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Robin Hemley’s Nonfiction Master Class – A Wrap Up

Blog Workshops |

Robin Hemley approached this masterclass by giving the nine experienced nonfiction writing students specific and applicable advice on their nonfiction projects. In various stages of conception and completion, each class member spoke in turn about their projects, from a family’s experience organic farming in Italy to an errant expatriate writing from but no longer living in Bali. Robin had instruction, advice and stories—both personal and from his accomplished writer friends—to apply to class members’ worries over representing others, concerns on how to insert our own voices into historical stories and how to structure a compelling nonfiction book. Robin advised the class to ask themselves, over and over again: What is this story about? What is this story really about? Only then might we reach the heart of the complex reasons we have chosen to write these books, what we hope to discover, and what we aspire to convey about our deepest beliefs.
Robin told the class that he doesn’t agree with the catch-all term “creative nonfiction” because there are so many different genres of nonfiction that require different techniques, styles and tones: immersion writing, travel writing, memoir, personal essay, literary journalism. He also spoke about the very different nonfiction books and essays he has written, from a serious family memoir to immersion writing to literary investigative journalism in the Philippines. From this experience, he was able to share the ways in which the class might also think about how to strike the right tone and voice for our own projects.

That evening, Robin read from his book Do-Over, a humorous and uplifting collection of “do-overs” where, at 48, he goes back to relive his experiences summer camp, in kindergarten, at the prom, and reprises his role as the Littlest Angel in a Christmas pageant show. He read from his experience of kindergarten, involving a vengeful teacher, a teacher’s pet, and a hard handful of poo. It is clear that he has reason to want to “do-over” this experience, so as a married adult with three children, he spends a week in jilliankindergarten. Surprisingly, the students treat him as just another student, albeit bigger. After his reading, an audience member asked if this kind of writing helped him to understand his experiences better. Robin said ultimately no; he does not believe that writing can be a form of therapy, but instead a way to discover and re-live those past experiences and events in new ways.

Jillian Schedneck is the author of Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights and is currently pursuing a PhD in Gender Studies at the University of Adelaide. Jillian is a SAWC workshop assistant.

1 Comment to “Robin Hemley’s Nonfiction Master Class – A Wrap Up”

  1. […] By Jillian Schedneck On Saturday 8th June, Romance writer Cassandra Dean guided workshop members through several steps to successfully market and promote one’s book (and create a personal brand) online. Class members learned that the most important tool in online marketing is a personal and professional website. Authors must try to strike a balance between helping potential readers to feel as though they are having a personal interaction with the author, and maintaining a professional distance. Next on the list was blogs: how to create them, what authors might write about and most importantly, how to get potential readers interested. Using her own website and blog as an example, Cassandra took participants through the essential components of an author website. Cassandra also helped the workshop participants understand the importance (and great variety) of social media sites authors can choose to be involved in: facebook, twitter, goodreads, tumblr, pinterst, to name a few. The rest of the workshop led participants through online marketing tools, from securing book reviews on relevant blogs and websites to options for purchasing online promotion. The point of all these online marketing tools, Cassandra explained, was to make potential readers feel as though they are connecting with you, and not as though you are only trying to sell them something. The class was duly overwhelmed by these many avenues for online promotion and the time it would take to pursue these tactics. Throughout the workshop, Cassandra crucially reminded participants that they should only get involved in what they felt comfortable with and enjoyed doing. A veteran at online promotion herself, Cassandra enjoys sharing and updating on her very professional website and through all the social media channels. She’s been working on her website and personal brand (as well as her romance novels) for over five years. Another excellent piece of advice from Cassandra: copy authors who you think are good at promotion by using elements from their websites, and learning from how they interact on facebook and twitter. You can see Jillian’s other post here. […]

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