Writing Women (Online)

Improving | Fiction

What kind of writing effectively captures the textures and quandaries of women’s lives? What techniques will you need to bring these textures into your own writing?

Taught by Katherine Angel, with guest tutor TBC.

Renewed attention is currently being paid to writings which address the particular textures of women’s experience, and the complex situations in which they find themselves in times of intense and overt misogyny. Novelists, memoirists, and essayists alike are evoking women’s lives as they unfold in and are shaped by injustices such as racism and classism. But how does a writer capture and represent what an individual woman’s life feels like – and which women are we talking about exactly?

Looking at techniques from a range of forms, and focusing on linguistic elements rather than strict genre categories, we will ask what makes good writing about women. How do we evoke the complex webs of injustice that shape women’s lives without being clunky, preachy or didactic? How do we persuade readers of a viewpoint, without either speaking to the gallery or alienating an audience? How we do portray, intimately, what an experience feels like, and how do we link it to wider social phenomena? And how do we mine our own individual lives – or those around us – in our writing?

The course will look at extracts by a wide range of writers – including Sarah Moss, Sophie Mackintosh, Kirsten Roupenian, Carmen Maria Machado, Maggie Nelson, Cathy Park Hong, Anne Boyer and Jia Tolentino – and use extracts from their work to illustrate and concretise contemporary trends in women’s writing.

Whether you are a novelist, a short-story writer, a memoirist, an essayist, or a combination of these, this course will help you create compelling writing through an examination of sensory evocation, narrative action, tone, and structure, across both fiction and non-fiction. Join Katherine Angel in our new, specially designed online classroom for five days of group discussion and individual exercises to help you build technical confidence and skill.

16th - 20th August 2021

Availability: In stock

10 Places

The session will begin at 10am each morning in our online classroom, with discussion time and an exercise followed by writing time in the afternoon.

Day One: Under the skin

In this session we will explore how an evocation of sensory detail – allowing the reader to be zipped into the narrator’s skin, as Mary Karr has put it – can convey a huge amount about both character and the context in which that character develops. Focusing on physical sensation tells us not just about an individual, but implicitly about the political and social world in which she lives. A highly focused writing exercise will help you to practice zooming into a small physical detail in order to reveal a larger whole.

Day Two: Narration and action, showing and telling

What counts as action? What is an event? Is something that doesn’t happen an event, equivalent to something that does happen? Is a feeling an event? In this session we will look at narration and action; at how a writer recounts a story, how she manipulates time and both action and non-action, to build up a complex picture of a woman’s gendered experience of the world. A writing exercise will encourage you to produce a piece of writing which, to all appearances seems to be primarily action, but which conveys so much more.

Day Three: Guest tutor

Guest tutor TBC will take the reins.

Day Four: Voice, tone, and style

It is not easy to write well from one’s own life—to make a story out of a situation, as Vivian Gornick puts it, and to ‘pull a narrator’ out of one’s ‘agitated and boring self’. How to mine the self while also looking outwards, and drawing readers in? In this session we will look at how the attitude a writer takes to herself is key to an exploration of gender, power, and race.

A writing exercise will ask you to focus on a particular scene from your own life, and to find ways to explore it with both investment and detachment. ‘A memoir fails if the narrator fails to change over time’, wrote Mary Karr. You will explore ways to write with a sense of movement and flexibility.

Day Five: Structure and what to include

The essay is enjoying a renewed popularity, with publishers publishing many women writers of essay, and the form is being brilliantly put to feminist ends. What is an essay, and how does its exploratory, open-ended form enable exploration? What makes a good essay exciting rather than loose and overly meandering, and full of possibilities rather than closing down of ideas? And how does a writer wield multiple elements without losing or confusing a reader? The balance is difficult to get right, and we’ll figure out what makes it work. A clue: structure is key.

A writing exercise will challenge you to write about something you feel passionate or curious about—something in which you are invested—without assuming that the reader will feel the same way.

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Katherine Angel is the author of Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again (Verso, 2021), Daddy Issues...

"There's no point staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike - to get your creative muscles working you need to start writing, reviewing and sharing your work."

Helen Shipman