Online Course

Breaking the Mold, Experiments in Form

January 09 - February 12, 2023

Level Intermediate

Explore non-traditional approaches to creative nonfiction, where the wild and adventuresome are encouraged.



Additional Information

Hybrid forms allow us to tell our stories more authentically — invoking and infusing nonfiction with other genres and multimedia to engage readers and ignite the senses in unexpected ways.

This course is a playground to explore non-traditional approaches to creative nonfiction, where the wild and adventuresome are encouraged. You’ll read examples of experimental forms, including lyric essays, hermit crabs, single-sentence, and micro-nonfiction, as well as craft essays on why experimental forms can be particularly effective. You’ll also explore how these forms can be strung together, braided, or built up to create longer-form essays, and then you’ll attempt this with your own work.

Course Schedule

Week One: Something Powerful Right Away: Micro, Flash, and Single-Sentence CNF 

In our first week, you’ll read several examples of short, very short, and impossibly short creative nonfiction. Drawing inspiration from how these brief forms convey story and meaning, you will choose one topic or experience to write about, then try condensing it to a shorter form to see the effect length has on tension, tone, and structure.

Readings: “Death Sentence” by Elena Passarello, Shuly Xochitl Cawood’s “Katy Perry is Crooning and Won’t Stop Just Because I Did,” Dinty Moore’s “Pandemic Rant”

Week Two: Blurred Lines: Poetry/Prose Mashups 

The liminal space between verse and narrative can help create abstraction and complexity in your writing. Building on the lyricism of short-form nonfiction from Week 1, we will seek out that liminal space this week by exploring poetry/prose hybrids. From prose poems to haibun and beyond, we will read examples of hybrid forms and try several techniques to bring poetry into your prose. You will have the option to submit your hybrid work for peer feedback. 

Reading: “On The Many Ways and Reasons to Mix Poetry and Prose” by Lucy Ives, excerpt from Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, prose poems by Zbigniew Herbert, excerpt from adrienne maree brown.

Week Three: The Nonlinear Essay: Lyric Essays and Hermit Crabs 

When is an essay not a (traditional) essay? Whether it’s a list, or a syllabus, or several essays braided together. This week, we will play with the various forms and shapes essays can take, and you will have the chance to take inspiration from our readings in your own work. You will also submit a hermit crab or lyric essay (1,000 – 1,500 words) for peer/instructor feedback.

Reading: Excerpt from Michael Martone’s The Blue Guide to Indiana, selections from McSweeney’s, Ira Sukrungruang’s “The Guggenheim Fellowship Career (Non-)Narrative Essay,” excerpt from Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Week Four: Nonfiction and the Stage: Monologues, Choreopoems, & Docudrama

This week, you’ll be thinking three-dimensionally in your writing. Each of these dramatic forms infuses movement and voice into the written word. You will read and watch some examples of creative nonfiction as performance, then choose one of these forms to try for yourself. 

Reading: Excepts from The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, Audre Lorde’s Need: A Chorale for Black Women Voices, and The Laramie Project.

Week five: The Sky’s the Limit: Video, Multimedia, and CNF Beyond the Page

In this final week, you’ll have the opportunity to venture as far afield as you’d like — incorporating images, media, and other elements into your nonfiction. You will be given a variety of prompts to inspire you to consider what hybrids and fusions make sense for you and your work. You will have the option to submit this week’s assignment for peer review. At this point, you will also select one additional assignment from any point in the course (up to 1,500 words) to submit for instructor feedback. 

Reading: Excerpts from Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, “Picturing the Hybrid Form” by Rebecca Fish Ewan, Sarah Einstein’s “Almost Home,” selections from Diagram’s schematics

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).