Online Course

Memoir & Personal Essay: Beyond the Basics

January 10 - March 20, 2022

Level Intermediate

Tackle a big writing project in this class intended for writers who are ready to take their writing to the next level.

Additional Information

This class is designed for those who have already explored the basics of personal writing and wish to move on to a larger project or more challenging forms. You can choose one of two paths, working either on sections of a memoir or on personal essays in a variety of styles. You will learn how to structure chapters or essays, how to incorporate research into personal writing, how to develop character, how to use descriptive language effectively, and more. We will examine personal essays and memoir chapters from published authors to analyze their writing techniques, and discuss ways to use those techniques in our own writing.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Planning Your Writing Project

We will set firm goals for the course, outlining the work you will complete during the 10 weeks, and your ultimate objective for this writing once it is completed. Those who do not already have an extended project in mind will choose one; those who have already started working on a project will plan their next steps. You will consider how your work fits into the larger writing market, but also learn when to leave the market behind and focus exclusively on the art.

Week 2: Intertwining Narratives

Combining or counterpointing two different narratives or streams of thought can allow you to emphasize elements of both storylines that would not otherwise be apparent, or to create an extended metaphor by choosing to compare two seemingly unrelated elements. This can result in juxtapositions that the reader finds surprising, moving, and thought-provoking. The lecture and readings for this week will explore techniques for writing an essay that braids together two or more storylines, and for incorporating intertwined storylines into the memoir.

Week 3: Writing with Multiple Storylines

You will submit a writing sample to the instructor, either a memoir excerpt or a personal essay that uses the “braided storylines” technique from Week 2, with the option of participating in peer critiques. We will take a close look at some of the class readings to analyze the authors’ writing techniques, and continue to discuss the topics from Week 2 as they relate to our own writing.

Week 4: Conducting Research

Research adds depth to a memoir, and allows a personal essay to move beyond the purely personal. Even an ordinary story can become interesting when it is artfully combined with the right research. During this week we will discuss ways to obtain information that will embellish a piece of personal writing, and how to gracefully incorporate that information into your prose. 

Week 5: Non-Narrative Elements

Most memoirs and personal essays are based on a personal narrative. While a good story is essential to creating a compelling piece of nonfiction, non-narrative components such as reflections, informational passages, dialogue, and so on are also important in creating an interesting piece of writing. This week you will explore techniques for integrating these components into your writing projects.

Week 6: Writing with Research

You will submit a writing sample to the instructor, either a memoir excerpt or a personal essay that uses the research and non-narrative techniques from Weeks 4 and 5, with the option to participate in peer critiques. We will take a close look at some of the class readings to analyze the authors’ writing techniques, and continue to discuss the topics from the preceding weeks as they relate to your own writing.

Week 7: Revision

Revision is an essential part of the writing process, but one that some writers find tedious. During this week we'll discuss strategies for revision, both by yourself and with a writing partner, and ways to remain invested in your project during the long revision process. 

Week 8: Non-Chronological Structure

The traditional way to tell a story is to start at the beginning and go to the end, but rearranging the events of a narrative allows you to highlight certain connections between events that happen at different times, and also to manipulate the reader's understanding of a series of events. This week we will explore techniques for writing an essay that uses an unusual chronological structure, and strategies for moving back and forth in time in the context of the memoir.

Week 9: Writing Out of Order

You will submit writing to the instructor, either a memoir excerpt or a personal essay that uses the non-chronological techniques from Week 8, with the option of participating in a peer critique. We will take a close look at some of the class readings to analyze the authors’ writing techniques, and continue to discuss the topics from Week 8 as they relate to your own writing.

Week 10: Preparing for Publication

After all the planning and polishing, structuring and revision, you want to share your writing with the world. During this week we will discuss the steps and best practices for submitting work to agents, literary journals, and magazines.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration

$435.00

6 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

Testimonials

Usable lessons, really great readings, doable assignments that really sparked writing for me, and a cohort of writers who were extremely supportive of each other.

Leslie Doyle

Education FAQs

  • 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).

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

    Flexibility
    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 throughout the week 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 that you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer essays 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 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.

  • When do you offer courses? How long are they?

    Our terms include 5- and 10-week courses and run in fall (September-December), winter (January-March), and spring (April-June). In summer (July-August), we offer only 5-week courses.