Online Course

Advanced Flash Essay: Freedom in Structure

September 12 - November 20, 2022

Level Advanced

Explore a range of short nonfiction forms, styles, and structures.

Additional Information

Sometimes it can be harder to write short than to write long, but the flash essay presents a fun and potentially immensely rewarding challenge. Paradoxically, the word-count limitations may offer writers a certain kind of liberty. As author Julia Cameron has written, “In limits there is freedom. Creativity thrives within structure.”

This class is designed for writers who are familiar with the basics of flash nonfiction and want to go deeper into the form. We’ll explore a range of short nonfiction forms, styles, and structures. We’ll focus on specific elements of the craft of writing and learn ways to use these elements within the confines of up to 1,000 words.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Forms of Flash

"Why are miniature things so compelling?" asks author Lia Purpura. Why do we marvel at teacup pigs, bonsai trees, and the perfect paragraph? How can we squeeze the pulsating, swirling meaning of life into a page or two? This week, we’ll look at a variety of short nonfiction forms. We'll examine why each is so compelling and how these forms are integral to creative nonfiction's past, present, and future.

Week 2: Miniaturized Building Blocks

"The world is everywhere whispering essays," wrote essayist Alexander Smith. If essays are the stuff of life, how do we stuff our lives into a short memoir or personal essay? This week we'll explore the building blocks of narrative nonfiction and experiment with shrinking those blocks to fit into the tiny spaces of flash. Writing exercises will train our writers' eyes to see with several dual perspectives: literal and figurative; past and present; big and small.

Week 3: Beginnings, Middles, & Endings

Not all flash nonfiction has a clear narrative arc or plot, but all essays have some kind of beginning, middle, and end. This week we’ll look at techniques to write engaging openings, interesting middles, and powerful endings. Individual craft components will include rendering vivid characters and descriptive settings and identifying indispensable dialogue. We’ll also practice finding the best balance of showing and telling in short essays.

Week 4: Hone Your Work (Revision)

Just as there’s not a single way to write flash nonfiction, there’s not a single way to revise it. This week we’ll explore a variety of methods for revision and editing based on personal preference, creative aesthetic, thought patterns, and work habits. Students will also have the opportunity to create a personal writing manifesto focused on the concepts of vision and revision.

Week 5: Contours of Symbolism

"Tell the truth but tell it slant." So go the oft-quoted words of wisdom from Emily Dickinson. The second line of that poem is quoted less often: "Success in Circuit lies." This week, we'll find ways to tell the truth by going the long way round … or is it the short way through? We'll dive deep into using details, imagery, and metaphor to create texture and convey meaning.

Week 6: Structural Possibilities

Does form always follow function? Or, is it possible that an essay’s content and structure are one and the same? This week we’ll explore the wide range of structures that are possible in flash nonfiction, including narrative, lyric, chronological, fragmented, micro, and more.

Week 7: Personal-Universal Bridge

Our stories, experiences, observations, and thoughts should transcend the personal. This week we’ll learn about constructing a bridge from the personal to the universal. We’ll look at how elements such as specificity and external research can contribute to deeper, more resonant essays.

Week 8: Poetics of Prose

"When I experience anything," wrote poet Dylan Thomas, "I experience it as a thing and a word at the same time, both equally amazing." Why should poets have all the fun? After all, flash nonfiction often occupies the space between prose and poetry. This week we’ll explore how both the mechanics and aesthetics of language can enhance our work.

Week 9: Shape Your Voice

Great singers have stage presence. Great writers have page presence. Voice is always important in creative nonfiction, but it's exponentially more important (and noticeable) in short forms. In flash, the writer's voice has the potential to carry an even heavier load than normal; it can compel readers to keep reading—and to share the writer's vision. We'll play with our own writing voices (yes, we each have more than one) to discover how voice can create something substantial out of thin air.

Week 10: Home Your Work (Publishing)

This week we’ll discuss finding a "home" for your work out in the world. We’ll cover the ins and outs of submitting to literary magazines and how to decide where to submit. Students will have the opportunity to identify potential outlets for their own work as well as that of their classmates.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration


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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

Hear from our Students

Creative Nonfiction’s online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.

Read Success Stories


I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines.

Catherine O’Neill

Online Course FAQs

  • What day and time is my online course?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins. If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • What makes CNF’s classes different from other online programs?


    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace based on your schedule. While some optional events—such as class video conferences—do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes

    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors

    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments

    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer pieces multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection

    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • What are your community standards?

    Creative Nonfiction is committed to creating a welcoming and comfortable experience for all staff and participants regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, physical appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, age, or religion.

    We expect that staff and participants will treat each other with respect in all interactions. We will not tolerate discrimination or harrassment in conjunction with any of our programs. Harassment could include but is not limited to:

    • Repeated disruption of classes, lectures or discussion
    • Deliberate intimidation
    • Unwelcome sexual attention
    • Comments or displayed images that harmfully reinforce structures of oppression

    Community posts violating any of these guidelines can and will be removed from the page at any time. Anyone asked to stop harassing behavior is expected to comply immediately.

    Harassment does not include respectful disagreement or critique in good faith. Reading and writing, by their nature, include exposure to controversial, challenging, and sometimes offensive language. We encourage all participants to follow the peer review guidelines provided by their instructor.

    When you join a course you agree to…

    • respect others and respect their writing;
    • maintain the privacy of all submitted work;
    • treat others with respect;
    • not infringe on anyone’s copyright;
    • not harass, abuse, threaten or impersonate another user; and
    • not use libelous, obscene, or abusive work.

    Online Communication Guide

    Online communication happens without the benefit of body language and tone. Therefore, it can be easy to misinterpret. The following tips may help participants engage in civil, intelligent, vigorous discourse without impugning the personal dignity of others:

    1. Start from a position of generosity (i.e. assume that people mean well)
    2. Address your post to someone or to the group. Instead of “Hey” or just jumping in to your post, try “Hi All” or “Hi [Name].”
    3.  Don’t be afraid to use emoticons and/or exclamation points! 🙂
    4. Please avoid ALL CAPS whenever possible, as they tend to come off as RUDE or YELLING.
    5. Avoid harsh or offensive language of any kind. If you’re in doubt, try rewording or reconsidering your post.
    6. Sarcasm is very difficult to convey in writing — best to avoid it.
    7. When interacting with your peers, please consider that some may have limited experience with English, online education, and/or creative writing. It’s a good rule of thumb not to write anything you wouldn’t say if that person were standing in front of you.
    8. Often writers from underrepresented groups are asked to explain everything for an assumed monolithic audience (often cis/white/hetero/masculine/able-bodied, etc. etc.). As you respond to peers’ work, keep in mind that you may not be the writer’s intended audience, and leave room for the possibility that the writer is writing for a group of which you are not a member. (For more on this, listen to this episode of Code Switch for an in depth conversation.)

    See your course for additional feedback guidelines provided by your instructor.

  • How do I find my course archive?

    All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.

  • What do the course levels mean?

    FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.
    Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.

    INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. 
    Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.

    ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. 
    Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).