Online Course

Pathway to the Memoir

January 10 - November 20, 2022

Level All Levels

A yearlong structured track designed to help you write your memoir.

Additional Information

Starts January 10
Space is limited to 14 writers


You will begin this track with Thirty-Minute Memoir. This generative, boot camp course will help you tackle your memoir by providing firm deadlines, writing exercises, and weekly feedback. Along the way, you’ll also develop the habit of writing regularly—and you’ll write a lot of words.

Next, in Memoir and Personal Essay, you’ll slow down a little bit to take stock. You’ll set goals for your project, plan your next steps, and keep writing.

In the summer term, you can choose a course that best fits your specific project and writing goals.

Finally, in Advanced Memoir, you will consider your project as a whole, from the first sentence to resolution.

By the end of the year, you’ll have mastered the basics, written and revised a tremendous amount of new work, and grown significantly as a writer.


FUNDAMENTALS :: Jan 10 – Mar 20
Thirty-Minute Memoir :: Instructor – Joelle Fraser

INTERMEDIATE :: Apr 11 – Jun 19
Memoir and the Personal Essay: Beyond the Basics :: Instructor – TBA

SUMMER ELECTIVE ::  Jul 12 – Aug 15
Choose a 5-week summer course that is most relevant to your focus and goals.

ADVANCED :: Sep 12 – Nov 20
Advanced Memoir: From First Sentence to Resolution:: Instructor – Kase Johnstun


  • Master literary techniques that can help you turn bare facts and memories into a compelling story
  • Explore how to balance emotion with storytelling, and other basics of memoir writing
  • Learn how to make connections between events that happen at different times, and also to manipulate the reader’s understanding of a series of events
  • Explore non-narrative components in creating an interesting piece of writing
  • Experiment with tone and voice, theme and motif
  • Recognize the difference between scene and summary and explore how to balance these two approaches
  • Learn about general structure options for both individual chapters and a book-length narrative
  • 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.


  • Interacting with other students and the broader CNF student community via the classroom, Wet Ink software, and optional video conferences
  • Discussing assigned readings and general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • Reading and engaging with written lectures and a selection of readings
  • Writing and revising new personal essays
  • Receiving feedback from fellow students and instructors


  • You are ready to commit/dedicate a year to writing
  • You have always wanted to write your memoir or have completed a draft and need help refining your story
  • You work well with a plan and guidance
  • You could benefit from instructor feedback and a supportive community
  • You want to develop and practice effective writing habits
  • You are up for the challenge

What are you waiting for? Make a yearlong commitment to your craft.

Course Schedule

Week 1: First Sentences and First Chapters -- Establishing Voice

We will look at how first lines and first pages of memoirs, through narrative description and word choice, not only identify themes for a whole book but also introduce the memoirist voice and establish immediate trust between writer and reader. We will look at examples, sharing what we all believe to be wonderful first sentences and chapters from our favorite books. We will begin working on our first chapter/first paragraphs for week three.

Week 2: Description for the Sake of Moving the Narrative Forward -- Working with Body Chapters

As writers, many of us love to sit in a moment and paint a picture of the world we have created in our writing, showing our readers where we are and how it looks, making them feel as if they are there, too. But you don’t want the story to stall while you stop to take in the scenery. This week you will explore using action (literal movement) within your description to move narrative forward. You will also submit a 1,500 -2,000 word first chapter that aims to create voice and theme.

Week 3: Tackling the Hardest Part of Writing Memoir -- Who Can You Include

Writing memoir can be very, very risky because we have to write about people besides ourselves. Many times, memoir is focused on the loss of loved ones, the cracking of marriages, abuse at the hands of parents or guardians, or other painful situations. Who can we include? Some of the hardest decisions to make include the representation of other people: who can we leave out while remaining true to the story? Can we use composite characters? Is it okay or necessary to change names? These are the questions we will tackle this week in the readings and discussions.

Week 4: Interviewing Others to Enrich Your Memoir

Interviewing others is not easy. Often you have only one opportunity to ask an interviewee for her story. This week, you will practice interviewing techniques that have proven effective in narrative nonfiction and discuss your pitfalls and successes. This week’s writing exercise will be the beginning of a longer essay to be turned in week six.

Week 5: Taking the “ME” out of Memoir -- Weaving in Other People’s Stories

The best part about using other people’s stories within your own is that it gives your readers a break from the first-person narrative. This week you will jump into third person for a while and explore the world through your interviewee’s experiences. You will share what you believe to be a middle chapter (1,500 - 2,000 words) that includes third-person narrative about someone else who is critical to your story.

Week 6: Framing and Scaffolding of the Memoir and Individual Chapters

How do we shape our memoir? How do we shape the chapters within it to create a fluid, whole, and cohesive book? Depending on what we are writing, this answer can change quite drastically. For instance, a story-based memoir will take a different shape than a research-based memoir. This week we look at look at how memoirs can be structured. We will also look at how chapters are structured within a memoir. We will talk broadly about the larger structural options: strict chronology, bookending, weaving, and other structural options for both the full book and the chapters.

Week 7: Writing Climactic Chapters in Memoir

Many of the best memoirs really do follow the well-known tradition of storytelling: catalyst, tension building, climax, and resolution. This week we will look at how to choose the part of your experience that would best serve as a climactic chapter. We will look at examples of climactic chapters in memoir and work together to find our own chapters.

Week 8: Writing a Resolution in Memoir

Life goes on after your memoir is published. For better and worse, there never is true resolution in memoir because we have to live after the book has sold. That being the case, how can you  create a feeling of resolution in a memoir? We must pick a moment in our experience that makes the story feel resolved—that feels conclusive—but at the same time, we have to be honest with our reader. We will share resolutions and return to the question, “What is ethical in memoir writing?” How do we remain ethically sound in choosing the conclusion of our memoir?

Week 9: Landscape, Setting, and Moving Through the World

This week we will look at how landscape, setting, and cultural identity can play a large part in memoir. We will use travel writing and nature writing examples to examine how environment can play a huge part in understanding identity, both personal and cultural, and how moving through the world – travel writing – can help move chapters forward in the memoir. You will turn in a 1,500 to 3,000 word climactic chapter and a 500-word resolution chapter.

Week 10: Publishing and the Ethics of Publishing Truth

After all the planning and polishing, structuring and revision, you want to share your writing with the world. During this week, we will continue our discussion on the ethical issues related to publishing memoir and creative nonfiction. We will review the steps and best practices for submitting complete manuscripts to agents and independent publishers; we’ll also discuss the option of self-publishing.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructors

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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