Online Course

Approaching Mystery: Writing Flash Memoir about Wonder and the Unexplained

January 10 - February 13, 2022

Level Fundamentals

Capture the absurd or surreal quality of everyday life and tell a meaningful story in as few words as possible.

Additional Information

Flash poses a challenge: how to tell a meaningful story in few words.

This course will show you how the flash memoir form is particularly suited to representing the mystery of the writer’s mind. Even as it remains grounded in the reality of lived experience, flash memoir can capture the absurd or surreal quality of everyday life.

The short pieces you compose in this course could become foundations for longer works (essay/memoir) or remain stand alone “flash” pieces. Alternately, you could see them as writing practice, as a way to loosen up and access your creativity. You will explore the parameters and promises of creative nonfiction and how the particular conventions of the flash essay can be a rich source of inspiration.

In this course you will:

  • FOCUS on judicious use of concrete detail, development of individual voice, and creation of character and scene through suggestion;
  • ENGAGE in creative play and discovery, even as you delve into serious subjects;
  • RECEIVE feedback from the instructor along the way; and by the end of the course; and
  • DEVELOP a portfolio of flash pieces or a longer essay composed of shorter vignettes.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Childhood Scenes: Image as Anchor and Key

Examine the mystery of childhood memories, using associations with specific objects and concrete details as a “way in” to memories and their creative re-telling. In her book What It Is, Lynda Barry discusses the numinous quality of everyday objects for children. Barry explains that recalling the emotional quality you associate with specific objects and scenes from childhood can help you unlock your creative expression as an adult. You will examine these ideas, as well as works by Jo Ann Beard and Joe Brainard, then write on your own childhood recollections, using sensory detail as an entry point.

Week 2: Secrets, Slippage, and the Mystery of the Everyday

This week focuses on dealing with memories and stories that involve secrets or elements of the unexplained. How do you tell the truth about a family story in which there are holes?  How do you represent a memory in which some element of the unexplained remains?  Using models from the writing of Eudora Welty, Abigail Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, you will work on strategies for foregrounding and inhabiting uncertainty as a creatively rich space from which to write.

Week 3: Memory, Grief, and Wonder   

Examine how you can draw the reader in to difficult subject matter using different levels of diction, from the colloquial to the more lyrical. How can you invite readers in with an intimate, engaging writerly voice, using the specificity of our language to recreate experiences of grief and wonder? You will explore work by writers such as David Sedaris, Jo Ann Beard, Eleni Sikelianos, Jessica Mesman Griffith, and Lucia Perillo as you develop your own awareness of voice while exploring challenging material.  

Week 4: Memoir, the Surreal, and the Writer's Mind

Even nonfiction writers can incorporate a loose, associative quality —for example, through the use of speculation, fantasy, or daydreams—without breaking the reader’s trust in the accuracy of a story. Even as it remains grounded in the reality of lived experience, flash memoir can capture the absurd or surreal quality that everyday life can take on. You will answer the question, “How is the flash memoir form particularly suited to representing the writer’s mind?”            

Week 5: Locating the Self / Jumping Off

Explore place and identity, examining the mysteries of belonging and not belonging. You will read and write narratives about location and how identity is shaped within and against it. You will also think about “jumping off” into projects that delight and draw you along. How can you find your own relationship to the flash memoir form? How will you make the genre your own? You will also address ways forward in this form, looking at books made up of flash pieces and discussing outlets for publishing.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration

$260.00

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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].

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Education FAQs

  • 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).

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

    Flexibility
    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 throughout the week 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 that you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer essays 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 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.

  • When do you offer courses? How long are they?

    Our terms include 5- and 10-week courses and run in fall (September-December), winter (January-March), and spring (April-June). In summer (July-August), we offer only 5-week courses.