In this online generative workshop, we’ll practice writing as a process of accretion, starting small and layering, adding texture and depth to our memoirs or personal and lyric essays.

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Eight Tuesdays, Oct 3-Nov 21, 7-9pm
Open to all
Limited to 12 participants
Online via Zoom

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay. Ongoingness, by Sarah Manguso. Persephone’s Children, by Rowan McCandless. Citizen, by Claudia Rankine. Safekeeping, by Abigail Thomas. What these and many other contemporary memoirs and book-length essays share is that they build in fragments. Each fragment may be less than a page long, and the one that follows may or may not appear to be related. Yet somehow, layer upon layer, the fragments cohere into a rich and satisfying whole. In this online generative workshop, we’ll take a cue from books like these. We’ll practice writing as a process of accretion, starting small and layering, adding texture and depth to our memoirs or personal and lyric essays. 

Each class will begin with a warm-up invitation, followed by conversation about a short reading related to the technique or form of the day. A second writing invitation will give you the chance to practice what we’ve discussed. You’ll also get opportunities to share your work.

You’ll come away with one or more short essays (in draft) and/or the beginning of a longer piece.

This workshop is suitable for participants at all levels. Poets wanting to move to prose and fiction writers may also enjoy it, because the exercises will be adaptable to these genres. Come prepared to write, to read, to experiment, to share.

  • Week 1: The Fragment and the Flash.
  • Week 2:  Collage. Contrast, juxtaposition, the unexpected. 
  • Week 3:  The Braid. Parallel narratives.
  • Week 4:  The Hermit Crab. The borrowed form.
  • Week 5: The Hermit Crab. More borrowings.
  • Week 6: Diptych or Triptych.
  • Week 7: Visual Essay.
  • Week 8: Accretion as Method and Aesthetic.

Note: Participants might wish to read one or more of the books mentioned above before the course begins, but there’s no requirement to do so. I’ll provide reading material before or during each class, and a list of suggested resources at the end.

Workshop leader

Credit: Hélène Cyr
Susan Olding is the author of Big Reader: Essays, a finalist for the Canadian Authors Association Fred Kerner Award and the Alberta Publishing Awards Trade Nonfiction Book of the Year, and Pathologies: A Life in Essays, selected by 49th Shelf and as one of 100 Canadian books to read in a lifetime. She mentors writers through the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive and holds the 2023 Southam Residency in Personal Journalism at the University of Victoria. You can find her at


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