Schedule & Curriculum
Phase I (Four Weeks): September 17th, 2019 – October 8th, 2020
Students will read two published memoirs assigned by the instructor. We’ll spend these first four weeks discussing craft and working on exercises based on these memoirs. Through the discussions and exercises, we will gain a common language about characterization, the use of time, structure, voice, mood, themes, and narrative devices, and the use of a persona narrator. This common vocabulary will be essential for the workshopping phase of the class. Students will also develop a preliminary synopsis of their proposed memoir, and an outline that will serve as a starting point for their writing during the class. At the end of this phase, the instructor will meet with students for 30 minutes each to discuss their synopsis and preliminary outline and help them set goals for the next phase of class.
At the end of this phase, students will understand:
- How to read a memoir for craft as well as story.
- The importance of using a common literary language when talking about published works and works in progress.
- How to take risks and experiment with voice and mood and tone in their own writing.
- How to create a preliminary outline that emphasizes what they need to explore in their own experience instead of an outline that emphasizes past events.
- That any synopsis or outline is provisional at this stage and will change as their understanding of their story changes during the writing.
- How much distance a writer needs from material to craft it effectively.
After Phase I there will be a one-week break for student meetings.
Phase II: (Six Weeks): October 22nd, 2020 – December 3rd, 2020
Class does not meet the week of Thanksgiving.
This will follow the Memoir in Progress format, in which five students per session present their single scenes or excerpts, freshly written, for immediate feedback from the group. Each student can expect to present work at least three times during this phase, but all students should be producing five to seven pages per week, whether or not they’re scheduled to present on a given week. In Memoir in Progress, this is the section of class in which students get enough feedback to maintain the necessary energy and inspiration to continue writing. Many students find the writing in this phase easier than it has been in the past. We’ll ask whether the writer is moving away from the pat version of what happened. Is the writer considering larger themes and cultural forces? Is the writer questioning past motivations? Is the writer showing compassion for other characters in the story? At the end of this phase, writers will turn in no more than 20 pages of work to the instructor. These pages should consist of a scene or section they feel is particularly strong, as well as another section that’s problematic or that demonstrates how much their understanding of the material has changed.
At the end of this phase, students should:
- Have developed skills in workshopping works in progress.
- Have bonded with other classmates and created a supportive environment that encourages everyone to take risks.
- Understand that they need to maintain a regular writing habit to create a book-length work, and that they need to generate lots of pages of work, not all of which will make the cut.
- Have revised their outlines and received direct feedback from the instructor on their project.
Phase III (Writing Period): December 17th – January 21st, 2021
In this phase, students are paired or placed into groups of three and sent off to write intensively at home. After presenting work in class in the first phases, students will need time on their own to revise and to create new work, ideally at a clip of about 10 pages per week. They will check in on each other and with the instructor to see that they are continuing apace.
At the end of this phase, students will:
- Have had the opportunity to generate more than 40 pages of new work—some will be polished, and some will be experimental.
- Know how to maintain a writing regimen and be able to work with other students outside of class to maintain their motivation and commitment to the project.
- Have received detailed feedback from the instructor on the 20 pages they turned in.
Phase IV (Six Weeks): February 4th – March 11th, 2021
In this phase we come back to the classroom for another six weeks of workshopping using the Memoir in Progress format. In these workshops, we will focus on the writer’s intent for each scene or excerpt and how clearly that is coming through. We will also be talking about how the new material fits in with the manuscript that’s taking shape.
At the end of this phase students will:
- Have written more than enough to apply for the Memoir Incubator or for a residency.
- Consider the possibility that the original scope of the work is changing, and that new questions and ideas about the past experience have emerged.
Phase V (Four Weeks): March 18th – April 8th, 2021
In this phase we’ll meet four times to talk about issues relating to next steps. What will you do with these pages? In the first week, we will talk about structure again. With new pages, a new structure has likely emerged. In week two, we will talk about voice, and how to make sure that you have created a distinctive voice for the narrator. In week three, we will talk about how to excerpt pieces of your memoir as publishable essays. In week four, we will talk about next steps, including micro-editing and the role of the book proposal. At the end of this phase the instructor will have a 30-minute exit meeting with each student to discuss their progress and to help set goals for the future.
By the end of the final phase students will:
- Understand the amount of progress they’ve made in the past several months and have a plan for continuing to write and develop their work.
- Understand how a strong voice helps them tell a strong story.
- Have ideas for stand-alone essays to finish and submit to journals.
- Understand what a book proposal contains and how to submit one.
Final student meetings will take place the week of April 15th.
Classes will take place on Thursday evenings, 6:00-9:00 p.m.