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Memoir as Collage: How to Write Your Story Bit by Bit


The idea of writing a memoir appeals to many people, but sitting down to write can be forbidding. This class will help you break through the barriers, collect materials, get the stories out of your head and onto the page. This is primarily a generative class, that is, you will primarily generate new writing a page or two at a time. If you do the assignments, you will leave the class with 5,000-15,000 words of newly drafted writing.

The entire class is taught online. Each Monday a new lesson will be posted, including:

  • a written lecture on the topic of the week

  • a selection of readings and occasional other materials

  • daily writing prompts, Monday through Friday

You will also have the opportunity to discuss topics and ask questions, and to give and receive feedback. In the interest of literary citizenship and fairness, I ask that you respond to at least two submissions from your classmates each week to receive feedback from the instructor. 

Week 1: Memoir or Autobiography?

We’ll begin by exploring exploring the difference between memoir and autobiography. Exercises will help you decide what it is you're writing, and perhaps why you want to write it. Knowing our motivation can help when the going gets tough!

Week 2: What Matters? Writing About Your Passions

In the second week you will explore your motivations and some of the themes of your life, or a period of your life. Many memoirs are inspired by the author's passions, so we will take a look at a few published examples of passion-driven memoirs. 

Week 3: Who Matters Writing About Your People

Memoirs are rarely about the author as a solitary figure. People matters. This week's exercises will help you write about the people in your life. We will also consider some of the ethical, legal, and personal issues involved with writing about people. And, of course, you will write!

Week 4: Writing About Place: Where Do You Come From?

Place is often a crucial element of memoir, whether it is the place you grew up or the place where something happened. Readings this week will focus on place or location in memoir, and writing prompts will encourage you to explore your own places. 

Week 5: Finding What You'd Forgotten

We forget all sorts of things about our lives, from minor details to whole events. This week's readings and prompts will focus on digging deep and using various tools to revive memories that inform our stories. 

Week 6: Finding Form: How to Assemble the Pieces

As we end the class, we’ll consider some of the ways you may want to begin to put the pieces--the short writings you've generated the past few weeks--together in a coherent way. Then we'll talk about how to maintain momentum as you continue writing your story. You may use this weeks prompt to continue generating new writing, or you may assemble a few pieces into one piece of up to 1,000 words for feedback.

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