, Point of View.
- Unit 4: The Memoir. Craft handouts: Concrete Language, Revision Checklist.
- Unit 5: Short Story, Fiction and the Truth, Craft handouts: Setting Workshop, Fashioning Scenes, Plot.
Student Skills, Equipment, and Time Required
Computer skills include: Word, Track Changes (editing), Yahoo Group. Ongoing e-mail support provided.
Time Commitment: 1-2 hours to read and digest posted materials; 2-4 hours to write your piece each week, depending on your ability.
Tuition/Fees for this course
SCN members: $160. Non-SCN members: $200.
Andrea Simon is the author of the historical novel, Esfir is Alive, the memoir Bashert: A Granddaughter's Holocaust Quest, as well as several published stories and essays. She is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the winner of the Ernest Hemingway First Novel Contest, two Dortort Creative Writing Awards, the Stark Short Fiction Prize, the Short Story Society Award, and the Authors in the Park Short Story Writing Contest. Esfir is Alive was a finalist in the 2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award and won a 2017 Moonbeam Children's Book Award. Andrea holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York where she has taught writing. She is also an accomplished photographer, and lives in New York City. Visit her website and her art website.