CREATING THE FIVE MINUTE MEMOIR: What is my outer story? What is my inner story? What is my life question? How do I explore it? by Sheila Bender
START DATE: Monday, January 14, 2019
END DATE: Sunday, February 24, 2019
DURATION: 6 weeks
COURSE DESCRIPTION: Imagine writing a book-length memoir as a collection of short memoir pieces—that take five minutes each for the reader (longer to write, of course). In our six weeks together you will explore six examples of short memoir, copy the successful strategies those authors have used, and at the end of our time together, have help putting your six memoir pieces together or seeing the six as stitches you can thread through longer writings and chapters.
Each week students will complete a piece of writing and may also submit a revision after they have received instructor and classmates’ responses. The course material will share strategies from well-published writers of short prose to use in evoking life experiences. Participants will read from samples of “lyric memoirs” and “lyric novels” as well as selections from authors who write collections by gathering vignettes.
To help writers
- become aware of and learn from masters of lyric (built in parts) memoir writing
- realize new ways of creating their own memoir
- figure out why they are writing their memoir—what they want to discover
This has been the most wonderful and challenging workshop I’ve ever taken. You introduced me to authors, techniques and mind-blowing assignments. Before this workshop, I would have never thought of writing a memoir in an essay format. You taught me a very powerful lesson of how writing to myself through a historical figure (very mysterious) can heal the spirit within, softly approaching life’s most heart wrenching problems on paper. I can’t wait to sign up for another one of your thought provoking workshops online. ~ Cheryl Kesling
I’ve taken several classes with Sheila. Always, she’s provided generous support, great tips for writing skills, and the kind of encouragement that makes me want to write more. I look forward to the process of learning how to write better. I think due to her instruction, I am becoming a better writer. ~ Cassandra Hamilton
I have taken several online courses with relatively famous women writers, and you have been the most giving and involved with genuine feedback and follow-through. I thank you for that. I have learned from reading your remarks to others and the assignments have been thought-provoking and challenging—just the right mix for an aspiring writer. ~ Lori Talarico
Sheila, I will take every possible class you teach that I can get to. Your insight, knowledge, and incredible warmth and encouragement made our class the highlight of all those I’ve ever taken. Can’t thank you enough. ~ Shirley Clukey
. . . this has been a very productive class for me. I’ve learned a lot and feel like I have grown a lot in the process. ~ Margaret Riordon
First, I just want to say thank you for this course. I began focusing my time on writing last fall, but found that I needed some guidance. I was looking for a new perspective, a container that would help to create a form for what I was trying to capture. You have introduced some new authors that will help me to move in new directions. ~ Debra Gilbreath
What I am particularly struck by with Sheila is that she presents a great comforting wisdom from her background and experience; yet she also has an enthusiasm for the craft of writing that feels like she just got started yesterday. The enthusiasm is contagious and really inspired me to open up and let my inner critic take a break... it is a great skill and talent to mix nurturing support with honest critical comments. I feel Sheila possesses that type of talent and finesse. ~ Wendy A. Johnson
WEEKS AT A GLANCE:
Week One: What is your inner question? What is your outer question?
More and more the personal essay is being called short memoir and more and more longer memoirs are constructed from short memoir. We’ll read up on the evolution of this form and apply it to our own work.
Assignment: The instructor will provide reading material both in posted documents and via online links participants can access with no additional charge. She will post questions for writers to focus on their memoir interest.
Week Two: Memoirs Written in an Accumulation of Short Pieces
There are many cutting edge strategies for approaching the writing of a memoir. This week the instructor will provide samples from Abigail Thomas’ successful memoirs made up of pieces of varying length.
Assignment: With exercises to make a healthy start on creating your own memoir in short pieces, the instructor will provide a variety of approaches to using author Abigail Thomas’ work as a model. She will respond to everyone’s posted writing with suggestions for revision.
Week Three: The Epistolary (Letter) Form in Memoir
This form is a well-used form that is effective in helping us tell life stories. We’ll read from Kit Bakke’s memoir in letters, Miss Alcott’s Email: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds.
Assignment: The instructor will offer exercises for writing successfully in the letter form, which can help writers create stand-alone short form pieces or become part of a larger project. She will respond to everyone’s posted writing with suggestions for revision.
Week Four: Lyric Non-Fiction
This week we will study excerpts from the work of lyric essayist Brenda Miller and think about how her structures can help us find memoir topics that lend themselves to writing sudden nonfiction.
Assignment: The instructor will offer exercises to choose from in writing a lyric non-fiction story. She will respond to everyone’s posted writing with suggestions for revision.
Week Five: Building Pieces that Cover a Time Span
Effective memoir takes off from an incident or perception the author wants to find out more about but it has to cover time. We’ll become acquainted with Kim Stafford’s memoir 100 Tricks Any Boy Can Do: How my brother disappeared and from there study how he covers time in short pieces.
Assignment: The instructor will offer exercises to choose from to create a story from several vignettes that cover a time span. She will respond to everyone’s posted writing with suggestions for revision.
Week Six: Writing Fragmentary Short Memoir
Writers keep notebooks of observations, overheard conversations, and inner perceptions and epiphanies. We’ll examine some of the published writing of this sort.
Assignment: The instructor will offer exercises to help you keep this kind of notebook and in her responses to what you post, she’ll propose ways this writing might come together to become a short piece with depth or might be just what you need to thread through a short or longer memoir for connective tissue.
Notes: The instructor will post each of the 6 weeks’ lessons with exercises and models at the opening of each week so students can work on generating that writing on their own time, at their own speed during the week. She will respond to posted work within 24 - 48 hours so the writer can get started on revising. Revisions can be posted at any time during our six weeks together.
ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR: Sheila Bender, founder of WritingItReal.com, is the author of many books on writing, including the popular Writing Personal Essays: Shaping and Sharing Your Life Experience and Creative Writing DeMystified. Her memoir is entitled A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. Her book of poems is Behind Us the Way Grows Wider. She has been updating previously published books. Two of them are now available in print and digitally on Amazon and through bookstores: Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down, co-authored with Christi Killien Glover, and Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief. As a writer, teacher and editor, she believes that writing so others understand our hearts and minds helps us understand ourselves, heal grief and sadness and grow. She is a frequent presenter at conferences and writers’ centers such as Centrum Foundation’s summer Port Townsend Writer’s Conference, the Whidbey Island’s writer’s conference workshops, the Writer’s Workshoppe in Port Townsend, WA, and the Kahini writing program’s writer’s workshops.
COST: $180. The class will use a Google Groups format, to which the instructor will provide access and help learning the ropes.
BUY NOW: Creating the Five Minute Memoir, by Sheila Bender (6 weeks, starting 1/14/2019) Limit: 15 students. Early registration is recommended.
Notes: Upon successful completion of payment, your name, email address, and contact info will be submitted to your instructor.
Questions? Email Marcia & Angela at:
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