Nicholas is the founder of The Writer’s Workshop and teaches travel writing classes, Seattle writing classes and other courses. He’s the author of The Storms of Denali (University of Alaska, Chicago presses, 2012) On Sacred Ground: The Spirit of Place in Pacific Northwest Literature (U.W. Press, 2003), At the Field’s End: Interviews with 22 Pacific Northwest Writers (U.W. Press, 1998), Contemporary Ecofiction (Charles Scribner’s, 1996) and Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers (Mountaineers, 1993). He contributes to Newsweek, Gourmet, Saveur, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sierra, The Wine Spectator, Commonweal, Image and many other places. He designed and taught in the University of Washington Extension’s Narrative Nonfiction Program and has been a visiting instructor at the North Cascades Institute, Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program.
Nick O’Connell: Writing His Own Story from Queen Anne Neighbors Magazine, December, 2017
When you become a teacher, you begin to think more deeply about the subject upon which you are teaching. Culinary instructors must thoroughly understand the food they are using in class. Language instructors must comprehend the subtle nuances hidden within a language. And writing instructors must have an intimate relationship with the craft of writing so they can help others create their own stories and narratives.
This is what Nick O’Connell has learned over his years as a writing instructor in his Seattle writing classes, travel writing classes and online writing classes.
“Teaching others how to write requires that you understand the process in a very detailed and conscious way,” he explains. “By explaining how to write, I came to understand the writing process much more deeply.”
After pursuing MFA and Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Washington, his love of writing led Nick to start The Writers Workshop in 2001. After teaching at the U.W. for many years, Nick decided he wanted to run his own program focused on the art and craft of writing in his Seattle writing classes, travel writing classes and online writing classes.
“I thought my students would really benefit from taking classes as a part of a comprehensive program, learning all the facets of narrative writing, story ideas, research, interviewing, profiles, personal essays and then moving to more narrative techniques like dramatic scenes, character sketches, scene by scene construction, dramatic outlines. I thought I could offer a very appealing package for students both here and beyond.”
Though there are challenges that come along with running a small business, such as worrying about marketing, websites, and other mundane necessities, the positives definitely outweigh any negatives. The school gives Nick the chance to work more intimately with the craft of writing, imparting that wisdom to his students in his Seattle writing classes, travel writing classes and online writing classes.
“I wanted to develop a more personalized writing program, with small classes, individual attention, and ability to teach a curriculum that would allow students to make great progress in a relatively short period of time.”
Nick has contributed to such publications as Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Food & Wine. His love of the outdoors led him to contribute to places like National Geographic Adventures and Outside. It wasn’t long until he decided to extend his writing courses to include travel writing courses, as well.
The one-week intensive class introduces students to essential techniques of travel, food, and wine writing and helps students write, submit and publish travel stories. the Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class with The Writer’s Workshop has gone to such places as the Bordeaux and Provence regions of France, as well as Italy and Spain.
One of Nick’s most cherished memories from his time teaching the Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class occurred during a tour of Biondi-Santi Winery, the inventor of Burnello de Montalcino, perhaps the most famous of Italian wines.
“Franco Biondi Santi, the fifth generation to run the winery, gave the tour,” Nick recalls. “He was in his 80s, with a mane of gray hair, a passionate enthusiasm for winemaking, and a generous spirit in opening older bottles of his stellar wine, tasting through it with myself and the class, and explaining his enthusiasm for the world of wine.”
Nick mentions how rare it was for him to give a tour like that. “But he gave one to The Writer’s Workshop.” And though it was years ago, and Santi is now gone, the memory of the visit lives on for Nick.
“I’ll be thinking about it this spring when I visit Montalcino (home to Biondi Santi Winery) with the travel writing class.”
The adventures often include his family, as well. He’s been lucky enough to bring his wife Lisa, and their children along on several trips.
The trips have “added interest and zest to our family life,” Nick says. “My wife, Lisa, often accompanies me on the trip. We’ve also brought the kids along on a trip to France, introducing them to the many amazing aspects of Europe, including the culture, food, language and history.”
Married in 1994, Nick and Lisa first met in a nonfiction writing class at the University of Washington.
Originally from Spokane, Lisa received her B.S and M.D. from the University of Washington and completed a general surgery residency at the University of Utah (as well as a plastic surgery residency at the University of Cincinnati). She still finds time for art and writing. She loves to play guitar and sing and continues to write—mostly about plastic surgery on her blog, but also for other publications.
Together they have three children: Sons Daniel, Nick Jr., and daughter Marie. The family also includes their four-legged border collie/Australian shepherd mix dog, Stella.
The O’Connell’s consider Queen Anne to be a great place to both live and raise kids. They have lived on north Queen Anne since 1993. “We moved when we bought a house and got married. We both loved Seattle and the Queen Anne neighborhood.”
“I love Queen Anne because it’s a real neighborhood,” Nick says. “People look out for each other . . . we look out for each other’s kids. I like our neighbors and the larger community; they are a vibrant, caring group of people.” They hope the neighborhood can remain a single-family neighborhood and avoid the city’s attempts at upzoning it.
It’s the connections that make Queen Anne stand apart to the O’Connells, even after they’ve traveled the globe.
“Last summer our neighbors Steve Albright and Paula Cipolla hosted a weekly informal Friday evening gathering on their deck. Many of the neighbors showed up,” Nick recalls, “demonstrating that this is a strong, appealing, friendly community. Informal events like that make Queen Anne a great place to live.”
As a family they enjoy wine bottling, kids sports, and Irish step dancing. Nick also helped coach his son’s soccer team, back in the day. Nick can often be seen out in the community riding his bike, volunteering at St. Anne’s, and singing in their church choir. Always active, he enjoys skiing, climbing, swimming and running.
Their family motto is simply to “embrace life.” Thankfully, when you see the world through writer’s eyes, you see possibility in the smallest of details and breathtaking stories in the subtlest of moments.
Personally, Nick considers his novel The Storms of Denali to be one of his proudest achievements. “I put all I know about writing into that novel,” he explains. “As well as much that I know about human nature. It took many years to complete and publish, but it was worth the effort.”
It’s near impossible not to embrace life when you spend your days surrounded by the timeless craft of storytelling, the eye-opening adventure of travel and the in-depth relationship that teaching nurtures. Not only have the O’Connells found ways to fully embrace life, but they’ve done it on their own terms. When it comes to his life story, Nick has chosen to write his own.