Thoughts on writing UC Berkeley Extension Workshop

Update on the Creative Nonfiction Workshop I’m Taking

I’m near completing the Creative Nonfiction Workshop I’m taking through U.C. Berkeley Extension. (internal link) While it has had no immediate applicability to the newspaper or magazine articles I write, it is always good to try different things.

We write in class in two ways: 1) a short amount in a writer’s forum about essays we’ve read in the textbook, and 2) a longer amount as our writing assignments. Here are the subjects of those assignments. Lengths range from 500 to 3000 words, with the longest essay the last:

  1. A profile of yourself as a writer, “[E]xplaining as best you can where you’re coming from and where you hope to go.”
  2. An essay about the essential roles you play in your life.
  3. An essay on an experience you had as a child that remains puzzling to you.
  4. A profile of someone interesting, either living or dead.
  5. A book review of a non-fiction book approved by the instructor.
  6. A 2500 to 3000 word personal memoir.

The course is founded squarely on the personal essay. I don’t see the market for this as I have no hope Harper’s or The New Yorker would ever publish my memoirs. I do not concentrate on literature, an extremely crowded field, and instead on pieces that apply directly to people’s lives.

My newspaper articles inform people about community life. My Rock&Gem articles act as an introduction to a gemstone and as a travel guide my readers might use. My previous technology pieces were interesting to anyone fascinated by the history of communications. It would take tremendous effort to interest someone in why my pet beagle once bit my hand. Or how I was bullied in third grade because I wore glasses.

I don’t mean to disparage the course. I have read many essays I would not have ordinarily read and I’ve written on topics I would not have otherwise written about. All writing practice is good. Our last assignment is a monster, a 2500 to 3000 word personal memoir. It’s due July 29th and I will need every spare moment this month to complete it. Wish me luck.


By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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