Fall: Finding Your Narrative: The Fundamentals of Memoir
Winter: Memoir I: Themes and Scenes
Spring: Memoir II: Plotting Your Life
Summer: Break or Elective
Fall: Memoir III: From Memories to Manuscript
Winter: Memoir IV: Completion and Revision
This is optional/not required to receive the Writing Certificate, but this option is available for one calendar year after completing Memoir IV.
*Students must complete one elective drawn from the open-enrollment Continuing Studies creative writing courses. The elective may be taken during the summer break, concurrent with any Memoir Writing Certificate courses, or up to a year after Memoir IV. Examples of electives include poetry, essay writing, novel writing, and courses focused on specific genres or craft elements.
Course OverviewsThese descriptions are general frameworks. Individual instructors will bring their own style and interest to their courses.
We begin by tackling the exhilarating yet daunting decision to write a memoir, addressing common concerns like the reaction of family members, the fear of revealing vulnerabilities, and concerns about whether you have the “right” to tell this story. (Hint: you do!) We'll guide students in writing fearlessly, exploring the difference between journalistic nonfiction and personal narrative. When analyzing selections from published memoirs, we will read like writers, dissecting craft choices and uncovering universal resonance. Through prompts and exercises, students will establish a consistent writing practice, generating new material and progressing their stories within a supportive cohort, laying the groundwork for the sequence to come.
Finding Your Narrative: The Fundamentals of Memoir
Memoir I: Themes and ScenesThe focus of this course is on crafting compelling memoir openings. Through close analysis of a variety of published memoirs, we will assess the impact of various strategies for beginning personal narrative. We will examine both prologues and first chapters, studying how they engage readers while revealing underlying themes. Reading assignments, structured discussions and thought-provoking prompts will nurture the development of vivid scenes, enabling you to generate content without needing to structure your entire memoir yet. Seeking to uncover the central theme of your story will provide you with a guiding principle as you continue to select material to include. You will finish this course with an intentionally crafted beginning and a collection of thematically connected scenes.
Memoir II: Plotting Your LifePlotting a memoir can be challenging, since real-life experiences often lack a tidy structure. In this course, our aim is to balance the authenticity of lived experience with the art of storytelling, preserving truth while learning techniques to captivate readers, such as simplification and selection, enabling us to know what material to pick from the vast store of lived experience. We will tackle the struggle of maintaining momentum in the middle of the book, with practical strategies to combat writer's block and ensure sustained reader engagement. Through outlining and project mapping, students will establish a plot framework that will still allow room for creative exploration.
Memoir III: From Memories to ManuscriptThe third course in the series expands upon the foundational knowledge acquired in previous courses. You will continue generating new material to enrich themes and heighten the stakes of your story. Now that you have generated a substantial amount of raw material, it's time to envision your memoir's ending, which will provide a clear sense of destination and urgency. We will explore the optimal structure for your narrative, ensuring coherence by aligning the ending with the beginning, thus imbuing the story with a sense of completeness and resonance.
Memoir IV: Completion and RevisionWhile students should have a beginning, a middle, and an end to their memoir by this point in the sequence, inevitably there remain holes to be filled in the draft. This last core course will enable students to fill in these holes, working closely with an instructor and in small dedicated groups to identify missing sections, guide the redrafting of chapters that previous workshops have shown to be problematic, perform line editing, or take on any other activities to complete and improve upon the manuscript. What you will learn in this course will enable you to take your memoir from a collection of memories to a powerful, cohesive narrative that captivates your readers while staying true to your life story.
ElectiveLearning how to write a memoir requires a varied skill set. You need to understand story structure, including the building blocks of scene vs. summary; have a strong sense of language and the ability to manipulate it to achieve your desired effect; and perhaps even be able to write in a specific genre, if your memoir veers into the territory typically inhabited by food or travel writers or historians. With that in mind, we ask each student to consider where they might have a deficit in their education or feel that a course might help fill in a gap, thinking about their weaknesses as a memoirist and choosing a course that will help to strengthen those weaknesses. For example:
- If you have rich characters but find plot challenging, a short story course could help you to work on heightening conflict in scenes with a stronger sense of causality.
- A poetry course would allow you to slow down and work on developing a quality of imagery, rhythm, and lyrics leading to more resonant work.
- A screenwriting class could be beneficial for authors who struggle with dialogue.
- There are also craft-specific offerings, including courses on POV, character, plot, description, and dialogue.
You may or may not be able to work directly on your memoir in this course, but it will make you a better artist, and you will bring that artistry back to your book.
Memoir Writing Certificate students will select their elective from the regular, open-enrollment Continuing Studies creative writing course offerings. Students may choose either an online or on-campus course, and it must be taken for a letter grade. A list will be emailed each quarter of the upcoming courses that would meet this requirement, so make sure you are enrolling in something that is on that list. Students must complete the elective requirement prior to enrolling in the Tutorial.
Students must earn a C- or better in order to meet this requirement. Courses taken through Stanford Continuing Studies within the past five years may be applied toward this requirement, subject to the program director’s approval. Continuing Studies does not accept transfer credits; therefore, courses taken outside of this program (including at Stanford) will not meet the elective requirement.
One-on-One TutorialThe One-on-One Tutorial is an optional final step for Memoir Writing Certificate students who wish to work intensively with an instructor for 10 weeks, launching a revision of their memoir. Before the quarter begins, the instructor will read the student’s entire memoir draft and provide developmental editing suggestions and line notes on the manuscript. Each student-instructor pair will establish the goals of the tutorial and create a schedule of deadlines and meeting times for the quarter. The student will have the opportunity to revise or generate new material—up to 100 additional pages—getting feedback on each scheduled submission. Instructors are drawn from the core instructor pool, as well as other established memoirists who teach creative writing courses through Continuing Studies. We always ask the student for any preferences and try to honor them, and we never make a pairing without the student's full approval.
Tuition for the One-on-One Tutorial covers manuscripts up to 100,000 words. There is a surcharge for manuscripts over this word count.