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Featured Online Class

Five Minute Memoir

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, October 10, 2022

END DATE: Sunday, November 20, 2022

DURATION:  6 weeks

LOCATION:  Private Google Group

FEEDBACK:  Detailed Instructor Feedback and Encouraging Peer Workshop

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 for response by the instructor and classmates. 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

My participation in Sheila’s “Creating the Five-Minute Memoir” class greatly expedited my work on my own memoir. Every single prompt resulted in an essay that I will easily be able to incorporate into my book; moreover, they are also evergreen and can be written from again and again. Sheila’s advice, edits, and coaching not only improved my writing, but also delivered a boost of confidence about the themes in my book. As part of our work together, she brilliantly whip-stitched my inner and outer questions together, a step that will save me untold hours as I go forward. Sheila is unique among teachers in that I believe she cares as much about her students as people as she does about their writing. This is my first class with her, and I know it will be one of many, many more! ~ Ashley Memory

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


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 future after-class 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 future after-class 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 future after-class 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 future after-class 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 and respond to their classmates’ work. The instructor will usually respond to posted work within 48 hours of new work being posted. It is hoped that participants will find the responses from everyone useful for future revisions.

Sheila Bender

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR:  Sheila Bender, founder of, 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 newest book, Since Then: Poems and Short Prose will be available in spring 2022. 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 has presented at conferences and writers' centers including 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 and served as a Distinguished Lecturer in Poetry at Seattle University.

COST:  $210. 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 October 10, 2022) Limit: 12 students. Early registration is recommended.

This class is now closed. Please check here for our current schedule.

For Class Session Starting 10/10/2022


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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