Mini-Memoir: How to Write a Personal Story | Jen Knox | Skillshare

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Mini-Memoir: How to Write a Personal Story

teacher avatar Jen Knox, Writer, Meditation Instructor

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction: Your Story


    • 2.

      Mining Memories p1


    • 3.

      Mining Memories p2


    • 4.

      Rough Draft + Revision


    • 5.

      Finalizing the Draft


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About This Class

This workshop is about getting in touch with our deepest creative selves, mining memories and imagination, working through blocks, and getting words to the page. We will discuss what matters in creative nonfiction and how to reign in the glorious messiness of real-life experiences. 

You’ll learn techniques for elevating storytelling, refining your message, and reaching the audience you are meant to reach, be that a wide-reaching audience or a loved one. Resources mentioned in the class are below.

Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son

Lopate, Phillip. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present

About the instructor:

Jen is a devoted creativity coach and teacher whose fiction and creative nonfiction appears in over a hundred publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, NPR Online, Chicago Tribune's Printer's Row, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Her work has been nominated for the Pen Faulkner Award and the Best of the Net awards. Her books include After the Gazebo, Resolutions: A Family in Stories, and The Glass City (Prize Americana winner). Jen founded Unleash Creatives to offer new writers access to the information she wished she'd had. She loves bringing writers from idea to draft and draft to publication. For more on Jen's writing, go to her author website

Meet Your Teacher

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Jen Knox

Writer, Meditation Instructor

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: Your Story: Hi there. I'm Jen. I'm so glad you're here. This workshop is all about you, You and your story. We're here to write a mini memoir which could also be called a personal essay. And the point of this workshop is Teoh begin by mining our memory and figuring out what it is that we want to share with readers moving from there to applying literary techniques and just good storytelling techniques to really life, which is messy and wonderful and most definitely not with a clear plotline, no matter what. Um, from there we are going to talk about what it means to share creative nonfiction with the world and how we can do so in a conscious way and do so in a way where someone who has had a completely different life experience can read and gain something from your story. So your story matters. I'm glad you're here. I can't wait to move forward before you go to the next video. I encourage you to go to a component A in the description below and answer those two simple questions. This is just about intention Setting from there will take off like a rocket. See on the next video 2. Mining Memories p1: hi, everyone. So hopefully answer the two questions. Number one. What kind of time for a Marie thinking you want to tackle in this work. So that could mean, Well, I want to write about my teenage years, or I want to write about a single, isolated dinner where everything in my family dynamic changed or I want to write about my wedding. So whatever it is that you want to write about in terms of the timeline, I think that's a very important sort of guideline to start with. It gives you a now outline that you can kind of work toward and around. And it also helps you to understand what the challenges will be around delivering a message about that time in your life. So once you have that and you thought a little bit about who you want to share this with, Um, and the reason I ask that is, you know, because we're going to have a really different delivery if we want, you know, the world at large to read our story or if we're religious writing this for a few family members that we hold near and dear to our heart. So either way. Just continue to cogitate on those two questions. Make sure that they're pretty clear in your mind. And as we move forward, you'll probably get a little bit clearer about both answers. If you're not already, then I want to move into this delightful process of mining our memory. So we have very valuable memories where our memories air colored by emotion, they're biased. They're outright wrong. A lot of times knowing that going in, we can do the best we can. So I really love this anthology called The Art of the Personal Essay, which was edited by Philip Lopate. And I highly recommend it for anybody, whether they're a writer or not. But in it, Mr Lopate says, how the world comes at another person. The irritations, jubilation, Z aches and pains, humorous flashes these air the classic building materials of the personal essay. So these are all things that we can all relate to because they're things that no matter what our experience, our, um, we have some sort of emotional resonance connection. So with that said, let's take a moment, Teoh just dive into our past. We know our timeline and what I want you to Dio is pick three visual cues three things that are very visual from that time in your life and write those things down so it could be the , um the red jacket that your father always wore. You always remember that from that time in your life, it could be something very specific. Like, um, a music box that your grandmother gave you. It could be something that is a little bit more symbolic. So, you know, you played basketball a lot, and it's not a particular basketball, but the image of a basketball reminds you of that time. So I'd like you to pick three things and you can pause the video, write those things down. They have to be visual. They have to be something that you could theoretically either pick up or touch or see. And once you write those three things down, join us back here. All right. So you have your three things now. What I want you to dio is take whichever one is most vivid to you initially. And I want you Teoh, right for just a paragraph. And this is an exercise. This isn't really moving forward with your essay per se. But write a paragraph from the perspective of this object I know. Weird, right? It's fun, though. So if you're writing from the perspective of a basketball, where does this basketball live? In your home? What does it think when it's being touched, when it's being bounced when it's being thrown? Does this basketball see nervousness or excitement? Does it see upset and injury? So whatever it is just right for one paragraph. See where it goes. So that was minding the memory exercise number one. So the next video is going to be a second exercise about just kind of helping you to get back into that mental headspace that you were in. Even if it was just last week that you're writing about. Sometimes this could be very helpful, so I'll see you in the next video. 3. Mining Memories p2: Hi there. Okay, so we're back. So this is exercise, Teoh. We are going to think about the macrocosm. So what? I mean when I say that is what was going on in the world during this time you're writing about. So if there was a particular election that was going on or you remember certain commercials from this time or you remember, um, a certain song. Think about all of the things that come to mind when you bring up this era again. Even if it was just a week ago. What was going on in the news? What were you listening to? What was your family listening to? Who was around you? What was around? What was going on in the world? What were the priorities of your country? Of your community, of your society. So just take a moment and list is many things as you can and just list them. Don't worry about writing in any kind of paragraph form or anything like that. And once you get 10 items, I want you to reduce it to the top three. The three that are most resonant for you. The three that are just most vivid in your mind and most related to what you want. Teoh. Communicate to your reader and you have your top three items that represent the macrocosm. And you have your three items that represent you in your experience as a child or as a young adult or, you know, as you from last week, um, we will have enough sort of symbolic fodder to move forward. So let's go forward and start to really carve out a draft. I'll see you in the next video. 4. Rough Draft + Revision: All right, You're back. So we've done a few exercises. We've explored the time in our life that we want to capture through the point of view of an object, which is, uh, kind of a fun little way of trying to achieve a little objectivity. I know you're laughing, Um, in our writing as well as, um, we have looked at the macrocosm and just thought about what was going on in the world around us, which will help keep us somewhat anchored as we move forward. So we don't get too caught up in our own personal emotional reality, which is something of the danger of writing about ourselves and our own experiences. So how to begin? I think that this is the beauty of nonfiction. One of the absolute 100% best ways to begin an essay is Teoh, either in a subtitle or title or in one of the first few sentences, state exactly where you are and what year it is and what's going on in the world set context. So you don't have to put all of that in there, but just to give you an example. James Baldwin, in notes of a native son begins on the 29th of July In 1943. My father died on the same day. A few hours later. His last child was born over a month before this, While all our energies were concentrated in the waiting for these events, there had been in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. So first of all, Baldwin is one of the most powerful writers ever to live second of all. See what he did? He created context. He offered the macrocosm what is going on in the world as well as what was going on in his personal world. So see if you can start by grounding the reader, offering a few details that will capture both where were at in time, who you are or were at that time and what was going on around you. And then just continue to write and see where the essay takes you. This is my best advice for moving forward and I encourage you, Teoh just allow the writing to flow. Because with nonfiction, if you write too much to an outline, it could be very tempting. Teoh not truly take it where it needs to go. Writing an essay is an exploratory process, so have fun with it. Be open minded and once you have a draft, will meet back here for a final video on how to revise and consider sending our writing out or sharing it with our loved ones. 5. Finalizing the Draft: Hi, there were back. So we're to the push up portion of this exercise video. Actually, if this wasn't exercise video, we would be to the push up portion because that's what revision is. It's the tough stuff. What I want you to do is look at whatever you wrote and it could be as rough is rough. Could be could be very polished in your mind. And I want you to ask yourself, quite frankly, and answer this quite frankly, Does it have a beginning? Doesn't have a middle and doesn't have an end. So with creative nonfiction, a lot of times the beginning is that grounding You're inserting a reader or whomever. You're telling your story too. In the moment that it begins, you're telling them when it was what was going on, what was going on internally and externally. Then, from there, you can journey pretty much anywhere. You can be very die aggressive and start with a linear timeline and end up jumping around to all aspects of your life, connecting things to a theme. Or you can go vary chronologically and move forward in time. So depending on what you're trying to tell, what you're trying to portray and or explore this is going to look differently for all of us. What I ask you to do is go back through. And if you were to just summarize this story in a sentence, the beginning, the middle, the end, one sentence for each What would it look like? Would it be a story, or would it be just kind of on ongoing sort of narrative that didn't really have a natural ending? Because it's quite possible in This happens quite often that you don't have an ending yet, and that's absolutely fine. But get real with yourself. Go through and ask yourself, Do I have a beginning, Middle and end? E. And once you've done that and you feel like you do, then moving forward, it's all about just the very wonderful, delightful process of making sure number one the grammar and syntax. And all of that is in check all of the stuff you have to do with fiction, right? It's compelling. It is something that someone could read and have a completely different experience coming from that somebody who had a different experience than you could read and in some way relate to because they can relate to the human element of it. They can relate to the emotion, the residence, the change, that feeling of desperation or success or challenge. But then here is the other thing. You also want to read through this thinking, How would anybody that I'm writing about in this particular essay read this? And would there be anything that I could add? So you know this person doesn't have to like it. So if you're writing about Uncle Joe and Uncle Joe was a horrible guy, we don't really care if Uncle Joe likes R s A. But is there any perspective anything that Uncle Joe might have put in here that you to saw ? Okay, so in other words, look at it from a 3 60 perspective and see if there's anything that you're missing. This is a wonderful thing to do with nonfiction because a lot of times we get so caught up in the emotional storytelling that we forget really important details that would help to better tell the story to other people. And then finally, we want to revisit that other big question I had in the beginning, which is who do I want to share this with keeping that in mind, it may be very well possible that your answer has changed. So maybe at first it was the entire world. And now that you wrote something very raw and real and gritty, you're realizing maybe I only do want to share this with my dog or my immediate family or my husband or my wife. So get real with yourself around that Teoh. And sometimes it's good to just put the draft away and let it simmer for a little bit. Um, either simmer or cool off. I guess it depends on what you wrote and then return to that draft and ask yourself that question. How do I really feel comfortable sharing this with the world? And I'll just be completely candid and say I put some of my own writing out there into the world and actually signed a contract that allowed me to lose its to a lot of my story. Um, and I've regretted that quite a lot, but since then I've put work out into the world that I felt really good about, and there's nothing like it when someone comes to you and says you know I wasn't going through exactly what you went through, but I can really. And I'm so happy you shared your story because I feel less alone, right? The same could be, um, incredibly powerful for you if you were just able to share your story with a family member or leave your legacy. So whatever your why is whatever your underlying reason is, just revisit that as you revise and polish this draft. So I wish you all good things on your creative nonfiction journey. From here, there are a few resource is in blue, and I hope that you'll post maybe even just a little little glimpse of what you wrote so that we can share our stories and better understand each other in the literary sense and beyond. So wonderful to work with you.