The Story Course

Did you used to write or wish you were writing?
Do you want to learn skills to write your best prose ever?

Creative writing requires presence, practice, and technique. Writers not only need to study craft, they also need to know how to move past resistance. The Story Course gives writers craft-based skills and gets them writing again in a way that is sustainable.

Are you ready to commit to writing? If so, this program is for you.

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About The Story Course:


What is The Story Course?

The Story Course (formerly called the Story Is a State of Mind course) is a self-paced, downloadable creative writing program that’s designed to transform your relationship with writing and break through resistance. The focus is on short fiction, but the techniques you’ll learn will help you write in any genre—and produce work you can be proud of. It’s a powerful, challenging, and compassionate writing program.

Our writing school started in 2011 with this one course. It holds the heart of what I teach and is the foundation program on which both The Story Intensive and The Story Workshop are based.

Registration for The Story Course is always open and you can begin anytime from anywhere. The Story Course is done at your own pace. You can do it as part of a month-long writing retreat, a seven day writing intensive, or your weekly writing workshop. Do it over the course of a year, if that’s right for you.

You decide how deep you dive. There’s no rush—once you enroll in our writing school, you have it for life: it does not expire.

As soon as you sign up you’ll receive instant access to our online classroom, where you can access all the materials. You can then either stream or download everything and work from your computer or smartphone. Or you can print out the materials and work offline.

There’s also an optional members-only, global Facebook group where you can share assignments, post questions, thoughts, and assignments, and discuss the readings and lessons with a community of like-minded writers.

Get a sneak peek inside The Story Course:

Who is The Story Course for?

Story Is a State of Mind is designed to train beginners and more advanced students. The techniques are both straightforward and challenging enough to inspire and improve writers at all levels.

If you want to work with your creative mind, not against it, The Story Course is for you. If you want to write fiction that is so honest it becomes real, this course is also for you.

That said, The Story Course is intended for those who are ready to commit to their writing.

You can do the program at your own pace but its lessons will only really take root if you commit to studying and applying each one.

Just remember, this program is self-directed and there’s no workshop/critique component. If you want an ingrained support network and deadlines, consider joining The Story Intensive.

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“For those asking about writing, motivation, blocks: check out The Story Course. Smart, encouraging, practical.”

– Margaret Atwood, Guest Contributor

The Story Course doesn’t just improve your prose.

It trains you for the long term by changing the way you think when you write creatively. You’ll learn to recognize and respect a state of mind that doesn’t get a lot of attention in your daily life. It’s a course that teaches you how to still your mind and write with fresh energy. It shows you how to be attentive and improve your craft.

At the same time, you’ll learn and practice techniques that will make you a much better writer. And to make your writing technique feel real, you’ll learn to write with your entire heart.

Most importantly, The Story Course teaches you how to get out of your own way.

It trains you to work with uncertainty, and helps you develop good habits so you can trust your own creative writing process.

Eudora Welty said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” The Story Course teaches you how to do that. You’ll experience a new level of clarity, eloquence, and productivity when you write.

There’s so much more to good writing than just plot and character and dialogue. That’s all crucial for good writing—of course it is—but there’s a deeper level that you must access when you write, if you want your work to radiate and transcend.

The Story Course will get you there.

You’ll learn how to:

  • work with your resistance, no matter how stubborn it is
  • write your first drafts better—the first time
  • make something out of nothing
  • write to feel like you’re getting away with it
  • create subtext and drama immediately
  • feel the world the way your character feels it
  • make a story feel like it existed even before you wrote it.

You’ll finish the program with:

  • a killer first draft of the best short story you’ve ever written in your life
  • techniques that will continue to help you with any creative writing project
  • a feeling of transformation.
“Beautifully imagined and crafted, this may well be the most inspiring, practical guide forwriters ever created. It combines a wise, easy approach to 21st century technology with the heart and soul of a writer. I’m amazed at what The Story Course makes possible.”

—Peter Levitt, Guest Contributor

Each lesson begins with an audio recording that features concentrated instruction and luminous inspiration. The lessons are accompanied by class notes that you can download as PDFs or print.

Lessons include readings chosen for their technical brilliance. You can read them as PDFs, on your eReader, or printed out. I talk you through the readings via audio recordings, helping you dig deeper into each story’s craft.

Video tutorials from me serve as pep talks throughout the course to give you further instruction and energy.

There are also three in-depth writing exercises for each lesson. I guide you through these exercises via audio recordings. This is where your relationship with writing will really start to evolve.

There is a final assignment for every lesson—each assignment will help you piece together a short story so by the end of the course you have a finished draft.

When you complete the program, a personalized online style diagnosis will help you take your craft to the next level. This sophisticated program will tell you who you should be reading next, and why.

Want to see exactly what you’ll be learning? Take a look at the Table of Contents here.

“The course is brilliantly constructed, interesting, and varied. I loved the writing exercises and,what’s more, I actually did them. Even though I was super busy with work, I was writing and I felt challenged and alive. Happy.”

—Monna McDiarmid, alumnus

The online classroom is straightforward, elegant and beautiful.

Lots of white space and clear, readable buttons. One click will even download the entire program to your hard drive for you. A beautiful environment makes all the difference when you’re doing creative work. So our online creative writing school was designed for usability, comfort, and elegance. An ugly website is not inspiring! Plus, all of the audio and video produce a feeling of warmth, grace, and intimacy.

If you ever run into trouble, there are explanatory videos to help you. And you can always contact us.

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You can enroll anytime and get instant access to The Story Course. Enrollment is quick and easy and there are no pre-requisites.

Once again, you’ll get:

  • 21 instructive practice writing exercises, including audio prompts
  • 7 powerful larger writing assignments, including audio prompts
  • 4 inspirational videos: pep talks that guide through the rough spots
  • 7 Reading Debriefs: podcasts that examine the craft of short fiction
  • writing style diagnosis and prescription: personalized
  • a community of like-minded writers in the private, members-only group
  • video tutorials that explain how to use the program
  • video transcripts
  • audio transcripts
  • audiobook of the entire program
  • a beautifully-designed book on the writing life: method, inspiration and instruction
  • a fiction anthology companion: 40 short stories, including both excerpts and full-length stories, carefully selected by me.


The entire program costs $275 USD (including lifetime access).

We wanted to keep the cost to you as low as possible. Permissions have been secured for everything that’s reprinted in the readings, so you can read and consult excellent stories throughout the course without having to buy an expensive, mandatory stack of books (or pirate copyrighted material).

Stop thinking about when you used to write, or how much you wish you were writing. Even if you only have ten minutes a day, you can do this.

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Refund Policy:
We have a no-refund policy on The Story Course. Click here to find out why.
“This transformed how I approach writing. I love where it takes me. You encourage individual creativity and offer the tools to go forward.”

—Naomi Adelson

FAQs About The Story Course

What is the difference between Story Is a State of Mind and The Story Course?

They’re the same thing! Our writing school started in 2011 with one downloadable course called Story Is a State of Mind. This program holds the heart of what I teach. Story Is a State of Mind has now evolved into a larger community—a school—and writers can advance their study by taking two more writing programs (The Story Intensive and The Story Workshop). All three programs are guided by the same foundation course. That foundation course is now called The Story Course.

This looks like a short story course, but I am writing a memoir (or novel, or poetry, or creative non-fiction). Will this still work for me?

I am especially passionate about reading, writing and teaching short fiction, and I created The Story Course with that focus, it’s true. But this program will teach you how to write with immediacy, mindfulness, specificity, and integrity. You will learn how to be present as you write, how to be intimate with writing itself. You’re going to learn how to transfer an experience to a reader—and this is important for writers working in all genres. I’m working on a novel now, and I’m still using all of these techniques.

When does this course start?

This is not a typical online writing course: it is an über-flexible, all-inclusive digital writing experience. That means you get to make your own schedule. As soon as you register and pay for the program, all of the video lectures, audio lessons, readings, exercises, and assignments will be made available to you right away. At that point you will also be given access to the online classroom and the private discussion group, where conversations about the lessons are happening in real time. I will not be presenting live weekly lectures. That’s how I can make this program so affordable and make it available to so many writers around the world at once. I wanted to create the most inspired, valuable, powerful writing course I could imagine, so I recorded my lectures and made my lessons as digitally interactive as I could. And I made sure that you could access them anytime, anywhere.You will have lifelong access to these lessons. There is no expiration date. The classroom is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This sounds great! But I know myself—I have so much resistance, I probably won’t finish the self-paced program. I wish this exact class was offered as a live workshop, with other writers. I want deadlines, discussion groups, and feedback on my assignments. Do you ever offer something like that?

Yes! Twice a year, I offer The Story Intensive—this is a guided semester that takes you through The Story Course with a small group of writers. You get individual attention, deadlines, discussion, and feedback—plus master classes with guest contributors. Space is limited for this program, but you can get on the wait list now—I’ll send you an email when registration opens (that is if registration is currently closed).

But how much time will this program take? When will I be finished?

The Story Course is broken into seven modules. I designed each module to approach the depth and breadth of a three-hour weekly lecture and workshop, plus an hour or two of homework each week. I wanted it to approximate an eight-week writing course (including a reading week). But this is only a rough guide. One of the major benefits of this course is that you drive it. You set your own deadlines. You can nibble at these lessons a little at a time. You can take a month or two with each lesson. You can even work on the assignments more than once to challenge yourself at different levels as you progress. Or you might decide to block time off in your calendar for a writing retreat, download the whole thing at once, and turn the course into a one or two week writing intensive. It’s all up to you. I would not recommend doing the whole course in less than a week, though. That would probably be too intense, and you want time to practice.

Can I email you for support if I have questions about the lessons?

If you experience some technical difficulties with the downloads, the MP3s, or the video, please contact us for tech support.Because this is a self-directed program, I won’t be available for solo support when questions come up for you about your work. I’m not doing much one-on-one coaching anymore—for now, I am focused on writing my new book. However, if you’re looking for more support while you work on The Story Course, consider taking The Story Intensive. You can also consider inviting a writing partner to do it with you. Or you can purchase multiple copies of the program as a writing group, and then share your writing assignments with each other each week. (See next question.)

Is there any way to share my ideas with other people who are taking this course?

Why yes! When you register and pay for The Story Course, you’ll be given a password and login so you can access the private web pages for each of the seven course modules. That’s where you will download all of your course materials, listen to the audio instruction, and watch the video lectures. There’s also a private discussion group on Facebook where you can post your comments and share your thoughts and questions about each lesson. You’ll be invited to interact with everyone else who is in the program right now, and join the online discussion.

There’s just a password protecting those pages? So what happens if I just share that password with my friends?

Well, I’d rather you didn’t. I love this program, and I’ve done everything in my power to make sure it is just right for writers who need support and inspiration. I created it using massive amounts of my heart and energy and life, and I think that’s part of what makes it so special. The thing is, I have faith in integrity and fairness. I generally trust people. So I made The Story Course a price that is accessible and an incredible value. I also pay authors their copyright fee every time someone buys their work, so I ask that you don’t distribute this without paying for it.

How is this different from other creative writing courses?

In some ways, it isn’t: you will learn and practice the fundamentals of writing scene, dialogue, character, and plot, just like you would in a creative writing MFA or continuing education program at a good college or university. You will also learn how to stay present and focused, and how to write from your heart and not just your head—just like you would learn at a yoga, meditation and writing workshop. The Story Course is like other writing courses in these ways, but not only is it much less expensive than other writing workshops, it’s infinitely more flexible. Once you download it, it becomes your own course. You direct your own study: you can choose when and where you will read and write, and you can choose who to write with (if anyone). I’ve taken the most powerful things I’ve learned from all of the best writing programs I’ve attended—meditation and writing with Natalie Goldberg, one-on-one mentorship at The Banff Centre for the Arts, a full creative writing MFA at the University of British Columbia—and I’ve built an experience that I sincerely hope will transcend what you would find in any writing course elsewhere.

I’m not great with computers. Is it going to be hard to figure out all the technology?

I know. There is nothing more frustrating than fighting with technology. Despite what it might look like, I am not a techy person either. Because I built this program myself, I had to make sure that I understood exactly how it all worked. I’ve made it as simple and straightforward and intuitive as possible, for all users. I even tested it on my mom, who is “not at one with the computer” (her words), to make sure that it’s a smooth, easy process. As long as you have a good high-speed connection, this will work on your computer. You click on the links marked audio to listen, you click on the links that look like videos to watch. You click on the links that say download when you want to download lessons to your computer. I also recommend printing out the lessons so you don’t have to read from the computer screen. The lessons look very pretty, even if you don’t print them in colour. And you should do all of your writing by hand, in a notebook.It all sounds easy because it really is easy! Promise.

Is there a guarantee or refund policy, in case I don’t like the lessons?

First of all, I really don’t think that’s going to happen. I think you’re going to love these lessons, and I think the work you do in this program will revitalize your relationship to writing. If you commit yourself to put your full heart and mind into these assignments, it’s going to change the way you think about your work as a writer. It might even change your life. I mean that. This is a non-refundable investment in your writing. When you make this purchase, you are promising to explore and practice. You’ll be paying for it the way you would pay for a degree, an all-inclusive retreat, a counselling session, an art show, or a ticket on an overnight train. I know that online sales expectations are distinctly pro-refund, and I understand the reason for that. I considered it for this program. But after some thought, I realized that I didn’t feel right about offering a money back guarantee on a creative experience.

Can I buy this as a gift for someone else, like my mom, my best friend, or my boyfriend/girlfriend?

Now, that is a sweet question. That person is lucky to have you. Yes, of course. Here is a special order form. When you purchase the course for someone else, we’ll send you the receipt and a beautiful PDF gift certificate with instructions for your giftee to access the program.

I love the story course and I think it’s outstanding! I want to spread the word. Can I post a link on my site?

Thank you! Nothing would make me happier! Word of mouth is the way I have always promoted my writing classes, and I would be honoured to have you post a link. Click here for information about the Story Is a State of Mind Ambassador Program, so I can thank you for spreading the word.

Still have a question? Email us at: [email protected].
Or get in touch with us through our Facebook page.
”There is no course like this in university, I’m certain; it’s priceless. Every time I work on it, I’m so grateful that I have it.”

—Steph VanderMeulen

Table of Contents

  • How To Prepare: notes and thoughts on the readings, videos, audio files, timing, supplies, how to set up your space, and the importance of accountability
  • How are you and writing doing these days?
  • Take a look at your relationship.
  • Language: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
  • Or, why is writing so difficult?
  • How to Freewrite: the rules of the practice, from Natalie Goldberg
  • Start here: get your words on the page with a fresh state of mind
  • A word about showing vs. telling
  • Write without judgment
  • Use your pen like a divining rod
  • The subtle art of moment to moment awareness
  • 3 practice exercises: non-sequiturs, the Ouija board, and digging in memory
  • 2 stories to study: the flow state
  • Reading Debrief podcast: find the energy and hold
  • Assignment: writing without borders
  • Intermission: What do you do if you feel overwhelmed?
Lesson Two: What Starts A Story?
  • A word on notebooks and the best way to use them
  • Beginnings: anxiety-producing or thrilling?
  • Learn from other authors: how to begin
  • What makes an idea worth following?
  • Don’t start at the beginning
  • The firecrackers that are first sentences
  • 3 practice exercises: power + simplicity, portraits + ambiguity, discovery
  • 7 readings to study: what sparkles, astounds
  • 1 story to study: starting with the heart: give access to your emotions
  • Reading Debrief podcast: humour + sorrow, the magic combination
  • Assignment: Five foolproof ways to start a story
  • Video: On Memory and Imagination
  • Intermission: The answer is maddeningly ambiguous and incredibly liberating.
Lesson Three: Character
  • The infinite depth of character work + how to open yourself up to it
  • What a privilege it is, to create a person!
  • Your story can only move the reader’s heart if you move your own heart first
  • Write composite characters, unlikeable characters, characters who are alive
  • How to observe + listen, get out of the way + invite humility
  • Essential Questions for Character 1: The Basics
  • Essential Questions for Character 2: Go Deep
  • Essential Questions for Character 3: Find the Truth
  • 3 practice exercises (including fieldwork): eavesdropping, interviews + talismans
  • 2 stories to study: how to write with empathy
  • Reading Debrief podcast: what the character doesn’t remember + when two become one
  • Assignment: all you need for story is character: I promise
  • Video: On Feeling Interested in What You’re Writing About
  • Intermission: What I wish someone told me about writing years ago.
Lesson Four: Dialogue
  • Why it’s the best part of anything we read
  • The two levels of subtext you must know and understand
  • Write your characters into corners
  • Turn eavesdropping into an art form
  • A note on punctuation: whatever you do, get this right
  • The Dialogue Manifesto: the guide that will crack your story open
  • 3 practice exercises: being “on point,” dropped hints, and the under-layer
  • 4 readings to study: sculpting conversation in 4 different ways
  • 3 stories to study: voice, intimacy, subtext
  • Reading Debrief podcast: a crucial interrogation of scene + subtext
  • Assignment: find the balance between dialogue + exposition
  • Video: How to Make Your First Drafts Better the First Time
  • Intermission: Go slow. Write your dialogue with love.
Lesson Five: Plot and Drift
  • Become familiar with uncertainty
  • The art happens when you go off track
  • Metaphor: it’s not what you think
  • Trust the illogical, train yourself to trust what you don’t understand
  • Your story is always smarter than you are
  • Work lily pad to lily pad—let the meaning of your work shift as you write it
  • 3 practice exercises (including special worksheet and 2 audio guides): trust uncertainty + first thoughts, interconnectedness + how celery is just like a staircase
  • 2 stories to study: when digressing turns into the plot
  • Reading Debrief podcast: muscles, faith + image-confidence
  • Assignment: an idea is not necessary – go for the unpredictable
  • Intermission: Stay present on the page as you write.
Lesson Six: Consciousness
  • A Point of View Primer: Technical Jargon + examples
  • Why POV is the most important decision you make when you write
  • Notice things the way your character would notice them
  • Get into the minds of your characters so their actions are saturated with truth + power
  • 3 practice exercises: style as template, 3 ways into a gallery opening, wedding or crime, the guided non-sequitur as story generator
  • 10 readings to study: what you can do with a strong point of view
  • 1 story to study: the unreliable narrator
  • Reading Debrief podcast: it can’t be easy, and yet, he does it
  • Assignment: turn 100 sentences into a short story (it’s easier than it sounds)
  • Intermission: You can’t cheat point of view.
Lesson Seven: Influence
  • The literary chain-letter
  • Writing from the Discomfort Zone
  • You will write with distinction when you read with it
  • When something comes alive to you, notice why it does
  • How to develop your unique style + voice
  • Style Diagnosis Quiz: find out who you should be reading right now
  • How to read your style prescription
  • Articulate your deep inspection of the work: this is why you write
  • 3 practice exercises: Mad Libs, the 180, and the essay
  • 9 stories to study: influential pairings through time and space
  • Reading Debrief podcast: the DNA of fiction
  • Assignment: protect one full week for your writing
  • Video: Now, Write the Story.
  • Intermission: You cannot know your story until it has been told.

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