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Featured Online Class on Short Forms

Writing the Hermit Crab Essay and Other Related Creative Nonfiction Forms

Writing the Hermit Crab Essay and Other Related Creative Nonfiction Forms  by Sheila Bender

START DATE: Monday, August 21, 2023

END DATE: Sunday, October 1, 2023

DURATION:  6 weeks

LOCATION:  Private Google Group

FEEDBACK:  Detailed Instructor Feedback and Encouraging Peer Workshop

COURSE DESCRIPTION:   The writer Brenda Miller coined the term Hermit Crab essay for her book Tell It Slant co-authored with Suzanne Paola to suggest that non-fiction writing can be structured by borrowing a form we are familiar with from other writings that are not considered essays: prayers, bus schedules, recipes, how-to manuals or tv scripts to name a few possibilities. The idea is that by borrowing the structure (braiding, collaging, poetic language in related novel essay forms) and filling it with what we want to evoke about our personal experience we come upon surprises we might not have found otherwise. In this course, we will read a variety of essays and participants will write one of their own each week for response from the instructor and classmates.

I signed up for Sheila’s class during the pandemic because I desperately needed some structure to my days and craved deadlines to meet during this time of no time. I had also been going through a period of not writing except in my journal and hoped for a kick in the pants to get me moving. The class was perfect for me because it allowed me to write in short micro bursts but by the end of the six weeks I had completed an essay—something that I hadn’t been able to do for such a long time! The flash pieces unlocked some creative doors that I was able to walk through, and almost without my realizing it, ideas and enthusiasm started flowing. Sheila’s suggestions and edits helped me see my writing through a different lens and improve it immeasurably. At the end of the class, I have three pieces that, with more work, might be in shape to be submitted for publication. In the long run, though, the best result of the class was to interest me in my own writing again! ~ Nikki Hardin

We did it with wonderful inspiration from Sheila. Each day I was excited to see what was coming from Sheila and all of you. Sheila brought me out of the Covid fog where I was languishing. ~ Marion Karian

This was my first online class, and because my system isn’t compatible with Google it took a while to work out the kinks. During the adjustment, Sheila was the epitome of patience. Although out of my comfort zone, I learned so much from Sheila’s critiques as well as from my fellow classmates. A great way to spend a pandemic. ~ Mary Shehadey

Thanks Sheila, you’ve been an outstanding instructor. Challenging, creative, specific yet gentle in your feedback. I cannot thank you enough. ~ Christy Schwan

“Writing Short, Writing Deep” called to me. This assignment in particular, to write a flash piece, in this moment, resonated strongly. I received it as an invitation to be still and to let it flow. ... Most of all, I’m very appreciative, Sheila, of the curriculum you designed, the care you took with our writing, and the encouragement and enthusiasm you provided. ~ Joan Weber

So many things about this class and your methods improved my writing. The reader response approach for feedback you suggest, where we tell the writer what feelings their words evoke in us along with questions that arise, provides a clear framework for critique. Your feedback on my writing not only encouraged me, but also provided specific ways to improve my technique. I was excited to try the prompts, which also gave me a sense of the many different approaches to expression, from writing "in scene" about why I am moved by a vivid memory, to a second-person narration in epistolary form, to prose poetry. I will benefit from your craft expertise and warmth as a teacher for time to come, and will definitely take another of your classes! ~ Marilyn Guggenheim

I’ve taken several classes with Sheila. Always, she’s provided generous support, great tips for writing skills, and the kind of encouragement that makes me want to write more. I look forward to the process of learning how to write better. I think due to her instruction, I am becoming a better writer. ~ Cassandra Hamilton

Sheila, I will take every possible class you teach that I can get to. Your insight, knowledge, and incredible warmth and encouragement made our class the highlight of all those I’ve ever taken. Can’t thank you enough. ~ Shirley Clukey

This has been the most wonderful and challenging workshop I’ve ever taken. You introduced me to authors, techniques and mind-blowing assignments. Before this workshop, I would have never thought of writing a memoir in an essay format. You taught me a very powerful lesson of how writing to myself through a historical figure (very mysterious) can heal the spirit within, softly approaching life’s most heart wrenching problems on paper. I can’t wait to sign up for another one of your thought provoking workshops online. ~ Cheryl Kesling

I have taken several online courses with relatively famous women writers, and you have been the most giving and involved with genuine feedback and follow-through. I thank you for that. I have learned from reading your remarks to others and the assignments have been thought-provoking and challenging—just the right mix for an aspiring writer. ~ Lori Talarico


Week One:  What to borrow and how to fill that we“shell” with your own story.
What if we could write an essay using terms and arrangement such as an architect would in plans, or a landscaper would in calling for hardscape and softscape, or a marketing person would to sell a product. We will look into this and bounce our ideas off one another as well as read several model essays in the hermit crab tradition.

Assignment: Write your own hermit crab essay to share for responses that will help you know where to go in revision after class when you have some distance to get back to the draft.

Week Two:  The braided essay and ideas on what to braid and how to do it.
What unalike experiences might you braid into one essay? We will look at and discuss sample braided essays.

Assignment: Write your own braided essay to share for responses that will help you know where to go in revision after class when you have some distance to get back to the draft.

Week Three:  The collage essay: ideas on what to bring together into one “picture” and how to do it.
We will discuss the ways the collage essay takes on the transformation of individual parts into a whole.

Assignment: Write your own collage essay after studying models the instructor will post and discuss and receive classmates’ and instructor’s responses to help you in future revisions after class.

Week Four:  The lyric essay structure, how to understand the work it does and how to write it.
We will discuss essays built in fragments or “chunks” that rely on the reader to unearth a subtext of emotion that the essay’s author identifies only after arranging the parts into a whole.

Weeks Five and Six:  Revision!
Here is your opportunity to present revisions of two of the pieces you have posted during class to gather response from classmates and the instructor. You will post one in week five for response and one in week six.

Materials needed:  The instructor will post each of the 6 weeks’ lessons with exercises and models at the opening of each week so students can work on generating that writing on their own time, at their own speed during the week. She will respond to posted work within 24 - 48 hours so the writer can get started on revising. Revisions can be posted at any time during our six weeks together.

Sheila Bender

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR:  Sheila Bender, founder of, is the author of many books on writing, including the popular Writing Personal Essays: Shaping and Sharing Your Life Experience and Creative Writing DeMystified. Her memoir is entitled A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. Her newest book, Since Then: Poems and Short Prose will be available in spring 2022. She has been updating previously published books. Two of them are now available in print and digitally on Amazon and through bookstores: Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down, co-authored with Christi Killien Glover, and Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief. As a writer, teacher and editor, she believes that writing so others understand our hearts and minds helps us understand ourselves, heal grief and sadness and grow. She has presented at conferences and writers' centers including Centrum Foundation's summer Port Townsend Writer's Conference, the Whidbey Island's writer's conference workshops, the Writer's Workshoppe in Port Townsend, WA, and the Kahini writing program's writer's workshops and served as a Distinguished Lecturer in Poetry at Seattle University.

COST:  $210. The class will use a Google Groups format, to which the instructor will provide access and help learning the ropes.

BUY NOW:  Writing the Hermit Crab Essay and Other Related Creative Nonfiction Forms , by Sheila Bender (6 weeks, starting 8/21/2023) Limit: 10 students. Early registration is recommended.

This class is full. Please check here for our current schedule.

For Class Session Starting 8/21/2023


Additional Testimonials for Sheila Bender:

Thank you so much for this class, I have learned a lot and done the first new writing in a number of years. I've enjoyed it immensely. ~ Lisa Hunter

Sheila, thank you for this class. I always love your prompts, and I'm always grateful for your close reading and careful feedback. ~ Marci Bowman

Thank you so much for all the hard work you put into this workshop. I certainly learned a lot. ~ Sue Pace

. . . this has been a very productive class for me. I’ve learned a lot and feel like I have grown a lot in the process. ~ Margaret Riordon

My participation in Sheila’s “Creating the Five-Minute Memoir” class greatly expedited my work on my own memoir. Every single prompt resulted in an essay that I will easily be able to incorporate into my book; moreover, they are also evergreen and can be written from again and again. Sheila’s advice, edits, and coaching not only improved my writing, but also delivered a boost of confidence about the themes in my book. As part of our work together, she brilliantly whip-stitched my inner and outer questions together, a step that will save me untold hours as I go forward. Sheila is unique among teachers in that I believe she cares as much about her students as people as she does about their writing. This is my first class with her, and I know it will be one of many, many more! ~ Ashley Memory

Sheila, Thank you for another great writing course. I appreciated having the specific instructions each week and reading well-written models on the topic. And thanks for your invaluable feedback. ~ Debra Gilbreath

Thank you for your amazing insights and knowing just the right way to pluck at my threads to help me to open to the page. That in itself is a very rare and admirable art. ~ Cassandra Hamilton

First, I just want to say thank you for this course. I began focusing my time on writing last fall, but found that I needed some guidance. I was looking for a new perspective, a container that would help to create a form for what I was trying to capture. You have introduced some new authors that will help me to move in new directions. ~ Debra Gilbreath

What I am particularly struck by with Sheila is that she presents a great comforting wisdom from her background and experience; yet she also has an enthusiasm for the craft of writing that feels like she just got started yesterday. The enthusiasm is contagious and really inspired me to open up and let my inner critic take a break... it is a great skill and talent to mix nurturing support with honest critical comments. I feel Sheila possesses that type of talent and finesse. ~ Wendy A. Johnson


Notes: Upon successful completion of payment, your name, email address, and contact info will be submitted to your instructor.

Questions? Email Marcia & Angela at:

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