Now is the time for you to write & publish a book

based on your own story.

BECAUSE LET'S BE HONEST. THE DIVERSITY AND VARIETY OF STORIES BEING PUBLISHED, EVEN IN 2023, IS SEVERELY LACKING. WHAT IF YOU MADE THIS THE YEAR YOU COMMITTED TO YOUR WRITING—IN A SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY OF TEACHERS AND STUDENTS JUST LIKE YOU?

Study at your own pace

Plan based on your learning style

GROW YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK

Follow a proven roadmap

...from a new york times bestselling author

Welcome to our online memoir writing school, The Unexpected Shape Writing Academy. 

You’ve been writing... and writing.

Filling your computer, or notebook, with half-formed essays and notes for a dream book that has yet to be written. You’re not sure know how to go about structuring, or writing, work that will one day land on bookshelves—a book that will grasp the hand of a reader who needs to hear your words.

But what you're doing isn't working.









You're one of the many brave writers living with limitations, who wants to write in spite of your circumstances.

But because your limitations won't be magically removed from your life, so that you can luxuriate before the typewriter and create to your life’s content—forever free of symptoms, inconveniences, and mean commenters on the internet...

Here's what has to change. 

No more signing up for writing workshops here and there, more often than not never going over the recordings and notes once you’ve done it.

No more collecting books and resources on writing—so that your understand of writing and the publishing industry is hodge-podge and willy-nilly (much like the dish-ware selection at your local thrift store).

Ready for your life to change?

Not only for the thrill of seeing your words in print—but for what sharing your story and having your voice heard would mean to you.

there is another way.

As a student in the Academy,

you'll be doing things differently.

Pre-recorded workshops taught by me, Esmé Weijun Wang, as well as chatting and sharing on Discord with fellow students taking the Writing Intensive. 

Best of all, you’ll be in community with students who also understand what it’s like to live with limitations.

Who can speak to managing a writing life as well as chronic illness, disability, and/or caretaking responsibilities.

You’ll learn concrete skills like using index cards for creative discovery; the five questions to ask yourself before including someone else in your story; writing about emotions and painful experiences; pitching to publications; putting together a book proposal. (And much more.)

The truth is that finally writing your book is bigger than you.

It’s about representation. Having an impact on the world. Changing someone’s life. Helping someone who is where you once were.

I want you to share your stories with the world.

"Wanted to share I finally signed a publishing contract for my first creative nonfiction that deals with sexual trauma, hysteria & liminality! After struggling to find a publisher, there were three publishers offering me a contract. Thank you so much for your brilliant workshops!"

— Susannah H.

but guess what...

I can help because 

In 2014, I had a big-shot literary agent who had brokered seven-figure deals. And I approached them, over and over again, with an idea for a book that I knew I wanted to write—an essay collection about the schizophrenias.

But they weren't interested in the idea, and they told me that they wouldn't help me shop it. 

Inexperienced and unprepared, I didn't know what to do next. (This book ended up becoming the award-winning, New York Times-bestselling book, The Collected Schizophrenias.)

I've created the writing school that I needed at the time—a place for community and curriculum that provides resources to marginalized writers.

Because I realized that back then, when my later-to-be New York Times-bestselling book was my pet project... what I needed was support.

Support in writing and developing the book. Support in learning about navigating the industry. And support from other writers—writers like me—who could cheer me on.



I've been there.

introducing...

The Unexpected Shape Writing Academy

A full-service, open enrollment, online writing school. Recorded classes, full of generosity and spirit. A community to support you. Beautiful PDF workbooks and slides. 

We care about being knowledgeable, generous, and aesthetically pleasing (because hey—beauty does add to the experience).

LET'S BREAK it DOWN

Here's What You'll Learn

 Module 1:

  • Is this okay to write about?: ethics & personal nonfiction. We look at the subject of the ethical questions we need to consider when working on personal nonfiction.

    We’ll look at the questions to consider and ask yourself before and during personal nonfiction and memoir-writing.

    Rather than making recommendations, we provide exercises designed to help you figure out your own answers, including 10 questions to ask yourself before writing personal nonfiction and/or memoir.

Module 2:

  • Journal-keeping for memoirists. We walk through the process of journal-keeping for both your current book idea and the ideas to come. You'll excavate memories in. your journal, using concrete exercises and prompts. To get to the details you need for the project you have in mind—no more wandering in the foggy lands of I don't remember how exactly that went—as well as recording the events of your life for future personal nonfiction and memoir projects. You'll inspire topics for writing that you didn't know your life contained. 

 Module 3:

  • Indexing as creative discovery: using index cards to develop ideas, organize your thoughts, and keep track of research. We will dive into the practicalities of writing a book and the system I personally use to create the bones of any story (including The Collected Schizophrenias).

    We’ll take a practical look at how to use index cards to brainstorm, write, and revise creative nonfiction. When used as writing tools, index cards can not only retain facts and ideas, but can also keep track of important bibliographic and structural information for an essay or book.

    Once collected, cards can then be spread out to visualize the shape of a written project, see what is missing, and envision what needs to be added.

    I've previously taught this technique at the Northwestern MFA nonfiction program, as well as in the Lighthouse Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop.

Module 4:

  • Structure & perspective: how do we tell the story? You know what you want to write about. The question is: what kind of structure will your narrative take?

    Metaphorically speaking, are you building a castle, or a tiny house? Will your essay/chapter/book take the form of a braid, a single thread, or a complex tapestry?

    We'll look at the structures and perspectives of different published essays, and discuss how to find the structure and perspective that fits what you want to write.


Pre-Writing

Module 5:

  • Writing personal nonfiction about what hurts. We will take a look at writing about painful subjects. Questions that we will address include, How do we prepare to write about trauma while doing minimal harm to ourselves? How do we know whether it's really time to write about something painful? What about the other people that are involved in the things that we want to write about? And how do we keep ourselves from making our nonfiction into a self-absorbed journal entry, as opposed to literature? 

Module 6:


  • Accessing & writing emotions. Here I address three major areas: accessing emotions before writing, accessing emotions and employing self-care during and after writing, and getting emotions onto the page via style, language, and content. 





Module 7:

  • Pitching & querying. Writing is one thing; publishing is another. How do you get published in a magazine or newspaper? What does a "pitch" look like? And how do you find an agent? What does an agent do, and how do you know when you need one? We'll look at successful pitches, talk about the structure of a query, and discuss the ins and outs of agents, publication, and everything in between.



Writing

Publication

Module 8:

  • What the Heck Is A Book Proposal (& How Does It Work?). We will take a practical look at how to create a nonfiction book proposal that sells. I'm a former book proposal coach who specialized in helping those new to the publishing world create and sell their nonfiction books. Along the way, I learned the ins and outs of writing nonfiction book proposals—and I want to share that information with you. I'll walk you through a book proposal and answer questions about traditional publishing, intended for those who are inexperienced with the book proposal process.  

Our library of guest speakers includes...



  • Eula Biss
  • Leslie Jamison
  • Mitchell S. Jackson
  • Suleika Jaouad
  • Stephanie Foo
  • Yahdon Israel
  • Hanif Abdurraqib
  • Soleil Ho
  • Vauhini Vara
  • T Kira Madden
  • Melissa Febos

...and more.



How does this sound?

The Results You're Going to Get

01

Be working on projects that are fulfilling — both financially and creatively.

02

Have a regular writing practice—and know how to pivot when life challenges you.

03

Be able to clearly articulate the parameters of your writing project—your "elevator pitch"—on demand & confidently.

04


Have a clear, actionable plan in place for building a writing life and taking things to the next level. 

05

Understand the process of traditional publication, including putting together a book proposal.

LORRAINE, an academy student, HAD A DEBUT PIECE PUBLISHED IN THE NEW YORKER

“It's about my experience with heart arrhythmias, and I don't think I'd have had the guts (or coping mechanisms) necessary for writing it without The Unexpected Shape.

"Being a member of that community and hearing from speakers like Carmen Maria Machado and Suleika Jaouad taught me so much about sharing the painful, challenging moments of my own life—as did the courses you taught, Esmé, and your own book. I'm hoping to use this essay as the launch pad for a book on chronic illness, similar to The Collected Schizophrenias.

Again, thank you so much for creating a space to talk about our limitations, learn to live with them, and write alongside them. It's really hard being in a disabled/chronically ill body, but having other people who understand makes all the difference.”

“I finally found the courage to pursue my dream of opening my own homewares boutique all thanks to Kate.”

Melanie chased her dream:

A year from now, you'll
have wished that you started today....

So let's get started!

OPHIRA FOUND COMMUNITY AND HER WRITING VOICE

NINA FINALLY BELIEVED SHE IS A WRITER

"If you don’t believe you’re a writer at the start of this course, you will by the end of it."

When I think about The Unexpected Shape Academy the word that comes to mind is generosity. Esme and Chloe are incredibly generous with their time, their care, and the effort they put into both the syllabus and making everyone feel welcome and included.

As a non-professional writer attempting the daunting task of creating a non-fiction narrative about climate change, I couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction. This course provides useful insight on both the art and the practice of writing and, thanks to the fantastic guest speakers and panellists, gives an insider’s glimpse into the world of pitching and publishing. If you don’t believe you’re a writer at the start of this course, you will by the end of it.

I can’t recommend this course highly enough–thank you Esme and Chloe for a wonderful experience!"

Yes—It Really Works

“I have talked to so many people about the Academy recently and one of my favourite things about this group is how trauma-informed it is, and how everyone has difficulties going on and nobody treats it like a bad thing. It is the most human I have ever felt in community."

You're ready to be a writer.

But if you're anything like me, you need help to take your writing from idea to book. You just want someone to tell you what works.

I've been where you are—wanting to tell stories and not knowing what to do with them. Some questions that you might ask include, How can I research? Is this my story to tell? How do I create the structure of my essay or book? If I write about something traumatizing, how do I protect my own mental health? How do I get published, and where? How do people find literary agents, and do I need one?

IF YOU HAVE ANY OF THESE QUESTIONS, YOU'RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE.

the time to go after your writing dream.”

— ME, YESTERDAY

“This is your day. This is

“Thank you for creating The Unexpected Shape Writing Academy."

"I’ve been moved and delighted by the diverse group of guest speakers and fellow students. So many of the writing workshops and conferences I’ve attended in the past have been very much from a white person’s perspective, whether that was intended or not. I’m so glad you have created a space that will foster writers to write and publish diverse and interesting stories. “

— VM

Hey there!

I'm Esmé, your new ally in the writing world.

I’m a writer and essayist—the author of the New York Times-bestselling essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias (2019), as well as the novel The Border of Paradise (2016), which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2016 and one of Electric Literature’s Top 25 Novels of 2016; I was selected by Granta for their once-a-decade Best of Young American Novelists list of 21 authors under 40. I’ve also made appearances on the Today Show, NPR’s Weekend Edition, KCRW, the New York Times, the CBC, Flavorwire, and the New Yorker Online.

But it wasn't always this way. 

I started out as a little girl who had an interest in writing—but as the years passed, I realized that I didn't see many writers who looked like me: Taiwanese American, queer and disabled, and had a similar life history. Publishing seemed so out of reach, and I didn't know how to enter the literary world beyond what I could glean from old editions of my local library's Writer's Market. (For a time, I even took on a generic-sounding pseudonym to look like a white writer on the page, because I thought I couldn't get published any other way.)

Now I'm a bestselling author who's appeared a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle and has won awards, gone on international tours, and met readers who've been impacted by my work. And I've taken all of the lessons that I've developed over the years, based on what I've learned about pre-writing, writing, and publishing—specifically for the ambitious unheard and those living with limitations.

This online writing school is the only one of its kind because...

IT teaches the framework from pre-writing to publication, while being designed for writers living with chronic illness, disability, or other limitations.

I once invested a large sum to attend a reportedly high-caliber business conference. Once there, I realized that my physical limitations meant that the schedule—a jam-packed, day-long experience—was not created for someone like me. I couldn't lie down. I couldn't say, "Time out. Let me rest and come back later."

But what I did realize was that if ever created a way for marginalized students to learn about personal nonfiction, I would try to make it accessible. Live transcriptions. Recordings. Voxer office hours, so that students don't have to be in a certain place at a certain time. Co-writing sessions for people to attend via Zoom.

I BUILT THE WRITING ACADEMY I WISH I'D HAD.

THE ACADEMY INCLUDES everything you need to write your book.



You'll go from only a vague idea of what your writing life will look like, to having a full-fledged project and plan, community, and understanding of the literary world.


EVERYTHING
you need.



Study at your own pace

Plan based on your learning style

GROW YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK

Follow a proven roadmap

...from a new york times bestselling author

This program includes everything

 you need to become the writer you hope to become.

But it isn't magic. The Unexpected Shape Writing Academy can only take you so far. Not only applying what you'll learn, but your own dedication and sweat equity, pointed toward your vision, is the only way to get where you want to go.

If you want this to be the year that you *finally* commit to:

Determining your best nonfiction topic

Figuring out the ethics of your writing project

Learning about structure and applying that knowledge to your book-in-progress

Being filled with useful information about writing, including writing about what hurts and how to use index cards to organize your thoughts

Creating and sustaining your own writing habits so that you can build a book for publication

Feeling secure in your understanding of how the publishing industry works

This is for you if:

YOU NEED TO FINALLY MAKE TIME FOR YOUR WRITING—JUST LIKE YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED

YOU WANT TO LEARN ABOUT PERSONAL NONFICTION FROM TEACHERS WITH EXPERIENCE AND GENEROSITY

YOU'RE TRULY READY TO BUILD YOUR WRITING LIFE AND COMMUNITY

YOU HAVE THE TIME, ABILITY, AND DESIRE TO GO TO AN MFA PROGRAM FULL-TIME

ONCE GIVEN THE LESSONS, YOU'RE GOING TO LET THEM SIT... AND SIT... AND SIT 

It's probably not for you if...

YOU'RE NOT WILLING TO DO THE WORK

Work With Us • Work with Us •

SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Let's Do This Thing!

Tuition too steep? We have a wide variety of payment plans, thanks to our partner for online education, Elective. For the Writing Intensive, simply click on one of the Elective logo below the Payment Plan option. 

$46,666.50

COST OF ATTENDING A PRESTIGIOUS MFA PROGRAM FOR A YEAR (INCLUDING BOOKS AND LIVING EXPENSES)

1

FRIEND I MADE AT MY MFA PROGRAM

84

FRIENDSHIPS AND ALLIANCES MADE IN THE ACADEMY

MANY

STUDENTS WHO HAVE BEEN THROUGH THE ACADEMY

What You Get

8 modules OF CORE CURRICULUM

ACCESS TO OUR PRIVATE SKOOL COMMUNITY

AN AMAZING LIBRARY OF 12+ GUEST LECTURES FROM TODAY'S BRIGHTEST WRITERS

*Open Enrollment
*All sales are final (no refunds)

$612

Pay over interest-free installments with Wizebank.

Pay over interest-free installments with Wizebank.

8 modules x $147 each = retail price $1176/month

priceless

12 classes x $147 each  = retail price $1764/month

The Breakdown

the MONTHLY PRICE you'll pay: $147

BY CALCULATING THE COST OF EVERYTHING WE OFFER, YOU CAN SEE THAT $147/month IS MORE THAN WORTH IT

THE MONTHLY WORTH: $1176 + $1764 = $2940 (!)

Frequently Asked Questions

I understand that investing in something like this can feel scary. Part of my big mission with the Academy is to make education, tools and resources around writing memoir and personal nonfiction more accessible. Unlike writing workshops that focus on one piece of the puzzle at a time (meaning you’re still always left searching for the next steps), the Academy has been designed to cover three different foundational aspects of writing memoir and personal nonfiction so you can truly get started on your book-writing journey.

Any investment comes with fear and risk—the question you have to ask yourself is, “Will this investment get me closer to where I want to be?” If the answer is yes, then I can’t wait to see you inside the Academy.

Also: as part of our mission to make the Academy accessible to everyone, we wanted to offer you a more affordable option with lower monthly payments.

That's why we have a partnership with Elective, giving you the flexibility to pay at your own pace. With Elective, you'll be able to choose the payment schedule that works for you—whether that's 3 months or 12 months!

Best part? You'll never pay late fees, prepayment penalties, or interest. It's that easy. And even if you sign up through a Elective payment plan, you'll still get instant access to the Academy's classes and resources.


First things first: Please realize that these kinds of concerns are completely normal. These are the same worries that people writing memoir have had since writing memoir first became a thing. This is why, in each workshop, we talk about these issues (especially in the Ethics in Personal Nonfiction workshop). Plus, in our Discord community, you can share your concerns, ask your questions and get support from people dealing with the exact same worries and fears as you. That’s one of the biggest benefits of the Academy—you’re not only getting access to the workshops, you’re getting access to a community. People you can lean on, share things with, celebrate with. People who get what you’re going through.

The Unexpected Shape Writing Academy is designed for and created by chronically ill/disabled people. This means that we've tried to build in flexibility whenever possible. Everything included in the Writing Intensive can be watched via recording—even the guest lecturers—to allow for doing things from bed, at any time of the day. If you wish to take one or two classes per month, the Writing Intensive will take you three or four hours per month (plus however much time you wish to spend in the Discord group and on your writing). 

Absolutely. Because the program is structured with Pre-Writing, Writing, and Publishing in mind, it’s actually wonderful to come to the Academy with a blank slate. As long as you’re enthusiastic about writing and want to learn, you’ll be a-okay.

Good question! The Writing Intensive is a solid curriculum for people interested in writing personal nonfiction, especially if you're looking for a self-paced program that works with your limitation, not against. Within the Writing Intensive, you'll be learning the most important lessons I took away from my time in an MFA program, and everything I thought was missing from it. Though I cannot tell you if this is going to be the perfect fit for you, I can say that if you're here, looking for more support as a nonfiction writer, then you already have your answer...

The monthly charge is for as long or as short as you would like it to be, since the Academy is essentially a membership. Theoretically, should you decide that you want to cram in all 12+ guest lectures and all of the eight curriculum modules in one month, and then leave the membership before the next month kicks in, that’s totally possible (at least, I assume it is). From a more realistic perspective, however, I generally suggest that members stick around for at least six months so that you can give yourself enough time to fully engage with the material. It’s really up to you.

If you’re interested in writing articles and essays, the Academy is perfect for you. There’s a class specifically about writing a book (the book proposal class), but there’s no reason to assume that you have to write one. The sales page does talk about writing books. That’s mostly because so many of our students are interested in writing books as their end product—but again, not all of them are writing books, and many are interested in writing essays and articles alone.

What if I'm

Still on the Fence?

Do you have a question about the Academy that isn't addressed here? Email Esmé at info@esmewang.com. You can also DM Esmé on Instagram @esmewwang.