I enrolled in an online memoir writing course last November.
All taught by an award-winning, best-selling memoirist.
It’s one of the smartest (I’m patting myself on the back!) decisions I could have made.
Although I’ve been writing my entire adult life, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about writing memoir, until I enrolled in the course.
Yes, I took a short memoir writing course on Udemy back in 2021. And, yes, I read books on writing memoir. The course and the books taught me about writing memoir.
But the online course I just completed actually got me writing memoir.
With weekly lessons, and multiple writing assignments within each lesson, the course gave me the opportunity to practice the skills I was learning.
I also learned that memoir is not the same as autobiography.
The latter being reserved for famous folks and oftentimes sharing a chronological retelling of their life story.
In memoir, the writer uses their personal experience to illustrate a bigger story.
My memoir can’t just be my life story.
It has to be about more than what happened.
It needs to be about what what happened means.
It’s about looking back from where I sit now, and identifying the transformation, personal growth, or learning that came about because of what happened.
And—and this is a big AND—how is that learning or change relevant to other people?
I also learned that memoir is a form of creative nonfiction.
I’d never even heard the term creative nonfiction before enrolling in the course. I also had never practiced any of the its elements.
Scene or Setting.
While I’m still practicing what I’ve learned, the course has already dramatically changed my writing.
It’s a more challenging and time-consuming way to write, to be sure.
I’m editing and rewriting like never before.
For example, this piece—My Sister Is Clearing Out Mom and Dad’s House—took me five drafts, and hours of editing on each of those drafts, to arrive at the final story. Through all the revisions I uncovered what the story was really about, which was a far cry from what I thought it was about when I laid down the first vomit draft.
So back to the question I began this post with: What Now?
I’ve finished the course.
No more weekly lessons to keep up with.
No more writing prompts to follow.
It’s time to devote all of my writing time to something I started doing on the side during the course.
And that is… writing essays.
As I shared last month, I joined Medium, and I’ve been submitting my essays to publications on the platform. I’m happy to report every essay I’ve submitted has been accepted and published.
Below are the Medium publications I’m proud to have my work featured in.
Click on the images below to read my published stories on Medium.
Moving forward, my plan is to continue writing memoir and personal essays, and submitting them to publications on Medium.
I’m also going to begin working on my book-length memoir.
Over the past twelve weeks, I’ve had four potential book-length memoir ideas rise to the surface.
My job now is to pick one and start identifying experiences from my life, and crafting them into artfully-told stories. Stories that illustrate the universal theme I want the book to communicate.
Of the four ideas that have bubbled up, three are what I’d call nice and safe. They’re perfectly good ideas and I know I can excavate plenty of stories to illustrate the themes they represent. I also know the themes are universal and will likely resonate with many people.
The fourth potential book idea is scary as hell.
It’s the one I find myself saying, Oh shit, really? I have to write about that?!
And it’s that reaction that’s telling me it’s probably the one I’m going to (have to) choose.
When I look at the memoirs that I’ve read and found the most impactful, and the ones that get the most media attention, they’re typically not nice and safe. They’re often messy tales that require bravery and vulnerability to share. But it’s that bravery and vulnerability that makes them so powerful.
And I too, want to be brave and vulnerable. Even if it does scare the crap out of me.
I know we all go through shit in our lives. And far too often, we opt to hide, or sugarcoat the truth, and only show the world the shiny, happy side of life.
I grew up in a family that did that. We looked like the perfect family. We most certainly were not.
I’ve followed that example a little more than I’d like to admit, and it doesn’t feel authentic.
I don’t want to share dirt just to get attention.
But I also don’t want to gloss over the truth.
I want to do what author Beth Kephart teaches in her memoir writing workbook: “Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.”
Because that is the purpose of memoir.
So yes, I’m leaning toward the scary, messy, gritty, and very real memoir I hope will be more than a nice story.
I know it will be challenging to write.
As my memoir writing instructor Alison Wearing says, “Writing memoir is more than a literary journey.”
That may be my biggest takeaway from her course. And the biggest surprise.
Writing memoir feels like unraveling the truth that’s buried deep inside.
It’s an arduous process of writing, and rewriting, until the real story emerges.
I accept the challenge.
I’m gathering my courage, and preparing to unravel away.