Write Your Memoir in 12 Weeks

with Blaise Allysen Kearsley

write your memoir in 12 weeks

January 4, 2023 | 12 Weeks |

$695.00

Text and Live Video

$695.00Enroll Now

Writing can be a solitary experience, but writing a full memoir takes energy, momentum, and moral support. It’s hard to keep cranking away at what may feel like a neverending book project when no one is holding your feet to the fire and you’re not sure what needs to be tackled next. So for 12 weeks, we will sort it out and push through together. Every week, to help light the way, you’ll receive constructive feedback from me as well as from your peers. You’ll walk away with a complete draft of a memoir you might not have even realized you had in you.

We’ll start with the meaning of memoir. What have we come here to say and why is it important? We’ll dig into the core elements of the book-length memoir, the tools needed to build a vital and vibrant story from beginning to end, in roughly 300 pages or 75,000 words. We’ll also discuss philosophical approaches to memoir, to the psychic journey of narrative nonfiction, and to the act and art of writing itself.

This workshop is text-based and asynchronous. My written “lectures” and any prompts will be posted weekly. There will be no weekly online classes to attend, but there will be four virtual Zoom meetups throughout the course during which we’ll check in, discuss current challenges, and have the opportunity to generate work in a silent 60 minute write-in. We’ll look at memoir excerpts, short essays, and craft talks by Carmen Maria Machado, Kiese Laymon, Mary Karr, Alexander Chee, Eileen Myles, Vanessa Mártir, Scaachi Koul, Colson Whitehead, Deesha Philyaw, Samantha Irby, Sonja Livingston, Sven Birkerts, Jesús Colón, Gerald Walker, Jo Ann Beard, Hilary Mantel, and more. (Note that some of these readings could change.) You’ll also keep a dedicated Book Log, Journal, or Notebook for your 12-week journey.

Please note: This course does not cover publishing.

Weekly Syllabus

Week 1: Get Going

So many questions to consider. What do we talk about when we talk about memoir? What makes a good true story? How do we navigate the fallibility of memory and our ever changing perspectives? Can you identify not just what you’re writing but why? And why you’re writing it right now? You’ll write at least 1,000-2,000 words every day this week. Any words. Start anywhere. Just get going. You’ll begin a dedicated notebook and use it at the end of each writing day or block for tracking thoughts, problems, ideas, research notes, and any decisions you made along the way. Submit 2,000 words for instructor and peer feedback.

Optional readings: Barrie Jean Borich on Creative Nonfiction, Wendy Fontaine on the Fallacies of Memory.

Week 2: Story + Situation

Write 1,000-2,000 words per day this week, looking for elements of internal and external conflict, and what Vivian Gornick calls “the story and the situation.” We’ll examine what she means, of course. Our first virtual meetup is this week too. There will be a one-hour silent Zoom writing session (optional) and a prompt (also optional) to help identify and unpack story and situation. Track thoughts, problems, ideas, research notes, and any decisions you made along the way. Submit 2,000 words for instructor and peer feedback.

Optional reading: Vivian Gornick.

Zoom session 1 (1 hour 20 minutes).

Week 3: Real People, Real Characters

How do we translate the real people in our lives to real characters? What will make them come alive? How do we draw them (and ourselves) in a balanced, multi-dimensional way? Write 1,000-2,000 words per day focusing on character development. You’ll also try writing a profile, bio, or obit for each of your primary characters. Track problems, ideas, research, and any decisions you made. Submit 2,000 words.

Optional reading: Gerald Walker, “The Mechanics of Being.”

Week 4: Scene + Structure

Write 1,000-2,000 words a day paying close attention to structures that emerge, scenes that call out to you, plot points that need to be covered. Is there forward momentum? Causality? Coherent transitions? Are scenes in their right place? Does every scene reveal something crucial about the characters and the story you’re trying to tell? You’ll do one of my favorite plot points exercises this week, keep up with your notebook, and submit 2,000 words.

Optional reading: Darin Strauss, Half a Life.

Week 5: The Sound of You

Second virtual meetup with an optional one-hour silent writing session and prompts related to voice and point of view. Write 1,000-2,000 words per day this week and consider: How would you describe the sound of your voice? What tools do you need to convey who you are on the page and which part(s) of you and only you can tell this story? Have you found the point of view that serves the story best? Is there a distinction between the voice of the author and the voice of the protagonist? Keep up with your notebook. Submit 2000 words for feedback.

Optional Reading: TBD.

Zoom session 2 (1 hour 20 minutes).

Week 6: Cultivating a Writing Practice

We’re halfway through! We’ll turn to writers like Walter Mosley, Annie Dillard, Steven Dunn, and Joe Brainard to keep us going. How do we keep showing up for ourselves, for our stories, and the people affected by them? How do we fully immerse ourselves in the art of writing and the craft of memoir? This week your 1,000-2,000 words per day will dig deeper into memory and the weird ways recall works (or doesn’t work) in the brain. Utilize your notebook. Submit 2000 words.

Optinal Reading: Annie Dillard, “Write Till You Drop.”

Week 7: Close Focus + Telling Details

Jumping off of memory work from last week, you’ll keep relentless watch on your balance of showing and telling, use of close focus description and telling details, sense activation, somatic response, and visceral reverb. What does language allow the reader to see and feel?

Optional Reading: TBD.

Week 8: In Space + Time

Third virtual meetup with a voluntary one-hour silent writing session and an optional Memory Map prompt to conjure up all things setting. What purpose does the setting serve in your narrative? How do the characters move through time and space? How do you navigate real geographical elements and manipulate multiple timelines? Where on earth are we? Write 1,000-2,000 words with particular attention to sense of place.

Optional Reading: Jo Ann Beard, Colson Whitehead, Sven Birkerts.

Zoom session 3 (1 hour 20 minutes).

Week 9: Inside / Outside Story

By now we surely know why this story is important to us. But why would anyone else want to read it? Who is our audience? Who are we writing to and what are the larger cultural, historical, societal implications of our own experience? Consider the possibility of new directions, broader horizons, and open territory.

Optional reading: TBD.

Week 10: Beginnings + Endings

Look for new clues about possible beginnings and / or endings. What elements of the craft will you use for an opening hook? A closing echo? What does your beginning need to reveal? What does your ending need to address?

Optional reading: TBD.

Week 11: Revision as an Act of Love (Part 1)

Big changes. Revising, revisiting, and reversing. How to be a ruthless editor. What do we look for? What do we let go of? How do we shake up the foundation? What will be left of the pieces? And why does Kiese Laymon insist that this often harrowing process is “an act of love”? You’ll try some revision exercises on for size, keep up with your notebook, and submit 2,000 words for feedback.

Optional reading: Mary Karr on reversals and false selves.

Week 12: Revision as an Act of Love (Part 2)

The micro picture. What tools do you have in your arsenal for all the fine tuning, the precision, the polish? What questions are being asked of you now? This week will be our virtual meetup. We’ll discuss the journey and the process. You’ll shout out your wins, acknowledge how much you and your peers have accomplished, and share what you’ve learned. You’ll identify your intentions going forward and how you’ll manifest the work that’s left to do, one step at a time.

Optional reading: TBD.

Zoom session 4 (1 hour 20 minutes).

Course categories: ,
Course type:

Student Feedback for Blaise Allysen Kearsley:

“Blaise is a gifted teacher. Her class has been water in the desert for me.”

“Blaise was really able to build a community on Zoom. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do, and she made it seem so easy.”

“This is a fantastic format. The small class size ensures everyone gets ample time and submission opportunities. Blaise is such a skilled reader and editor, and her notes are always valuable. She offers wonderful perspectives, and assembles groups of writers with keen perspectives of their own. Highly recommend.”

“What Blaise does is so specific and special. You can’t find that in other workshops.”

“I love that the readings center BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ voices. That has been an important and edifying element.”

“During quarantine I had to show up for myself and others who counted on me, even when I felt like all I wanted to do was hide under my couch. Being part of this creative group of writers saved me.”

“I feel so inspired, enriched, encouraged, and empowered in my writing practice. I’ve been sitting at my desk since we all logged off just feeling how full of gratitude my heart is—for you, the workshop, and the entire group.”

“I genuinely looked forward to each week. The advice you gave sent me back out into the world with confidence and purpose.”

“Submitting something for publication for the first time was one of my goals for our eight-week workshop and that gave me the push I needed to hit the send button. Everything this group taught me about specificity, vulnerability and vivid storytelling made a huge difference.”

blaise allysen kearsley

About

Blaise Allysen Kearsley is a New York-based Black-biracial writer and teacher and the creator/producer/host of How I Learned, a long-running storytelling, comedy, and reading series.

Her writing has appeared in Catapult, Longreads, VICE, The Boston Globe, Midnight Breakfast, Electric Literature's The Nervous Breakdown, Oldster, Elle.com, three creative nonfiction anthologies—Nonwhite and Woman, PEREGRINE (forthcoming, Yellow Arrowing Publishing, November 22, 2022), Cringe (Crown Publishing, 2008), and Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic. (Gallery Books, 2006). She has written for several magazines and online outlets dating back to 2001 that are perhaps not worth mentioning by name and probably don't even exist anymore.

She teaches mostly memoir and personal essay writing at Gotham Writers Workshop, 7 Daughters of Eve Theatre & Performance Co., Writing Workshops, and Blaise Writers Workshop, which she founded in 2017.

She is a contributing editor at Vestal Review, the oldest flash fiction journal on the planet. As a storyteller she has performed at The Moth, Risk, Literary Death Match, Mortified, The Gotham Storytelling Festival, and at various venues that serve booze and sometimes snacks. In another life she took a lot of pictures with actual cameras, and some of those pictures were published in places like New York Magazine, Gawker, Playbill, The Morning News, JPG Magazine, and Nerve.

She lives in Brooklyn but if you need her for something somewhere else, maybe she'll go there.