Sometimes writers avoid research, while others might lose themselves in it, using it as a sneaky way to avoid the actual writing. In this class, we’ll aim to navigate between these extremes and find ways to use research to make your writing come more alive.
We’ll explore how to take an expansive view of your subject, such as Richard Powers does with trees in The Overstory, how to interweave first-hand sensory experience with history to hold the reader rapt as Maria Gainza does in Optic Nerve or Andrés Neuman in Fracture, and how deep, layered knowledge of a place might inform your writing as Claire Vaye Watkins demonstrates in Battleborn and Pitchaya Sudbanthad does in Bangkok Wakes to Rain. We’ll grapple with the challenges of evoking centuries past as Lauren Groff does in Matrix, and that of rendering plausible futures, as Matt Bell does in Appleseed. We’ll consider how research can be generative, enabling you to understand a character through their obsessions, background, and their approach to a subject, as exhibited in Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive and Matthew Salesses's Disappear, Doppelgänger, Disappear. Finally, we'll see how the collision and interplay of different subjects can create and sustain energy in a work, such as in Kathleen Rooney’s Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and John Edgar Wideman's "Williamsburg Bridge."
Through a series of readings, exercises, and discussions, you’ll explore a subject or two that you’re drawn to for whatever reason and map out an array of research possibilities that will yield new and unexpected details about those subjects. We’ll talk about fieldwork, and how to get extra-creative in the age of Covid-19 as far as getting “close” to your subject while remote, conjuring a convincing first-hand reality from afar. We'll talk about memory and personal experiences as wellsprings of research that you've already "conducted" without realizing it. Lastly, we'll talk about how to get a subject not only into one's head but into the body, such that it takes on the quality of “lived experience” for you to draw upon, three-dimensional and dynamic. In this way, your use of what you find is apt to feel organic and inevitable rather than contrived and clunky.
To begin with, you’ll choose a subject that you might know something about (or not) but are craving a fuller, richer knowledge of. You’ll then create a “research matrix” in which you’ll brainstorm, first individually and then collectively, a set of activities that will give you firsthand experience. Each week you’ll try out a particular exercise or set of activities that will give you a new vantage point on your subject. In week six we won’t meet as a class, in order to give students extra time to write and prepare their pieces for workshop. In the last three weeks students will submit work of roughly 10-15 pages that we’ll all workshop, and for which everyone will provide feedback. A half hour one-on-one conference with the instructor will give you further direction and also pointers for other ways you might explore your subject.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- A new or reinvigorated sense of your topic(s) of interest, with a practical sense of how they might infuse your work
- An array of new approaches to research that will allow you to generate new inroads into any project
- A 10-15 workshop story with detailed verbal and written feedback from classmates and instructor
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students should expect to do 20 pages per week of reading, plus to work on a “field journal” which contains observations, exercises, maps, found poetry, sketches verbal and otherwise—the detritus and residue of experience. Students should also be prepared to submit once for workshop and give thoughtful feedback on their peers’ work.
Week One: Casting Your Net Far and Wide
Week Two: The Perks of Being Obsessive
Week Three: Where Were/Are We? Place in Memory, Observation, Imagination
Week Four: When Are We: How to Research Past and Future without a Time Machine
Week Five: Writing/immersion week—no assigned reading, but focus on your own work.
Week Six: Catching Your Character in the Act (of Researching); Workshop
Week Seven: When Topic-worlds Collide; Workshop
Week Eight: Writing Beyond the Self; Workshop
Tim Horvath is the author of Understories (Bellevue Literary Press), which won the New Hampshire Literary Award for Outstanding Work of Fiction, and Circulation (sunnyoutside). His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, AGNI, and Harvard Review, and his reviews can be found in Georgia Review, the Brooklyn Rail, and American Book Review. His most recent project is Un-bow, a collaborative work with composer Rafaele Andrade. He is at work on a novel called the Spinal Descent, and has taught creative writing at the Cambridge Writers' Workshop, the New Hampshire Institute of Art, and Grub Street.
“Tim Horvath is a fluid, inventive writer who deftly interweaves the palpably real and the pyrotechnically fantastic. At once playful, deeply moving, and sharply funny, UNDERSTORIES satisfies the mind, the heart, and the gut.”
“Horvath seems to be channeling, all at once, Borges and Calvino and Kevin Brockmeier. And it all works.”
"Tim is one of the greatest teachers I've ever had in my life, and I would love to continue to study under him."
"I really, really would [take another class with him]; Tim has, by far, had the greatest impact on my abilities as a writer since I entered college..."
"In general, Tim is a compassionate and wonderful human being. His unconventional approach and teaching style really helps to push students outside of their comfort zone and look at things from a different perspective. Not to mention, he is incredibly knowledgeable about the topics that he teaches, and he is always trying to think of new and interesting ways to present topics to students."
“UNDERSTORIES is fueled by a wonderfully inventive mind, but ultimately, it is a mind in service to the heart. Horvath’s attention is always squarely on us: who we are, who we have been, and how a great story can transform us.”