Building a Story: a five-week workshop

Friends,

My spring five-week online creative writing workshop, Building a Story, has five spaces available. This is the same workshop that has sold out immediately in the past, and I love teaching it. The weekly format (offered on Tuesday evenings, 6-9 pm CST) allows us time to dive into all the essential elements of storytelling, from unforgettable characters to great dialogue to the most powerful iterations of tense and point of view and narrative arc. The workshop is lively and exhilarating and always, always supportive. Over many years I’ve developed my own unique style of teaching (based in part on what I disliked in workshops I took as a student), and I welcome writers of all genres and all levels of experience. Our workshops are illuminating, exhilarating and unfailingly supportive. (See sample testimonials below)

I’d love to see you in this five-week workshop. Email me at alisonmcghee@gmail.com with any and all questions.

Building a Story meets on Tuesday evenings via Zoom: March 22, 29, April 5, 12, 19, from 6-9 CST. The workshop is strictly limited to eight participants, with detailed weekly individual feedback from me. Fee: $400. Bonus: Writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

Registration and payment: To register (for either this five-week Building a Story class or any of my other individual workshops, email me or simply send payment and note which class you’re registering for. Registration is tentative until payment is received. You may send payment via Venmo to @Alison-McGhee-1, via Paypal to alison_mcghee@hotmail.com, or by personal check.

Testimonials from past participants

New and experienced writers alike who are lucky enough to take an Alison McGhee class will find their writing explored and uplifted, examined and celebrated, but always, always improved, in her skilled and gentle hands. (Tara G.)

Alison’s writing programs have been a revelation. I’ve taken writing programs in the past that made me swear I would never write another word, but Alison has a knack for bringing out the very best in the writers who study with her, even when “the best” is something they never knew they were capable of. Her teaching is fiercely intelligent, fiercely gentle, empathetic, deeply informed, and never patronizing or condescending. Take a leap of faith and try one of her classes. You’ll never look back.  (Janet M.)

Alison’s teaching has this amazing after-effect, an echo, a vibration, that comes from her voice, her sympathy, her encouragement of good words. (Tim N.)

Alison brings to her role as teacher an impressive combination of skills – passion, knowledge and depth of experience in the craft of writing, expert facilitation skills that creates a safe space for participants, and a seamless ability to keep the group moving. But what sets Alison apart is her unique ability to support people in their frailty as they explore sometimes difficult material in their lives or the lives of their characters. Alison’s immense humanity never makes a writer feel like they are going somewhere entirely alone. There’s always the feeling that she’ll catch you if you fall, and guide you back to the work at hand – the gift of storytelling.  (Tessa V.)

Alison is so very kind and responsive.  Her prompts are the most inventive I have ever seen. She gently guides you into new territory and eases you into taking writing risks without you realizing it. Take one of her workshops and reap the benefits. (Keyan K.)

Spring 2022 Words by Winter Writing Workshops!

One-day Workshops: Could your creative spirit use a recharge? Come join me on my (virtual) porch for an exhilarating, fun, intensive workshop! All my three-hour workshops are taught via Zoom and designed for writers of any and all experience. No preparation or skills required. Workshop offerings are regularly updated (check out the brand-new The Intuitive Leap class), and I’d also be happy to design one specifically for your writing group. Each workshop requires a minimum of five participants and is capped at ten.

Building a Story five-week workshop: This spring I’m offering another session of my ongoing Building a Story workshop on Tuesday evenings: March 22, 29, April 5, 12, 19, from 6-9 CST. Building a Story is strictly limited to eight participants, with detailed weekly individual feedback from me. This five-session class has filled almost immediately each time it’s been offered in the past, so if you’re interested I encourage you to register soon. Scroll down for details. Building a Story fee: $400 (no discounts).

One-day workshop fee: $75. Note that I also offer a pay-as-you’re-able option to participants under financial duress (I’ve been there myself), from $10-$75, no questions asked.

Registration and payment: To register for either the five-week Building a Story class or an individual workshop, email me or simply send payment and note which class you’re registering for. Registration is tentative until payment is received. You may send payment via Venmo to Alison-McGhee-1, via Paypal to alison_mcghee@hotmail.com, or by personal check. Please email me with any questions.

SPRING 2022 SCHEDULE AT A GLANCE (scroll down for detailed descriptions of each workshop)

Building a Story, an Ongoing Workshop: Tuesday evenings, March 22, 29, April 5, 12, and 19, 6-9 CST (be sure to check time zone)
The Transformation of Trauma: Friday, February 25, 1-4 pm CST (Note: this class is free)
Creative Writing Kickstart: Saturday, February 26, 1-4 pm CST
Writing from the Body: Friday, March 18, 1-4 pm CST
*The Gift of Words: Friday, March 25, 1-4 pm CST(new class!)
Memoir in Moments: Writing Your Life: Wednesday, March 30, 6-9 pm CST
*The Intuitive Leap: Thursday, April 7, 6-9 pm CST (new class!)
The Freedom of Form: Friday, April 8, 1-4 pm CST

Building a Story: An Ongoing Workshop
Tuesday evenings: March 22, 29, April 5, 12, and 19, 6-9 CST (be sure to check time zone)

This five-week class is designed for fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, and poetry writers. (It’s not designed for picture book writers, but what the heck, you might like it anyway.) Each week will focus on a different, essential craft of good storytelling, from character development to dialogue to narrative arc to the creative process itself. We’ll examine both published work and class submissions. Participants are welcome (but never required!) to share their work with the class as a whole. Everyone will receive weekly detailed feedback from me. Bonus: I’ll send out a weekly writing prompt every Friday for the month following class.

Fee: $400 (no discounts for this class).

One-day Workshops (three hours each)

The Transformation of Trauma
Friday, February 25, 1-4 pm CST (be sure to note time zone)

Are you haunted by the memory of trauma? Maybe someone assaulted you, or abused you over a long period of time. Maybe as a child, or adult, you struggled through domestic violence or emotional manipulation. If your life feels compromised by these memories, and you’re looking for ways to work through them, welcome to this workshop. Note that I am not a trained therapist and this class is not therapy. I designed it as both a human being and lifelong artist whose own experience shows that the making of art, in all its many and varied forms, can be a profound way to absorb and translate past experiences that were unfair, unwanted, and cruel. In our time together, we’ll do some brief writings, read and discuss a few short readings, and find ways to unlock your own power. Note: this class is always free. To register, just email me.

Creative Writing Kickstart
           
Saturday, February 26, 1-4 pm CST(note time zone)

Have you always wanted to write but aren’t sure how to begin? Or, are you a writer in need of an energy boost and a fresh start? This three-hour intensive Kickstart workshop will recharge your writing energy and help you develop a regular writing practice. We’ll do several brief writings and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe language, maybe flow, maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great. The class is designed for writers of all abilities, experience levels and genres – so I forbid you to worry if you’ve never written before! Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class. 

The Art of Writing Picture Books
        
Tuesday, March 15, 6-9 pm CST (note time zone)

Do you love picture books? Have you ever wanted to write one? Are you curious how to go about it? Welcome to my one-day picture book writing workshop! In our intensive, fun class, we’ll deconstruct some classic picture books, talk about ideas for new ones, and go through all the nuts and bolts, such as how long can a picture book be? What’s the relationship between writer and artist? How do you write a picture book that children will love and adults won’t mind reading ten thousand times in a row? We’ll come up with ideas, draft a basic outline for one or more picture books, read aloud some favorite passages, and provide instant feedback on anything you come up with. 

Writing from the Body
        
Friday, March 18, 1-4 pm CST (note time zone)

Our bodies hold within them everything that has ever happened to us. We may not consciously recall events from long ago, or even recently, but our bodies do. Ask your body to recall a moment of great joy, of great sorrow, of exhilaration or trauma, and physical memory will come washing back over you. Writing from your body, instead of your mind, is an intuitive and potent means of connecting both with yourself and readers. Brief in-class writings and discussion of short published works (provided) will focus on the power of physical memory as entry into powerful writing. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class. 

The Gift of Words
Friday, March 25, 1-4 pm CST (note time zone

Think of the people you love in your life. Picture them in your mind. Recall conversations you’ve had with them, times you’ve watched them in motion. The sound of their voice, their laughter, tears, songs. The way they touch their pets, their children, their flowers. The way they touch you. Everything about those nearest and dearest to you is specific and particular and unique to them, and so is the way you love them. In this three-hour workshop, we’ll draw on memory, the senses, and deep observation to create three gifts of words. (Hallmark is great, but you’re greater.)

Memoir in Moments: Writing Your Life
        
Wednesday, March 30, 6-9 pm CST (note time zone)

Maybe you’re at a new stage of life, looking back. Maybe you’re thinking about your family, or your children, and all the stories they might not know about you. Maybe you’re looking back on your childhood, the things you wondered about back then, the conversations you had, the places you went, how all of them were pieces of a much larger life puzzle. Think about that T-shirt you wore all the time in seventh grade. Think about your favorite dessert when you were five years old. Your favorite song as a senior in high school. The secret you’ve never told anyone. The dream that came true, and the one that didn’t. The unexpected turns your life has taken, and how they placed pattern to everything that came after. We’ll focus on memoir moments in this class, brief, specific writing prompts that shine up from the page and give readers a perhaps unexpected window into who you are. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

The Intuitive Leap
        
Thursday, April 7, 6-9 pm CST (note time zone)

Let’s play! Forget your conscious self and see what your subconscious has to offer you instead. It’s stunning how the being who lives deep within you can twist and turn and open up your words. This class is based on my own experience with the artist I refer to as my underground writer, who is always working on behalf of me and my writing. Sometimes I give her assignments, such as “Please come up with a picture book that’s pure joy, about the love between a father and his baby,” and then let her go to town, which is exactly how I came up with my forthcoming book Baby Be. Through a series of short prompts and discussion, we’ll learn how to let go and let your subconscious show you the way. This is a brand-new workshop and I’d love to see you in it. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

The Freedom of Form
        
Friday, April 8, 1-4 pm CST (note time zone)

When you’re stuck in a piece of writing, feeling lifeless, what do you do? Grind through, hoping desperately that a window will open? Give up? Take a break? Declare yourself a failure and slink off to drown your sorrows? I’ve taken a shot at all these methods, and none of them work as well for me as re-framing the work itself. I give myself seemingly arbitrary rules to work within, e.g., Write this scene as a series of text messages, or, Write this novel as a series of one-hundred-word passages. The freedom of assigned form is real, people, and it’s why novels usually have chapters, and picture books are usually under 500 words. It’s why enduring forms of poetry like haiku and sonnets and sestinas are still alive and thriving. In this workshop, which is designed for writers in all genres, we will play with form as a way to open up your writing, your mind and your heart to the freedom and creativity inherent in all art. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month following the end of class.

Comments from past participants

New and experienced writers alike who are lucky enough to take an Alison McGhee class will find their writing explored and uplifted, examined and celebrated, but always, always improved, in her skilled and gentle hands. (Tara G.)

Alison’s writing programs have been a revelation. I’ve taken writing programs in the past that made me swear I would never write another word, but Alison has a knack for bringing out the very best in the writers who study with her, even when “the best” is something they never knew they were capable of. Her teaching is fiercely intelligent, fiercely gentle, empathetic, deeply informed, and never patronizing or condescending. Take a leap of faith and try one of her classes. You’ll never look back.  (Janet M.)

Alison’s teaching has this amazing after-effect, an echo, a vibration, that comes from her voice, her sympathy, her encouragement of good words. (Tim N.)

Alison brings to her role as teacher an impressive combination of skills – passion, knowledge and depth of experience in the craft of writing, expert facilitation skills that creates a safe space for participants, and a seamless ability to keep the group moving. But what sets Alison apart is her unique ability to support people in their frailty as they explore sometimes difficult material in their lives or the lives of their characters. Alison’s immense humanity never makes a writer feel like they are going somewhere entirely alone. There’s always the feeling that she’ll catch you if you fall, and guide you back to the work at hand – the gift of storytelling.  (Tessa V.)

The only thing better than reading Alison’s blog posts or listening to her podcast is spending time with her in the writing workshops. She quickly helped me generate material which later became a short series of poems. Sharpen your #2s and get to writing. (William B.)

Prompts that prompt you to stretch your thinking, tips that you can use beyond the class, and discussions that lead to insights make Alison’s workshops worth every minute you spend with her. (Pauline C.)

I’ve taken several of Alison McGhee’s workshops and have loved every one of them. Alison is not only a wonderful writer, she is a terrific teacher. Alison has a true gift of connection and of helping her students tap into the deepest, juiciest parts of themselves and their fictional characters and share those parts on the page. Take any–and all–of Alison’s offerings! (Diane G.)

Alison is so very kind and responsive.  Her prompts are the most inventive I have ever seen. She gently guides you into new territory and eases you into taking writing risks without you realizing it. Take one of her workshops and reap the benefits. (Keyan K.)

Brand-new upcoming creative writing workshops!

 

SECOND CLASS ADDED! August 1, 9-1, Creative Writing Kickstart: Writing from Life

NOTE: DEAR FRIENDS, THE FIRST CLASS FILLED IMMEDIATELY SO I’M ADDING A SECOND SECTION THE DAY AFTER, ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 1, FROM 9 AM TO 1 PM, AT 3554 BRYANT AVENUE SOUTH IN UPTOWN MINNEAPOLIS.

Date and venue have changed, but everything else remains the same. Changes below noted IN CAPS.

* * *

Greetings, friends, Minnesotans and countrypeople,

I’m offering a one-day Creative Writing Kickstart workshop on SATURDAY MORNING, AUGUST 1 in Minneapolis. The focus of the Kickstart is writing from life: where you are now, where you were, and points in between. We’ll do several brief writings, discuss some short published works (provided) and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great.

The class will be intensive but fun and low-key. It’s designed for writers of all abilities, experience levels and genres. If you’re a longtime writer in need of a boost or someone who’s always had an interest in writing but never known how to sit down and get started, join us!

Limited to fifteen. I’d love to see you there. If you’re interested, please email me at alison_mcghee@hotmail.com to reserve a spot.

Date: SATURDAY, AUGUST 1
Time: 9 am-1 pm
Place: 3554 BRYANT AVENUE SOUTH, MINNEAPOLIS, MN 55408. The Community Gathering Room in Uptown Minneapolis, right on the corner of Bryant and 36th, between Bogart’s Donuts and Gigi’s Cafe. Parking both on-street and in their lot. Community Room.
Cost: $75, including hand-outs, payable via check, Paypal, or cold hard cash.
Bring: yourself, a pen and a notebook or your quiet laptop. Lots of beverages (including beer!) and tasty treats and sandwiches and salads available at Bogart’s and Gigi’s.

Poem of the Week, by Lianne Spidel

The workshops I teach, at my non-traditional, designed-for-working-adults university, are filled with all kinds of characters, with characters meaning people: tattoo artists, auto mechanics, journalists, pearl-wearing grandmothers, cops, military vets, hairdressers, graphic designers and you name it, you get the picture. Within the first class, friendships and alliances are formed. I can’t even call them unlikely alliances, because they aren’t. People are people, first and always. “A gentle affinity.”
Summer School
           – Liann Spidel
Because I needed to know for a poem,
I asked the science teacher sitting
next to me (the one they teased
about his massive chest) to explain
to me the composition of a cloud.
He had already told me he was there
only for the credit, a step up
on the salary scale. His wife
wanted a bigger house, the kids
were growing, he was overwhelmed

with bills and coaching.
I said, “When you’re my age
it will empty out.
There’s too much, then all
at once there’s almost nothing.”

When he answered me about the cloud,
his voice went soft:
“Moisture on dust,” and when
I asked him “in” or “on,”
he said it didn’t matter

either way. We never shared
a coffee and spoke only
of casual things, a still viable
jock and a graying grandmother
pretending to concentrate on the course

content, side by side through indolent
hours, easy in the peaceful co
existence a couple of prepositions
had provided–a gentle affinity,
pleasure like moisture on dust.

​For more information on Lianne Spidel, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lianne-spidel​


My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Two one-day creative writing workshops, Northfield, MN, 24 January 2010

typewriter-have-a-wonderful-dayI’m pleased to announce two one-day creative writing workshops, Writing from Photographs and The Art of Writing Picture Books, to be held in Northfield, MN on Sunday, January 24. Fellow writer Brad Zellar and I will be teaching the workshops concurrently. See below for details, and please forward this email to any friends and writers who may be interested. Thanks!

Workshop #1: Writing from Photographs: Inside and Outside the Frame
Date and Time: Sunday, January 24, 1-5 p.m.
Location: Northfield Arts Guild, 304 Division Street South, Northfield, MN
Cost: $50 (includes all materials)

It’s said that every picture tells a story, but that’s only true if we apply our memories and imaginations to reconstructing or re-imagining the constellation of circumstances and details that literally frame all photos. In a sense, then, a photo is actually a mere scene from a story –a beginning or an end, perhaps, or a mysterious, poignant, or telling incident that unlocks the story’s secrets.

What would the complete picture have shown that the photo does not? What happened just before the shutter was snapped, and just after? Time is forever frozen in the image, but life went on before and after that particular moment, and that life, and those details, are the proper story of the most evocative photos.

Bring in three photos of your own, ones whose largely untold stories fascinate or resonate on some imaginative level, and we’ll provide others. Through a series of guided writing exercises, discussion, and analysis of both published and peer writing, you’ll come away with insights and techniques for character development, scene setting and storytelling, both real and imagined. All experience levels welcome.

Brad Zellar is a writer, editor, photographer, and former bookstore owner. His journalism, fiction, and photography have been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines, journals, and anthologies. He is the recipient of awards from The Society of Professional Journalists, The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and the Minnesota Magazine Association. For as long as he can remember he has used found photographs as inspiration for fiction, poetry, and essays. Zellar is the author of “Suburban World: The Norling Photos” (Borealis Press, 2008), which the Coen brothers used as their primary reference for their most recent movie, A Serious Man.

Workshop #2: The Art of Writing Picture Books
Date and Time: Sunday, January 24, 1-5 p.m.
Location: Northfield Arts Guild, 304 Division Street South, Northfield, MN
Cost: $50 (includes all materials)

Anyone who has ever read a book to a child over and over (and over and over) knows the power of the best picture books, those astonishing collaborations in which illustrations and text both reflect and deepen each other. Text and art are inseparable; two halves make up a greater whole. “Goodnight, Moon,” anyone? “Where the Wild Things Are?”

How does a writer approach the telling of a book in which the illustrations are half the equation? What sorts of subject matter are possible, and how best can you present them? What are the central questions and tension of your story? What’s the best pacing for such a compact (thirty-two pages) book? Through a variety of in-class writing exercises, discussion of published materials, and lecture, you will gain an understanding of the questions, challenges and delights of picture book writing. Instructor will also explain the submission and publishing process of picture book writing. All experience levels welcome.

Alison McGhee is a Pulitzer prize nominee who writes novels, picture books and poems for all ages. She is the recipient of many awards, including four Minnesota Book Awards, a Best Books for Young Adults award, and three Booksense 76 picks. She is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of several picture books, including “Someday” and “Only a Witch Can Fly,” which the New York Times recently named one of the Best Ten Illustrated Books of 2009.

Each class is limited to 20 students. Please email alison_mcghee@hotmail.com to register. Looking forward to seeing you in January!

Creative Writing Three-Day Intensive Workshops

typewriter-have-a-wonderful-day.JPG

If you’re a wordsmith looking for a brief, fun and intensive workshop, you might be interested in one of the three-day classes that fellow writer Brad Zellar and I are launching in January.

These new workshops, each of which focuses on a different subject, are ideal for writers with significant life experience – fifty and up, say – but open to writers of any age and experience level who would enjoy and benefit from a focused creative writing experience.

The workshops will be team-taught by Brad and me, and the first two will be offered in January 2009 at the Minneapolis Central and Washburn Community Libraries. Registration is limited, and cost is $150. Descriptions are below. For more information, please email us here or at librariesonfire@gmail.com.

Workshop #1: Writing From Photographs: Inside and Outside the Frame
Dates and Time: January 6-8, Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

It’s said that every picture tells a story, but that’s only true if we apply our memories and imaginations to reconstructing or re-imagining the constellation of circumstances and details that literally frame all photos. In a sense, then, a photo is actually a mere scene from a story –a beginning or an end, perhaps, or a mysterious, poignant, or telling incident that unlocks the story’s secrets. A photo is a connection to the past, a memory, a tangible connection, but it’s far more than that. What at first glance appears to be the main focus – the person or building or scene – is only a hint of what came before and after.

Consider the periphery – what was happening in the margins of the frame? And what about the world beyond the frame – what was left out or cropped? What would the complete picture have shown that the photo does not? What happened just before the shutter was snapped, and just after? Time is forever frozen in the image, but life went on before and after that particular moment, and that life, and those details, are the proper story of the most evocative photos.

Bring in three photos of your own, ones whose largely untold stories fascinate or resonate on some imaginative level, and we’ll provide others. Through a series of guided writing exercises, discussion, and analysis of both published and peer writing, you’ll come away with insights and techniques for character development, scene setting and
storytelling, both real and imagined. This workshop is designed for writers of fiction, memoir, poetry and essays. Ideal for ages 50+, but open to anyone. All experience levels welcome.

Workshop #2: Writing from Place
January 13, 14, and 16 (note: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday), 12:30-3:30 p.m.

Recall some of your favorite books. What part did the setting and landscape play in making these books unforgettable? Is there a place in your own life that haunts you, that is inextricably bound with your memories and the experiences that made you who you are? All writing, no matter the subject or genre, is made more powerful by a powerfully-evoked setting. This three-day intensive class will help you conjure places of great meaning to you, whether beautiful or ugly, real or imagined, and translate that power onto the page.

Through a series of guided writing exercises, discussion, and analysis of both published and in-class writing, you’ll come away with insights and techniques for conjuring place, whether from your own life or a fictive world. This workshop is designed for writers of
fiction, memoir, poetry and essays. Ideal for ages 50+, but open to anyone. All experience levels welcome.