Fall online Stanford Continuing Studies class open for registration August 21st (registration does fill fast!):

Mastering the Personal Essay with the Masters

The personal essay allows us to take a small moment of life and use it as a portal into deep questions of human experience: No wonder the genre is in a moment of high renaissance! In this course, we will approach the personal essay the way painters approach their discipline: by first analyzing, then “copying” our forebears. To accomplish this, as a class we will devote one full week to closely reading short essays by such diverse writers as Grace Paley, Ann Daum, Dinty Moore, Joan Didion, and James Baldwin. The following week, you will draft one “imitation”—an original work that borrows the published writer’s structure or style—for feedback from your classmates and the instructor. By week six, you will have written three personal essays. Then, for the final month, you will tap your own personal mix of influences to produce an essay that will be workshopped by the entire class. Along the way, you will learn to mine your richest material, make the most of thought-provoking images, and craft endings that resonate. By “imitating” the masters, you will, paradoxically, find your unique voice.

Preliminary syllabus available here: Howard Fall 17 Prelim Syllabus.

Click here to register.


Also, by request, for groups of three or more, I teach:


Everything You Need to Move from Middle Stage to Finished Book

This class takes place entirely online, in a video classroom called ZOOM.

Four two-hour sessions, spaced apart at least two weeks.

Cost: $595.

Limited to three committed memoirists; email Rachel at rachel.howard@gmail.com to inquire about arranging a session.

Class description: Are you deep into writing a memoir and tired of having it critiqued in 20-page snippets? Ready to get bigger-picture response to issues like structure and narrative arc, but not quite at the stage when you need a full manuscript review? This is a memoir workshop for writers at that rich but tricky middle stage when piecemeal feedback no longer cuts it.

In this class, limited to three committed students, writers will submit a long section of their memoirs-in-progress—between 75 and 100 pages–along with a projected book outline. Our first session will be dedicated to a comprehensive lecture on big-picture craft concepts for memoir: Setting up the story engine, interplay of scene and reflection, character development, lines of tension, finding the narrative “turn,” and more. In subsequent sessions, we’ll workshop your manuscripts, one writer per week, following a guided process. You’ll learn a wealth about memoir by critiquing fellow workshop members, and benefit from a thorough discussion of your own work. You’ll emerge with a clearer sense of your memoir as a whole, and clear steps for taking it towards completion.

NOTE: This workshop is limited to three members. A firm commitment to reciprocating feedback and attending all sessions is required.

Unsolicited feedback from the previous session’s Monster Memoir Manuscript students:

That you could see the arc and the themes that I thought were there was so gratifying and encouraging to me. Now, no matter how much more work I need to do on this, I feel that I actually have a book with an arc that works here, and that is enough to keep me going for as long as it takes! Rachel, thanks for setting up the questions and the writing and discussion process that brought out so much positive encouragement as well as such thoughtful helpful suggestions. It really worked!


I was really impressed with your comments . . . it’s a huge talent to be able to see the depths of possibility for a story in progress.


I would like to express my gratitude for your support over the past several months. I enjoyed working with you and the group and even though there is still a lot of work ahead before I can call it a book, I am energized and excited to get it done.


Other Recent Past Classes:

I taught three one-day classes at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto this summer. These classes are short but highly substantive–a great way to get new kick in your writing, and new tools in your writing toolbox, in just three or four hours. The Grotto is located at 490 2nd St., in the SOMA neighborhood.

Three-D Writing: How to Go from “Flat” to Wow

SATURDAY, JUNE 24 | “Flat” writing hands off lifeless information in a two-dimensional exchange between reader and writer. Three-dimensional writing places the reader in a charged space of heightened experience, renewed perspective, and active meaning-making. How is that three-dimensionality created, and what do you do when you find your language stuck in 2-D? This combination lecture and workshop for writers of fiction and literary nonfiction examines specific strategies for three-dimensionality drawn from contemporary writers like Sheila Heti, Jo Ann Beard, and Maggie Nelson, and classics by Marguerite Duras and Bruno Schulz. We will try out new techniques and tricks—but ultimately what you will achieve is a shift in consciousness that will help make your writing spacious and transporting.

Time: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Date: Saturday, June 24

Course fee: $88

Click here to register.


Give Your Memoir a Narrative Engine

SATURDAY, JULY 29 | Why do some memoirs take off from the first page, while others stall out before the end of chapter one? More importantly: How can you make sure the memoir you’re writing gets all the necessary gears lined up on those all-important first five pages?

In this combination craft lecture and trouble-shooting workshop, you’ll learn the three Cs of narrative engine: Character, Conflict, and Clock. What’s clock, you say? Glad you asked. It’s a simple but elusive element that’s crucial to your story’s drive—but many memoir writers don’t realize their pages are missing it. Character and conflict are also more complex than they first appear. Drawing from the teachings of novelist David Haynes and Lisa Cron’s excellent book Wired for Story, this class will demystify all three Cs, then lead you through exercises and instructor feedback to identify Character, Conflict, and Clock in your narrative. Does your character have a compelling inner issue? Is your conflict harnessed to a theme that makes it meaningful? You’ll leave this class with the major story elements of your memoir clarified, and your narrative engine ready to rev.

Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Date: Saturday, July 29

Course fee: $95

Click here to register.


Poet’s Tools for Fiction and Nonfiction

SUNDAY, AUGUST 20 | In an eye-opening craft essay, the poet Tony Hoagland identifies three “power centers” that poets work from: Image, Diction, and Rhetoric. Hoagland’s essay may be pitched to poets, but getting in touch with these “power centers” can be ransformative for prose writers, too. In this short but substantive one-day class for memoirists, essayists, and fiction writers, we’ll closely read and thoroughly digest Hoagland’s article, then apply it to the widely-loved Annie Dillard essay, “Living Like Weasels.” Examining your own work, you’ll consider whether your writing is currently strongest in Image, Diction, or Rhetoric. And you’ll experiment, via in-class exercises, with strengthening the “power centers” you’ve neglected. This class is not a “kick-back” experience; you will be asked to read closely and think deeply. But the power gained in your prose writing can lead to significant breakthroughs.

Time: 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Date: Sunday, August 20

Course fee: $75

Click here to register.


I’ll was on staff July 9th-15th at the extraordinarily supportive and stimulating Squaw Valley Community of Writers.


For the Summer 17 quarter, I taught Writing About Spirituality for Stanford Continuing Studies’ online program.

Course description:  Our spiritual experiences stir our most urgent desire to communicate. We burn to share the questions and convictions that draw us to a reality beyond our limited selves. But how do we work with language to contain the ineffable? How do we write about spirituality without oversimplifying infinite complexities? How can our writing reach those who already share our beliefs and those who don’t?

In this course, we will read the work of inspiring spiritual writers representing a wide range of faith traditions, from the essays of Catholic memoirist Mary Karr to the Dharma talks of Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön to the contemplative journals of Muslim poet Kazim Ali. During our first six weeks, we will alternate between “reading weeks,” in which we deeply examine and contemplate our model texts, and “writing weeks,” in which we draft new work. During our final month, each student will workshop a longer essay or spiritual memoir. By reading published spiritual writers closely, we will find new ways to point to a truth beyond language in our own work.
Although the time commitment for an online writing course is dependent upon one’s degree of participation, students should plan on investing four to six hours per week in order to gain substantial benefit from the course.

Rachel Howard, Author

Rachel Howard is the author of a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder, The Lost Night. Her personal essays have appeared in Gulf Coast, Waxwing, Arroyo Literary Review, O, The Oprah Magazine, Berfrois, Canteen, The New York Times “Draft” series, and elsewhere. She received an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College, and later served there as interim director of undergraduate creative writing. She has also taught in the MFA program of Saint Mary’s College.