Self Guided

Zen of Process

July 25 - August 19; Enrollment is OPEN through August 12th, 2022

Level Fundamentals

As you connect and synthesize your ideas, you’ll see how a strong voice and structure emerge in your work—elements that, ultimately, make readers want to turn pages.

Additional Information

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” — Steve Jobs

Storytelling is a basic human impulse. It sounds easy—and sometimes it is, once we tap into our deeper expressive power. The problem is not always finding the time to write, or even what to write, but how to make the connections with our material so that we can be true to our own unique perspectives.

In this class, you will learn how to recognize natural patterns and connections, and practice synthesizing them for top emotional impact. No matter the length of your project, this means asking questions about your narrator’s goals, your favored style, and yourself as a writer and human. You will have opportunities to experiment with making connections in your work without fear of consequences.

This isn’t about being the smartest or most intellectual writer, but it is about having the most heart and asking yourself the hardest questions. As you connect and synthesize your ideas, you’ll see how a strong voice and structure emerge in your work—elements that, ultimately, make readers want to turn pages.

Each week provides:

  • WEEKLY PROMPTS to help you generate new writing
  • INSPIRATION in the form of written lectures and selected readings

After the course closes, you will receive a zip file containing all of the course content and the work you developed during the month. You’ll also continue to be a member of our Creative Nonfiction Writing Classes’ Community Page where you can share writings and calls for submissions, recommend books, and stay connected with other writers.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Smart with Heart

We will use a modernized approach of the “Hero’s Journey” to look at what makes us tick as writers. What are we better at that anyone else, and how can we capture that in our story? Exercises include summarizing our story using three adjectives, developing a “logline”, creating a purpose statement, and addressing how to avoid bravado in our narrative. Reference material will be: Living the Hero’s Journey: Exploring Your Role in the Action-Adventure of a Lifetime by Will Craig and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.

Week 2: Check Out This Pattern!

In this session, we will look at the natural connections to the work you’ve already done. What have you been in the habit of doing that works, or that doesn’t? What kind of language makes time fly as you read it? Strategies for synthesizing those connections will include a lesson on “clustering”—a brainstorming technique that opens and clears the creative pathways, often undoing old habits that aren’t working. Reference material will be Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico, Ph.D.

Week 3: Lies, Lies, Lies

Memoir or memoir-like essays can do many things with the form, but in order to have impact, they require a certain degree of brutal honesty. In this session, we will address some tough questions: What are the lies in your story—the ones you’re telling yourself and the ones you’re telling others? Which are the ones you can stand to admit? We'll work together to connect the dots and get to our deepest truths.

Week 4: Hybrid, Lyrical, Fragments, Oh My!

We might love a certain style but what we produce looks and feels like something different. We will explore different forms by reading short pieces and generating work based on our reactions, mimicking style at times. We will engage in a creative letter-writing exercise and process feedback from peers with the intention of coming closer to learning about our own limitations and gifts.

"The Zen of Process" was developed by Sarah Cannon for the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. Sarah Cannon is the author of The Shame of Losing (Red Hen Press), which was a Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards in 2019. Her essays have been featured in The New York Times (Modern Love column), Salon, Bitch magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, where she helped launch the inaugural Lighthouse Writers’ Conference and Retreat for MFA alumni in Port Townsend, WA. She lives in Edmonds, WA.

View Complete Syllabus

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