May 29, 2020

Everyone Writes. But Is Everyone a Writer?

In early 2018, she introduced the first of her weekend-long, application-only sessions. For $1,200 per person, groups of about eight spend Saturday and Sunday at her Manhattan apartment, in Washington Heights — or, on one occasion, for $1,800, in a borrowed house in Los Angeles — for a course in first-person essays or memoir, with a focus on idea creation, writing, editing, rewriting and pitching. (The New York program used to cost $1,600 and included a chef-cooked dinner. Also, smaller groups pay slightly less because with fewer students, more time is spent writing during the workshop itself.)

Ms. Daum invites guest speakers and provides a catered lunch.

“I tell my students, ‘We are going to come to this work as if I am your editor, and as if it was 15 years ago when an editor would actually talk to you on the phone or even take you out to lunch,’” she said.

Emily J. Smith, 37, was working as a product manager for tech companies when she signed up. She dreamed of a career in writing but couldn’t quit her tech day jobs to enroll in a pricey master of fine arts program.

When she heard from a friend about Ms. Daum’s workshop, she applied immediately. “I write essays, personal essays, that try to emulate her style,” Ms. Smith said, “so getting her feedback on my work was an incredible opportunity and I also wanted to meet her and get to know her.”

Her work with Ms. Daum, as well as in workshops led by another writer, Chloe Caldwell, helped Ms. Smith learn to write essays about relationships, power and the culture of online dating, like those she has published in the Rumpus and Medium.

Ms. Smith now has a literary agent and is including in a book proposal an essay she worked on with Ms. Daum in the seminar. Ms. Smith also created a dating app meant to combat the loneliness of online dating that her essays describe. Called Chorus, it will allow a dater’s friends to help play matchmaker.

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