See also:
Memoir Writing Intensive
Up next:
Memoir Writing II

Memoir Writing I

GUIDE TO NONFICTION COURSES
Nonfiction Pathways
Foundation
If you’re not sure what kind of nonfiction to write...
If you know what kind of nonfiction to write...
Or...
If you want a rather short course...
Next Steps
After completing a Level I ten-week course...
After completing Memoir II, if you want to write a book...
Selling Your Work
If you hope to get published somewhere...
Memoir Writing I

Memoir Writing I is a 10-week workshop, which includes lectures, exercises, and the critiquing of student projects. It’s for beginners or anyone who wants to brush up on the fundamentals. Farther down, you can view a syllabus for this course.

Every life holds many tales. Whether your life is wildly unconventional or relatively normal, there’s bound to be something fascinating about it. That’s why the contemporary memoir—everyday people telling their stories—has become such a popular phenomenon. A memoir covers an aspect of a life, whether it’s a short piece about, say, a bicycle ride with a friend, or a book about, say, your entire childhood.

To make readers care, your memoir must be told with the finesse of fiction. Here you’ll learn techniques for focusing your life stories, as well as well as writing craft and how to market your work.

Whether you seek to write essay-length pieces or a book, we’ll show you how to best tell the stories from your life.

About Memoir Writing
Memoir Writing I

A fantastic way to start writing! I wrote 20 pages of a memoir that I've been thinking about writing for some time. The feedback from the instructor and peers convinced me that I have a story worth telling, and I took away excellent ideas to improve my writing.

Kristine McCarthy

English teacher

Notes

A memoir is similar to a personal essay; both incorporate elements from the writer’s life. But a personal essay focuses more on the viewpoint, and a memoir focuses more on the story. Gotham also offers courses on Essay & Opinion Writing and an Intensive on Personal Essay Writing.

Upcoming Classes

To ensure everyone's good health, students in NYC classes must provide proof of full Covid vaccinations (the initial series of Covid vaccines plus at least one booster). We will accept your Covid vaccine card (or a digital scan), a NY State Excelsior digital card, or another form of government-approved proof. We will contact you before class begins about showing us proof. Also, we will require masks in the classrooms and Gotham premises.

More Covid details

Price

Registration fee $25, paid once per term

See Payment Options

To register for a 10-Week course, you need to pay in full to guarantee your place in class. Or you can pay a $95 deposit plus a $25 registration fee (total $120) to temporarily hold your place, but tuition must be paid in full 10 business days before your class starts or you risk losing your spot.

10-Week

Syllabus

This course gives you a firm grounding in the basics of memoir craft and gets you writing a short memoir (or two) or a book. Course components:
     Lectures
     Writing exercises
     Workshopping of student projects (each student presenting work two times)

New York City/Zoom classes
The syllabus varies from teacher to teacher, term to term. Many topics will be similar to those covered in the Online classes.

Online classes 
Week 1
Introduction to Memoir: The contemporary memoir defined. Short and long memoirs. Finding the “who cares?” in your story. Focusing on an aspect of your life. Types of memoirs—coming of age, adversity, relationship, career, travel.

Week 2
Mining Your Memory: How “true” must it be? Researching your past. The balance of being “actor” and “observer.” Not using memoir as therapy. Facing the truth.

Week 3
Character: Thinking of real people as characters. Making characters dimensional through desire and contrasts. Creating character profiles. Showing vs. Telling. Methods for showing characters.

Week 4
Plot: Finding a major dramatic question. Shaping a beginning, middle, and end. The difference between short and long plots. Pros and cons of outlining.

Week 5
Description: Using the senses. Specificity. Techniques for creativity. Finding the right words. Merging description with point of view.

Week 6
Dialogue: The importance of scene. Turning real life conversations into dialogue. Quotation marks and tags. Stage directions. Summarized dialogue. Characterization through dialogue. Subtext.

Week 7
Point of View/Voice: Point of view defined. First person and other memoir alternatives. Voice defined. Exploration of the various types of voice. Tips for finding your voice.

Week 8
Setting/Pacing: Creating setting through time, place, and weather. Description of setting. Mood and emotion of setting. How to manipulate time through pacing. Flashbacks.

Week 9
Theme/Revision: Theme defined. Types of theme. Weaving theme into a story. Exploration of the various stages of revision.

Week 10
The Business: Proper format for manuscripts. How to target publishing houses, literary magazines, and agents. How to send your work out. Query letters.

Note: Content may vary among individual classes.

Teachers

David Berner
David Berner

David Berner is the author of the memoirs Walks with Sam, October Song, (both Roundfire) and The Consequence of Stars (Adelaide); the novels Things Behind the Sun (Adelaide) and A Well-Respected Man (Strategic); and the novella Sandman: A Golf Tale (Roundfire, forthcoming). His essays and short stories have appeared in Chicagoland Journal, Clef Notes, Epiphany, Eunoia Review, Longshot Island, Under the Gum Tree, and Write City. He is a reporter/anchor for WBBM Radio-Chicago and a contributor to the CBS Radio Network. He is the producer/writer of the audio documentaries NaNoWriMo (PRX/WRST Oshkosh, WI), Bracelets of Grace (Prairie Public Radio), and Finding My Kerouac (WFUV Radio, NYC). He teaches at Columbia College. He holds a BS from Clarion University, an MA in Teaching from Aurora University, and an MFA in Creative Writing-Nonfiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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Scott LaCounte
Scott LaCounte

Scott LaCounte (also writing as Scott Douglas) is a long-time contributor to McSweeney’s, from which his humor series was turned into the memoir Quiet, Please: Dispatches From a Public Librarian (Da Capo Books). He has independently published a wide range of books on religion, as well as books for children and in the science fiction and humor genres. He holds a BA from California State University-Fullerton, and an MLIS in Library Science from San Jose State University.

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Stacy Pershall
Stacy Pershall

Stacy Pershall is the author of the memoir Loud in the House of Myself  (W.W. Norton), selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Program, and her work is included in the anthologies Lost and Found (W.W. Norton) and Spent (Seal Press). She has taught at Writopia, Pratt Manhattan, City College of New York, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. She holds a BA from the University of Arkansas and an MFA in Performance Art from the University of Cincinnati.

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