Ellen teaches fiction writing classes in the San Francisco Bay area and several international locations. Check here regularly for updated schedules, class openings, and registration information.

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Ellen also works one-on-one with writers. If you're looking for a book doctor or a writing coach, or if you'd like a critical evaluation of your manuscript, contact her by email.



May 19–23, 2021

Now and Then: Front Story and Backstory Team Up!

Our characters arrive at the start to our stories with all kinds of history, expectations, and misapprehensions about the world. As the events of the “front story” press on and provoke our characters, the backstory naturally arises. The two stories haunt, challenge, and change each other. Where does the backstory come in? How much does the reader need to know, and when? In this session, we will explore how backstory interweaves with the present action to create a resonant and dimensional journey that will leave the reader as transformed as the characters.

Cost: $995

Tuition for Virtual Camp is all-inclusive–for all workshops, panels, readings, yoga, etc., and is heavily discounted from our usual rates. You’ll also receive a fabulous goody box by mail in advance of our first meeting. Enrollment limited to 24!

Virtual camp isn’t the same as camp in Occidental, but it is wonderful. We bring the same energy to our morning classes. We gather fabulous writers for our Author Panel. We’ll give you the inside scoop on our new-and-improved Publishing Panel. The early birds among us will join Elizabeth for Morning Writing. Our beloved Student Readings are now followed by Virtual Happy Hour (alcohol optional). We offer optional Afternoon Cafe Writing. Everything happens a bit earlier to accommodate East Coast, West Coast, and everyone in between. All on Zoom!

Learn more at our website: Sonoma County Writers Camp.

Interested? Email We’ll ask for a non-refundable deposit of $495 to hold your spot. The balance of $500 will be due April 19, 2021.

Stanford Continuing Studies

Ellen teaches a one day seminar each semester through Stanford Continuing Studies.
For information and registration:

Private Classes


Make 2021 the year you write your novel or memoir!

This class, Novel/Memoir in a Year, will offer you guidance, support, craft lessons, deadlines, butt-kicking and a full critique of your novel/memoir at the end of the year.

Here's how it works: We'll meet on zoom over 5 weekends during the year. (Later in the year those meetings might turn into optional in-person classes at my house in Sebastopol, CA.) For the first weekend, we'll have class on Saturday morning and on Sunday morning. For the other weekends, we'll have class on Saturday morning and "office hours" on Sunday morning, all on zoom.

You begin this class with a vague notion of a novel or a memoir that you'd like to write. In our classes, I talk about each aspect of the process: pre-writing, developing characters, plot, voice and point of view, the problematic middle of a novel, endings, and rewriting. I don't read anything until you hand in your novel or memoir at the end of the year. This class is NOT a workshop -- you don't read other students' work and they don't read yours. This is a year for you to write a novel or memoir, to have a teacher and coach to guide you along the way, and to receive a thorough critique at the end of the year. I give you deadlines and I'm available to help you through the rough spots. I do a lot of cheering from the sidelines. And sometimes I pick up the whip as well.

The cost is high. The reason for this is mostly the full critique that you receive at the end of the year. I do a line-by-line read and hand back a critique that is usually a 6 - 8 page single spaced document. You'll also meet with me for a private consultation twice during the year, usually at the midpoint and definitely after you receive my critique. I will also offer my help with query letters when you're ready to find an agent, even if that's years after our class has ended.

So: the cost. It's $4,500. Before you gasp, remember that it includes that critique. And you can pay on a three-part installment plan. I also assign a "writing buddy" to each member of the class. Some students have had great success with this concept -- I know of one team that still meets ten years later. The writing buddies might choose to meet once a week to write at the same time (cafe writing!), they might choose to read each other's work, they might choose just to check in with each other at the end of each week to account for their productivity. I try to match writing buddies who are looking for the same thing.

Class dates:
Jan 16/17
Mar 13/14
May 8/9
Aug 14/15
Oct 16/17

If you are not available for any of the dates, you'll receive a video of each class that I will send to you. The rest of the year I'm available for consultation at any time, through email or phone calls. And of course, through the one on one in-person consultations. If you have questions about this, please respond to this email and let me know your concerns. I can also give you student testimonials -- I have plenty of those. If you're interested, email me. If I don't know you, tell me a little about yourself and your interest in this class. I hope you'll join me on this fabulous journey!

If you have questions about this, please email me at


The BASS Seminars In this four-part class, we read the Best American Short Stories from the 2020 edition (Curtis Sittenfeld, editor) and discuss them in terms of craft. What can we writers learn from these masters? You can sign up for one, two, three or all four classes. We'll meet on zoom (next year in person, I hope!) on four Saturday mornings from 9:00 AM (Pacific time) until noon.

DATES: May 29, June 5, June 12, June 19
COST: $100 per class LOCATION: zoom
I'll ask you to send a check to save your spot. I do offer refunds (minus $25) if I can fill your spot.

What Ellen's Students Have to Say

“I was an English major and have an MFA in creative writing and after years of workshops, Ellen remains one of my all-time favorite teachers. She has a natural talent for motivating students to write, handling the group critique dynamic, and helping you shape and push a story forward. I always left her classes with a spark of inspiration.” — Lolly Winston, NY Times Bestsellers Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately

“Why take one of Ellen Sussman's classes? Inspiration. Not enough? How about the kind of criticism that will enable you to find your own voice and move your writing from the pedestrian to the distinctive? You want still another reason? Well, then there's this: with the class comes membership in a writing fellowship that brings both shared excitement and terror. Go for it!” — Keith Raffel, Dot.Dead

“Ellen is a perfect combination of tough coach and head cheerleader. She teaches with deep understanding how a writer stuggles. While creating a warm and welcoming environment, she challenges you to find depth in your work you never knew you could achieve.” — Shelly King, author of The Moment of Everything, coming 2014