Online Course

Collage in Memoir: Building a Story from Small Pieces

January 09 - February 12, 2023

Level Fundamentals

A collaged approach to memoir composes a narrative through fragments and found items, building a story from many smaller pieces.

Additional Information

This is a fundamental-level course designed for writers who are starting a memoir but are struggling with structure, daunted by form, or looking for an innovative way to tell their story. Are you wondering how you can craft a memoir from life’s twists and turns? Maybe you’ve been overwhelmed with the scope and don’t know where to begin. This class will guide you through a new way to write your story.

Over the course of 5 weeks, you’ll be introduced to the collage in memoir through written lectures and reading samples and compose your own short collaged essay. You will also receive practical guidance on establishing a writing schedule and developing your own best creative practices. You’ll have the opportunity to receive feedback from peers, as well as your instructor, that will help revise your writing and refine your project goals. At the end of the 5 weeks, you’ll have a structured plan to begin your collaged memoir!


Course Schedule

Week 1: Introduction to memoir and narrative techniques

This week you’ll be introduced to memoir as a genre. We’ll explore historical as well as contemporary examples, detail keywords and definitions, and discuss length, scope, and perspective. We’ll examine traditional narrative structures including the Hero’s Journey, 3-part stories, and Freytag's pyramid.

Week 2: Where to begin, determining the shape of your story

This week we’ll focus on where to begin a memoir, and how much time to cover. We’ll detail this process of “framing” in memoir and read examples that show vastly different approaches to dealing with time. We will also discuss the concept of the voice of experience vs. the voice to innocence and how narrative tone can help a memoirist guide a reader through time. Expanding on week one, we’ll learn how to chart, draw, and visualize our storylines.

Week 3: Collage and rethinking structure

This week you’ll be introduced to the principles of collage, collection, curation, and braiding as they apply to memoir. We’ll read short examples demonstrating each approach to structure and have to opportunity to explore our own stories through a series of quick, generative prompts focused on structure. Using the frame you’ve created in Week 2, you’ll learn how to break that timeline down into smaller units including essays and flash nonfiction.

Week 4: Found items, photographs, and other forms of research

We’ll build on the principles of collage by learning how to incorporate additional material to your memoir including photographs, found items, official documents, and diary entries. You’ll be introduced to the research process including considerations of citation, ethics, and bias. We’ll read examples from memoirs that use found items, images, and research and you’ll have the chance to write your own short piece from a photo-based writing prompt.

Week 5: Outlining, planning, and creating your best writing practice

This week will prepare you to begin writing your own memoir in collage. You’ll learn practical outlining and planning techniques that will help you organize your story. We’ll define the drafting steps from brainstorming to submission and discuss small and large-scale revisions. In addition, you’ll be guided through the process of creating your own best writing practice to increase productivity, foster a writing community,  and avoid feeling “blocked”.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration


3 in stock

Become a Supporting Subscriber today and get up to 10% off your purchase.

Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

Hear from our Students

Creative Nonfiction’s online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.

Read Success Stories


I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines.

Catherine O’Neill

Online Course FAQs

  • What day and time is my online course?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins. If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • What makes CNF’s classes different from other online programs?


    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace based on your schedule. While some optional events—such as class video conferences—do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes

    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors

    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments

    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer pieces multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection

    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • What are your community standards?

    Creative Nonfiction is committed to creating a welcoming and comfortable experience for all staff and participants regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, physical appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, age, or religion.

    We expect that staff and participants will treat each other with respect in all interactions. We will not tolerate discrimination or harrassment in conjunction with any of our programs. Harassment could include but is not limited to:

    • Repeated disruption of classes, lectures or discussion
    • Deliberate intimidation
    • Unwelcome sexual attention
    • Comments or displayed images that harmfully reinforce structures of oppression

    Community posts violating any of these guidelines can and will be removed from the page at any time. Anyone asked to stop harassing behavior is expected to comply immediately.

    Harassment does not include respectful disagreement or critique in good faith. Reading and writing, by their nature, include exposure to controversial, challenging, and sometimes offensive language. We encourage all participants to follow the peer review guidelines provided by their instructor.

    When you join a course you agree to…

    • respect others and respect their writing;
    • maintain the privacy of all submitted work;
    • treat others with respect;
    • not infringe on anyone’s copyright;
    • not harass, abuse, threaten or impersonate another user; and
    • not use libelous, obscene, or abusive work.

    Online Communication Guide

    Online communication happens without the benefit of body language and tone. Therefore, it can be easy to misinterpret. The following tips may help participants engage in civil, intelligent, vigorous discourse without impugning the personal dignity of others:

    1. Start from a position of generosity (i.e. assume that people mean well)
    2. Address your post to someone or to the group. Instead of “Hey” or just jumping in to your post, try “Hi All” or “Hi [Name].”
    3.  Don’t be afraid to use emoticons and/or exclamation points! 🙂
    4. Please avoid ALL CAPS whenever possible, as they tend to come off as RUDE or YELLING.
    5. Avoid harsh or offensive language of any kind. If you’re in doubt, try rewording or reconsidering your post.
    6. Sarcasm is very difficult to convey in writing — best to avoid it.
    7. When interacting with your peers, please consider that some may have limited experience with English, online education, and/or creative writing. It’s a good rule of thumb not to write anything you wouldn’t say if that person were standing in front of you.
    8. Often writers from underrepresented groups are asked to explain everything for an assumed monolithic audience (often cis/white/hetero/masculine/able-bodied, etc. etc.). As you respond to peers’ work, keep in mind that you may not be the writer’s intended audience, and leave room for the possibility that the writer is writing for a group of which you are not a member. (For more on this, listen to this episode of Code Switch for an in depth conversation.)

    See your course for additional feedback guidelines provided by your instructor.

  • How do I find my course archive?

    All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.

  • What do the course levels mean?

    FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.
    Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.

    INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. 
    Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.

    ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. 
    Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).