Course Syllabus

How to Write Angry, Honestly

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Complete Syllabus

Often, the stories we most want—and need—to tell involve difficult people or circumstances. We write about people from whom we’re estranged or whom (gulp) we hate, about unfair curveballs life throws us, about the times we were wronged (or times we were just wrong). Sounding off in a first draft can certainly be satisfying, and it can be tempting to use our writing to settle scores—but in most cases readers are put off by writing that feels like a hit job or a character assassination.

How can we remain true to our stories and our strong feelings, while also crafting stories that reach into the hearts of others? In this course, we’ll learn how to express our strong feelings with candor as well as compassion. We’ll also explore how the writing process can help us get closer to resolving complicated feelings and create meaningful work that helps us better understand the human condition.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings

Some weeks also include:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay or essays for instructor and/or peer review (for a total of 3,500 words)
  • an optional video conference that is open to all students (and which will be available afterward as a recording for those who cannot participate)

Aside from the live conference, there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.
To create a better classroom experience for all, you are expected to participate weekly in class discussions to receive instructor feedback.

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Week 1: Follow the Heat
What are the parts of your story that feel so real that they scare you? Maybe you’ve been dancing around a family secret, or you’ve been horrified by your own behavior. We will look at how following fears or complicated realities can produce compelling work, and how raw material is often the thing that makes readers want to turn the page.

Week 2: Axe to Grind
There is a person (or persons) in your life who has hurt you deeply, or life circumstances that have left you reeling. We will look at ways to evaluate “truth” in writing that can ease some of the burden of the telling.

Week 3: Love Thy Enemy
This is your chance to think about the ways in which powerful emotion might be getting in the way of your story. We will identify places in our prose where we might be able to look at characters or circumstances with more compassion–without sacrificing honesty. We’ll discuss techniques and strategies for being fair to even the most unlikeable of characters.

Week 4: It's Your Choice
Exploring the facts of life doesn’t always mean sharing every detail. In thinking about getting published and/or finding readers, we will examine which parts of your story fit better with the shape of your overall structure, and explore strategies for making those kinds of selections.

Week 5: Kindness is Free
How do you want to make an impact from the learning and attunement you’ve been forced to undergo? This week looks at the various literary conceits available for writing the story you need to tell while making a positive difference in our challenging world.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]