Online Course

Magazine Writing

September 13 - November 21

Level Intermediate

Become a “fly on the wall” in our magazine writing course. Students learn to observe, interview, and intimately explore their subject to craft a magazine-ready piece.

Additional Information

This class will explore how successful narrative journalists immerse themselves in their subjects’ worlds and/or conduct insightful interviews to reconstruct stories from the past. Over the course of 10 weeks, participants will learn how to conduct interviews, in-depth, immersive observations, construct scenes, define characters, and employ dialog artfully. The class will analyze how longer pieces are constructed, from notes to finished narrative, and discuss pieces by expert modern practitioners of narrative journalism, such as Sebastian Junger, Rebecca Skloot, Barbara Ehrenreich, John Berendt and others. Examples include profiles, science writing, personal journeys of discovery in which the writer takes center stage, and reported pieces in which the writer disappears into his or her subjects.

Course Schedule

Week 1: From idea to doable article, including the basics of narrative nonfiction

In this introductory week, we’ll discuss ways to turn ideas – a subject or topic – into a worthy magazine-ready piece that can be accomplished. We’ll also look at the basic types of narrative journalism and how to begin planning for the right people to approach for interviews and immersions.

Week 2: Preparing for and conducting interviews

Narrative journalism depends on getting the right people to open up to you and show you their lives in action. The first major way to secure this vital information is through the interview. We’ll discuss whom to interview and how best to extract raw material with the highest potential, plus how to refine that material for use. We’ll examine interview notes and practice writing a scene from them.

Week 3: Preparing for and accomplishing immersions/observations

This week’s main topic is accomplishing great immersions – watching your subjects in their natural habitats (at home, at work, at play, on an adventure) and recording the right details, then constructing a cogent scene. We’ll discuss the best ways to arrange and accomplish immersions, from pure fly-on-the-wall observations to participatory experiences, then look at notes from an immersion and practice writing a short scene.

Week 4: Writing characters

No matter the article topic, people are always the focus in narrative journalism. We’ll review the best ways for turning your interview and immersion subjects – and even yourself, where appropriate – into a character the reader will find both fascinating and useful to the narrative.

Week 5: Choosing dialogue

Beginning writers tend to string together what their subjects say and think they’ve written a finished piece. We’ll learn how to choose dialog judiciously, what purpose it really serves in narrative journalism and how it should be used within scenes. We’ll practice choosing the best dialog from real interview notes.

Week 6: Constructing scenes

You’ve heard “show, don’t tell,” and here’s how. The best scenes in narrative journalism have a shape designed to accomplish a clear purpose. They don’t just hold up a mirror to a real moment, but are written to communicate the meaning each scene should tell the reader. We’ll look at scenes in draft and published scenes to see what works and what doesn’t, and we’ll begin to use your own material, collected for your class assignment, to learn how to construct a scene.

Week 7: Structure, transitions and themes

This week is all about beginning to put together your scenes into a coherent structure so that your piece takes readers on a journey, shows them the meaning you saw yourself during your interviews and immersions, and is compelling from beginning to end. We’ll continue to look at your own material and that of professional writers.

Week 8: Ethics and special circumstances

Narrative journalism serves our readers first, but it also serves our subjects, aiming to render a true picture of their worlds. How is that accomplished in the most ethical fashion? What are the rules, and when should we break them? What special circumstances might we face during interviews and immersions, and how are they handled? We’ll also continue to discuss your stories in specific, as they progress toward the final assignment completion.

Week 9: Microediting and critiquing

This week we’ll look in detail at the beginning of one printed piece and use what we’ve learned so far to devise a number of improvements. We’ll also practice microediting on early version of your pieces, for those who are ready to submit unfinished drafts, or even parts of drafts. We’ll talk at length about how to critique your own work from start to finish.

Week 10: Revising and the CNF marketplace

Some of us are third draft writers: We figure out each piece’s final organization and final revisions usually about the third time we revise. In our final week, as you prepare to turn in your end-of-class assignment, we’ll discuss how best to revise your work and where to try for magazine publication when it’s done.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

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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.

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Joelle provided invaluable resources and feedback. She encouraged a community of sharing and openness that was truly life changing. I loved the [Thirty-Minute Memoir] course and will retake it when I recover from a recent bought with Covid.

Caesaree Harper (Chez)

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?

    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.