Blueprint Your Book

NOTE: The 2012 class is over, and more than 20 writers made great leaps forward toward completing their books! Please email me if you’d like to receive an email when course enrollment opens in 2013, or if you’d like to work your way through the class materials as an independent student.

A 6-Week Course for Crafting Your Manuscript
Sept. 15 – Oct. 22, 2012
with Minal Hajratwala

Blueprint Your Book is a six-week crash course in structure — to help you transform your ideas or rough drafts into a cohesive, compelling manuscript.

Every book makes its own shape in the world, just like a body.  As Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  We’ll chisel deep into the foundations of great storytelling to find the shape that works best for you.  You’ll end up with an organic form and an action plan that gives you full freedom to sculpt your story whole.

Each week, I’ll send you tools and exercises that you can put to work now.  You’ll spend the week exploring, applying the new ideas to your own work, and workshopping your results with your classmates.  You’ll also receive personalized feedback from me.

In six weeks, you’ll learn:

• The top five successful book structures
• How to create your own organic structure  (a.k.a., this is not your grade-school teacher’s outline)
• What you most need to know about plot and narrative drive
• How to sort out overlapping timelines
• How to let your characters’ motivations drive the story
• How to get crystal-clear about your themes (i.e. What the heck is this book about?)
• The strengths and unique qualities that others see in your project — even when you might not
• How to structure your time and your support system
• How to deal with your inner critics
• How to strike the balance between form and freedom, to create a form that lets you write everything your book needs to say

You’ll also get:
• Insightful, personal critique from me on the work you generate in class
• Encouraging, thoughtful workshopping from peers
• Dozens of easy, 15- to 30-minute writing prompts to bring out the book that’s in you

And you’ll end up with an action plan to drive your project all the way to completion.

You can use this course as the perfect setup for National Novel Writing Month: the challenge of writing 50,000 words this November.  (Join me: I’m going to use these very tools to create my very own workplan for NaNoWriMo 2012!)

You’re ready to Blueprint Your Book if you:
  • Yearn for a clear plan to help you make progress on your manuscript.
  • Wrestle with character arcs, plot, and theme — but can’t imagine reducing your gorgeously complex story to a mere “outline.”
  • Want a solid foundation to get you started.
  • Are halfway through and need a jolt of clarity to propel you to the end!

Fee: $365 US.
Registration: Pay $365 by PayPal to hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com to reserve your space.
Dates: We start September 15 and finish October 22, 2012.
An email address and internet access once a week.  You can join from anywhere in the solar system. All genres and genders are welcome.

Questions? Please scroll down for Frequently Asked Questions, or email me.


About the Instructor

Minal Hajratwala is the author of Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), which has been called “incomparable” by Alice Walker and “searingly honest” by the Washington Post. The book won a Pen USA Award, an Asian American Writers Workshop Award, a Lambda Literary Award, a California Book Award (Silver, Nonfiction), and was shortlisted for the Saroyan International Writing Prize. She spent seven years researching and writing the book, traveling the world to interview more than seventy-five members of her extended family.

Ms. Hajratwala was a 2010-2011 Fulbright Senior Research Scholar based in India, researching a novel while also writing poems about the unicorns of the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley civilization. She is the editor of Out! Stories From the New Queer India, forthcoming in 2012 from Queer Ink. Her creative work has received recognition and support from the Sundance Institute, the Jon Sims Center for the Arts, the SerpentSource Foundation, and the Hedgebrook writing retreat for women, where she has served on the Alumnae Leadership Council. Her one-woman show, “Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium,” was commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for World AIDS Day in 1999.

She has taught or coached writers in numerous venues including the Voices of Our Nations memoir writing workshop, Kearny Street Workshop, Bay Area Solidarity Summer for youth, Stanford University, the Asian American Journalists Association, and DesiLit’s Kriti Festival. For more about her coaching style, click here.

As a journalist, she worked at the San Jose Mercury News from 1992 to 2000 as an editor, reporter, and the newspaper’s first reader representative (ombudsperson). She was a National Arts Journalism Program fellow at Columbia University in 2000-01. She is a graduate of Stanford University.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How do I sign up for Blueprint Your Book?

The quickest way:

Via, submit a payment of $365 to hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com. You can use your Paypal funds or a credit card. You’ll get a confirmation from PayPal immediately, and a welcome email from me within 24 hours.

If you’ve never used PayPal, don’t worry. It’s easy, takes about 3 minutes, and you don’t even need to set up an account. Grab your credit or debit card, then just follow these simple steps:

• Go to

• Click on “Send Money”

• In the box that says, “Send Money Now,” enter the amount $365. Under “My payment is for,” choose the option that says “Buying Something.” (This means that I pay the PayPal fee, not you.) Click Continue.

• Under TO, enter Under FROM, enter your email address. Click Continue.

• Enter your credit/debit card info and follow the directions to finish. That’s it!

Other good ways:

If you prefer to mail a check or deposit directly to my account, ask me for my details.

Or send your owl / passenger pigeon / unicorn. (Please do not pay in leprechaun money, though.)

Payment is due in full before your first class, unless… scroll to the bottom of this FAQ.

Q. What is the time commitment?

The assignments are flexible and each week, you’ll be given a choice of things to do. You’ll probably want to allot at least 2 hours a week  to read the materials, try out a few of the exercises, and participate in the workshopping.   If you got excited and did everything on the list, you could spend up to 10-12 hours a week — or even more, if you decide to write, write, write!

Q.  Can I get a sneak preview of the syllabus? 

Of course!  Here you go:

Week 1:  Time. Timelines, flashbacks, cause and effect, time period research, chronological and non-chronological elements of storytelling.

Week 2:  Place. Maps, memories, geographical research, world-building.

Week 3: Plot. Arcs, acts, mysteries, suspense, tension/trauma points, narrative drive, post-outlines, emotional maps.

Week 4: Character. Development, motivation, interviewing, interactions, quest/journey.

Week 5:  Theme. Image, metaphor, symbol, central argument, throughline, core meaning.

Week 6: Writer’s life.  Support circle, critique, inner critics, calendaring, goals, action plan.

Q. Seriously, we’re going to do all that?  

Well, not exactly.  I’m  going to offer you all that —because that’s what makes this a crash course.

Then you’re going to choose what you most need right now — because that’s what makes you the writer in charge of your own process.

The truth is, I’ll give you way more than you can possibly do in six weeks.  Somewhere in there will be the gems that will transform your writing, right where you are now — so you won’t waste time doing anything irrelevant or that doesn’t resonate.

Remember, the purpose of this course is to set you up to finish your book.  Use the tools you need now.  Keep the rest for when you need them, weeks or years later.  (I still use exercises and frameworks that I learned in the writing classes I took in 1994.)  You have a lifetime ahead of you as a writer, and your book has a whole life cycle ahead too.

The wealth of material here guarantees that you’ll get exactly what you need at this stage, as well as a box full of toys/tools to play with as your book grows up.

Q.  What stage should my book be in to join this class? I’m not sure what my book is about… I’m not even sure I’m writing a book … I’ve already finished a first draft, can I still learn from this class? 

All of the tools and exercises are designed to use prior to new writing OR prior to a major re-write/revision.  Here’s the rundown:

If you want to write a book but you’re not exactly sure what, this class will be awesome for you.  You’ll get ideas and tools that will help to you shape your ideas. You’ll be able to move forward from the cloud of vague ideas that you have now, to focus on a clear, specific, actionable project.  And a plan for getting it done.

If you are at or near the beginning of your book, this class will be fantabulous for you.  You’ll get a bunch of new tools and a head start on a lot of stuff that will save you time and hair-pulling in the writing process.  Go sign up, ok?

If you’re partway through your book, or have a draft or two done, but you sense that there are major issues with structure/theme/plot/character, this class will offer you huge relief.  We’ll sort out the things that are confusing you, and get you revved up with a bunch of new strategies so that you can finish your manuscript with confidence.  Sign up!

If your book is almost finished and you know exactly what it’s about and you don’t really need to sort out any issues, congratulations!  This class would probably be most helpful if you want to get a headstart on your next project.  Or you might want to ask me about my manuscript review services, because I am a fantastic editor.  Or, you know, maybe you want to go get a glass of wine and pin some stuff on Pinterest instead.

Q.  What’s your connection with NaNoWriMo?  Actually, what is NaNoWriMo?

A.  Besides being what Mork said to Mindy (OK, now I’m totally dating myself), NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  It’s actually international but they haven’t gotten around to changing the name to InNoWriMo because anyway, that sounds yuck. Anyway, it’s a month — November, to be precise — when a whole lot of fools courageous souls sign up to write 50,000 words in a month.

I don’t have any official connection to NaNoWriMo, but I think it’s a fantastic tool that I recommend to my writing students.

The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel. I just freewrote like mad, which was fantastic AND had the result that lots of things didn’t end up connecting. I realized that I’ll get even more out of it this time if I do some good planning ahead of time.  I’m going to make specific plans for what I’ll be writing.  It’ll probably change along the way, which is perfect — I just want to have a working structure (not a straitjacket) in place so that I can keep going instead of wasting time wondering what to write about.  I figured some of you might like to join me in that process, so I’m excited to share my toolbox/toybox with you.

Q. How will the online course work? What technology do I need?

All you need is a gmail address and weekly online access.

Everyone in the workshop will receive password-protected access to the “Blueprint Your Book” Clubhouse — a secret spot on the web (ok, on my website) for participants only.  We’ll also have a google group to communicate.

If you don’t have gmail, I’ll walk you through how you can create an account for free.

If you think Google is the devil, that’s cool; you can still participate in most elements of the course, but you might not get to be part of some optional elements like Google hangouts.

When you sign up for the course, I’ll send you a syllabus and welcome document that will include technical details, logins, etc.

Q. I’m on the east coast — I understand that it’s online; is there any kind of group interaction? Do you have to be in the Bay Area to participate? Are there specific days/times when we must sign on?

This is an online course that you can take from anywhere, as long as you have access to your email once a week. The course will be self-paced; you post your work and you comment on others’ work on your own time. All of the weekly homework (or, as I like to call it, home play!) will be on your own time. Interaction with other students will be via a web forum where you can log in at anytime.

Q. Can I take one session at a time? What if I’m going to be away part of the time?

Each lesson will build on the previous ones. We’ll be sharing work and creating a temporary community. So, in order to keep it safe for everyone and manageable for me, there will be no drop-ins.

If you are going to be away for some of this time, don’t worry. This is a self-paced class, so you can always catch up on the exercises you’ve missed. Or you can just skip them and go back later, after the class finishes.

Q. What level of anonymity will there be?

We’ll communicate via a google group, and you’ll post your own writing and give feedback as whatever email address you use for that. It’s absolutely fine with me if you want to create an alter ego for the purpose of this workshop. We’ll also lay down some ground rules which will include not discussing or sharing anyone’s work outside the workshop. If you and I know each other socially, I will always keep all elements of our coaching/teaching relationship private, including the fact that you’re taking my workshop.

Q. How many students do you expect or will you cap?

There is no firm limit. If it gets too big or unwieldy, I’ll probably split it into two smaller “sections” rather than close it off. Since I don’t know when I’ll have the time to teach this way again, I’m reluctant to say no to anyone who’s ready and willing to move into this work now.

Q. Is there any provision for people with financial hardship?

Yes. Times are tough, right? Instead of paying the full registration fee up front, if you need to, you can make payments on the following schedule:

$120 due Sept. 15 or before your first class

$120 due Sept. 30

$115 due Oct. 15

Please note that when you sign up, you are committing to the whole course, so this is not a way to “try out” the class and hedge your bets! I trust you to honor your commitment. You can pay via PayPal or, if you prefer, you can mail 3 checks to me at once, postdated, and I will cash them on the appropriate date.

See also below for people with financial hardship based in India.

Q. Are you accepting international students?  Is there a reduced rate?

Students from everywhere are very, very welcome. In the past students from Australia, Canada, India, and Ghana have studied with me.

If you live in India AND you have limited finances, you may request a scholarship at a special reduced rate of 12,000 rupees, which is just over half the regular student rate.

Please contact me for payment options if you cannot access PayPal or if you have a question about currency conversion.

Q. My question is not answered here.

No problem. Ask me at hajratwala {at} gmail {dot} com .


Start blueprinting now! Class begins Sept. 15.

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