Course Syllabus

Motherhood & Words

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Whether you are a new mom or a veteran, whether you gave birth to or adopted your child, in this class you’ll learn how to take motherhood stories and turn them into art.

It can be difficult to find literary communities where writing about motherhood is taken seriously as art. Even in positive reviews of motherhood memoirs, reviewers often find it necessary to first bash the genre as a whole. But like all great writing, motherhood literature is, as Patricia Hampl says about memoir, “an attempt to find not only a self but a world.”

In this class you will have the opportunity to explore motherhood and your role as a mother in a challenging and nurturing environment. Whether you are a new mom or a veteran, whether you gave birth to or adopted your child, in this class you’ll learn how to take motherhood stories and turn them into art.

Weekly lectures, reading assignments and writing exercises will focus on:

  • capturing those parenting moments you don’t want to forget
  • examining motherhood models
  • developing your children as three-dimensional characters on the page
  • exploring the ways that voice and reflection can deepen your stories
  • practicing techniques for writing the hard stuff, and
  • finding the structure that can hold your stories

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • 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:

  • the opportunity to submit one or more flash essays for instructor and/or peer review
  • 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.

Week 1: Getting Started – Sensory Details & Motherhood Models

In this first week of class, we’ll begin to get to know each other and dive into motherhood writing with a discussion of the importance of sensory details and grounding our writing in the concrete world. We’ll also discuss motherhood models and begin to think about both the cultural narratives of motherhood and our own opinions about what it means to be a “good mother.” You’ll read examples from writers exploring their own mothers in writing.

Week 2: Our Children as Characters: Creating Three-dimensional Characters

You want your readers to feel a connection to the characters in your writing, and in order to make that happen, you need to write them in enough detail so readers really know them. One of the wonderful things about writing about our children is that we, as writers, get to decide how the reader first “sees” them. What do you want readers to notice first about your child? How do you get readers invested in your children as characters? This week, you will learn how to flesh out yourself and your children as three-dimensional characters on the page and we will read examples from writers whose children come to life on the page.

Week 3: Voice and Reflection: Deepening the Narrative

In order to be able to engage with our pasts in our writing, we need to be able to reflect. Much of the story in creative nonfiction is not apparent on the surface; it happens in our heads as we reflect, wonder, and try to make sense of our experiences. Reflection adds depth to our writing—it’s the thing that helps us move from the situation, as Vivian Gornick says, to the real story. This week, you will explore the ways that voice and reflection are connected and experiment with both your in-the-moment voice and reflective voice. We will also look at strategies for grounding reflection in scene and how to get to the heart of your story.


Your experiences as parents range from light and funny to heartbreaking, and there is room for all of those experiences in literature and as a part of this class.  This week we will read pieces by writers who have grappled with the hard parts of motherhood and explore strategies for crafting those difficult stories and creating emotional distance for both writer and reader

Week 5: Structure and Where to Go from Here

This final week you will explore different kinds of structures that might serve your stories. We will look at collage and sectioned pieces in addition discussing the ways chronology can serve us as writers. We will also discuss how to keep the momentum going and where you can submit your motherhood essays.