I'll bet you have a story that's filled with wisdom.
Maybe it's an adventure or a hard-won tale of personal transformation. A story about perseverance. Meaning. Finding success on your own terms. Love.
So where do you start? How do you actually write that memoir?
And how do you get your story to come to life on the page? How do you navigate the craft and technique of writing your story?
And what do you do when you get stuck?
Hi, I'm Tanja Pajevic, author of The Secret Life of Grief, winner of the Nautilus Silver Book Award in memoir.
For the past 20 years, I've been helping others write their stories and I want to help you write yours. In those years, I’ve learned one lesson over and over again: there’s incredible power in telling your story.
Your story matters. Let’s get it into the world!
Why memoir? Why now?
Because true stories are powerful. They inspire us on a deeply personal level. As Brene Brown says, we’re hardwired for story. It’s how we learn.
As a writer, teacher and long-time reader of memoir, I can tell you that the freedom that comes from telling your story is like no other.
A memoir allows you to share your wisdom, absolutely. The actual process of writing that memoir, though, also expands the constraints of what you thought was possible for yourself. I’ve seen this over and over again with my clients: writing your memoir allows you to move into a deeper, more authentic sense of self.
That’s an incredibly rewarding journey. At times, it can also be challenging.
And trying to write a memoir without support can feel like wrestling an octopus. Where do you start? How do you narrow down your story, much less shape it? What do you do when the initial excitement wears off and you find yourself in the mucky middle? And how do you navigate the emotional terrain of delving into the heart of who you are?
In this clear, easy-to-follow, 9-week online course, I’ll walk you through the craft and technique of writing memoir, teach you how to clarify your narrative arc, show you how to set up a consistent writing schedule, and help you navigate the sticky points that come with writing your life story.
Your story matters. And the world needs your gifts, perhaps now more than ever.
How to Write a Compelling Memoir
In this comprehensive 9-week course, you’ll go from feeling alone, confused and overwhelmed to feeling excited and supported in the power of your story, clear in its scope, and confident in the craft and technique of creating a compelling memoir.
With 6 online modules, 5 live coaching calls and a private community forum, you’ll get plenty of support and accountability as well as laser-focused coaching within a wonderfully supportive community. You’ll leave this course with a strong foundation for your memoir as well as a clear set of next steps.
How it Works
The keys to writing memoir are getting the right structure, accountability, encouragement and support. That's why I’ve built the following pieces into this course:
• 2 "on-ramp" bonus trainings to help you get your (mindset) game on and set up a writing schedule you can adhere to.
• 6 online modules covering craft and technique as well as weekly mindset tips. Each module is broken into bite-sized steps, with video trainings and supporting PDFs accessible to you for two years.
• 5 live group coaching calls (we'll meet on Zoom, and all calls will be recorded in case you're unable to make it).
• Support and feedback for your short writing exercises (up to 15 pages total).
• Private forum for Q&A, support and accountability.
• 4 "lift-off" bonus interviews with authors, editors and book reviewers to clarify next steps.
Here are some of the memoirs we’ll be looking at throughout the course:
Educated by Tara Westover
The Color of Water by James McBride
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber
Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, and more.
Module 1: Building a Strong Foundation for Your Memoir
In this first module, we’ll get clear on why you’re writing this memoir and what it is you want to accomplish. We'll narrow down your primary theme and get clear on the big picture pieces that you need in order to create a compelling memoir, discussing what works (as well as what doesn't) in today's bestselling contemporary memoirs. As we're crystalizing your memoir's primary theme, we'll also be clarifying your book’s audience and goals so that you can stay on track throughout the writing process.
We'll ground these big-picture ideas in specific writing exercises to ensure you're making consistent progress, and will identify a few key scenes of your storyline to get you writing right away. As we're breaking down your writing goals (and creating a sustainable writing habit that will get you to the finish line), we'll also be bringing your inner critic into the light so that she can’t sabotage you.
Module 2: Identifying the Building Blocks of Your Story
In Module 2, we’ll do a deep dive into your narrative arc as you continue to clarify the parameter of your story. As we're identifying the key scenes you'll need to include in your book (as well as which ones to leave out), we'll start to explore your book's minor themes as well.
From there, we'll discuss the role of narrator (hugely important!) as well as how to use this to your advantage as you're writing. Then we'll delve into characterization so that you can learn how to capture real people on the page, making sure that your reader cares about them.
We’ll wrap up by showing you how to organize your materials so that you can stay focused, on track and making consistent progress with your memoir instead of falling into confusion and overwhelm.
Module 3: Grounding Your Story in Time and Place
In this module, we'll continue to deepen your characterization as well as fill out your setting in order to ensure that your reader is fully grounded in your story. We’ll discuss successful examples of setting and characterization as they appear in contemporary best-selling memoirs, using them as examples to propel your writing forward.
From there, we'll break apart the revision process and give you a handy metaphor for course-correcting your writing schedule as well as your book's road map. We’ll also delve into the importance of safety and self-care--imperative when you're writing memoir--in order to give you a solid set of tools to get you to the finish line.
Module 4: Shaping Your Story
In this module, we'll teach you the craft and technique of shaping your story in order to make it more compelling for your reader. We'll discuss how (and where) to slow down the narrative as well as where to speed it up. We'll learn what parts of your story need to be expanded, which ones need to be condensed, and how, where and when to weave in backstory.
From there, we’ll learn how to create realistic dialogue on the page, using examples from contemporary memoirs to ground us in effective dialogue techniques.
We’ll also expose any underlying expectations around your writing and learn a solid set of tools for dealing with your inner critic. Instead of letting that pesky inner critic drive the bus, we'll give you specific, concrete tools for mining her true wisdom so that she doesn’t derail your writing.
Module 5: Magnifying Your Story
In this module, we’ll discuss the power of reflective voice and show you how, when and where to use it, citing examples from contemporary memoirs to deepen your learning. We'll also continue to fill out the minor themes of your narrative in order to add additional layers of complexity, subtlety and meaning to your memoir.
From there, we’ll magnify your story by showing you how to weave together the craft and technique teachings we’ve discussed so far, ensuring your reader emotionally connects to your story.
We'll wrap up by addressing the most common pitfalls I see while writing memoir before showing you how to navigate them.
Module 6: Bringing Your Story to Life
In this module, we'll discuss your book's timeline as well as your larger goals for the book. We'll discuss the two main publishing paths for your book, introduce you to the basics of marketing and show you how and when to start growing your author platform in order to plant the seeds for a successful book launch.
We’ll also identify the places where you might get stuck (including writer's block and the fear of being seen), then show you how to get past them. I'll introduce you to a powerful visualization to access your inner wisdom and clarify your next simple steps, and we'll send you off with resources to keep you inspired, motivated and on track for moving forward!
Plus 2 "On Ramp" Bonuses to Get You Off on the Right Foot
"On Ramp" Bonus 1: How to Get Your (Mindset) Game On!
• What will my mother say when she reads this?
• Can my ex sue me?
• Does my—gulp—story even matter?!
These are some of the common concerns we all face when writing memoir, so let’s get to the heart of these issues now, deflating them of their soul-sucking power. By tackling these questions from the get-go, we’ll also free up extra time and energy you can funnel into your writing.
"On Ramp" Bonus 2: How to Create a Writing Schedule that Works for You
In this training, we’ll identify some of the common saboteurs that keep folks from writing, then we’ll set you up for success by creating a writing schedule you can realistically adhere to with everything else you have going on in your life.
Since memoir tends to bring up a lot of emotion for most folks, I’ll also give you some of my best tips and tricks to make the writing process more safe. We’ll discuss the importance of creating a writing ritual, as well as ways to anchor the habit of writing into your body so that you can create consistency and momentum—key to completing any writing project.
Plus 4 "Lift Off" Bonus Interviews Packed with Expert Advice to Clarify Your Next Steps
"Lift Off" Bonus Interview 1: On Writing and Promoting Your Memoir with Gail Storey
Gail D. Storey is the author of I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award, Foreword IndieFab Book of the Year Award, Nautilus Silver Award, the Colorado Book Award, and the Barbara Savage Award. I Promise Not to Suffer was praised by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, as “Witty, wise, and full of heart…as inspiring as it is hilarious, as poignant as it is smart.”
Gail’s first novel, The Lord’s Motel, was praised by the New York Times Book Review as “a tale of unwise judgments and wise humor.” Her second novel, God’s Country Club, was a Barnes &Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection.
Her website, including the book trailer for I Promise Not to Suffer, is gailstorey.com.
She is married to Dr. Porter Storey, a national leader in hospice and palliative medicine. They live in Boulder, Colorado. A former administrative director of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, Gail now meditates, jumps out of cakes, and writes a blog at gailstorey.com, not necessarily all at the same time.
Her literary papers are archived at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections.
"Lift Off" Bonus Interview 2: What You Need to Know Before Submitting Your Manuscript to an Editor with Melanie Mulhall
Melanie Mulhall, founder of Dragonheart Writing and Editing, helps writers manifest their dreams through writing coaching, editing, and shepherding projects to produce words that sing, dance, and get attention. Her work is about fostering a working relationship of trust, understanding, and fun with the writer. It is maintaining the author`s voice in a way that makes them say, "That sounds just like me, only better!" It is about honoring the book and honoring the process.
Melanie has been awarded four First Place (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013), two Second Place (2014, 2017), two Third Place (2009, 2016), and a fistful of Merit EVVY Awards in the Technical Category of Editing.
"Lift Off" Bonus Interview 3: Promoting Your Memoir with Nancy Saltzman
Nancy Saltzman is a frequently sought after inspirational speaker nationwide. She also is the author of the best selling memoir Radical Survivor, a love story filled with hope following the death of her husband and two sons in a small plane crash. Shari Caudron, award-winning author wrote, “Saltzman’s story, told with honesty, insight and laugh-out-loud flashes of humor, teaches us that it is possible to embrace life in the wake of tragedy”. Radical Survivor received recognition as Shelf Unbound’s Notable Indie in 2015 and E-lit’s Silver (2nd) place winner for memoirs published in 2012.
Dr. Saltzman grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, and moved to Colorado Springs in 1970 to attend Colorado College. After graduation she began a 32 year career in education as a teacher and administrator, and retired in 2006 to write her memoir, Radical Survivor. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. During her career Saltzman received the prestigious Milken Family Foundation Award for her work in education, was recognized as a Colorado National Distinguished Principal, and awarded the American Cancer Society’s Sword of Hope.
"Lift Off" Bonus Interview 4: What Your Book Reviewer Wants You to Know with Patti Thorn
Patti Thorn is a co-founder of BlueInk Review, a service that offers professional book reviews of independently published titles. Since its inception, BlueInk has reviewed more than 7,000 titles from across the globe. Thorn also served for 28 years as a writer and editor at the Rocky Mountain News, which had a daily circulation of 300,000 at the time of its closing in February, 2009. She spent the last 12 years of her tenure as chief book critic and editor of the book review pages. The section earned acclaim for its incisive and timely reviews, as well as for Thorn’s weekly column about books and the publishing industry. Thorn is the three-time recipient of first place awards for Arts and Entertainment Criticism from the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists. In addition, she is the co-author of Fun Places to Go with Children in Colorado, published by Chronicle Books. The book has enjoyed two printings and sold over 20,000 copies. She has also served as an independent editor for both fiction and nonfiction.
Join Us for the Next Round!
If you’re interested in joining us for a future session of Memoir Mastery, click the button below to get on the advance notice list (including early bird discounts!). You'll also receive articles and inspiration from Tanja.
Thank you so much for this wonderful class! It has not only helped me shape my story and helped me to see in my mind's eye how it will unfold, but it has really motivated me to get it written and out there. I really needed both the instruction and the motivational push to do it. Thank you!
First, I really enjoyed having the chance to hear and read snippets from so many other memoirs. I loved seeing the examples of different techniques and craft and figuring out which styles and voices resonated with me. Second, having support from others is certainly key. I enjoyed hearing others' questions and thought processes and the writing challenges they were facing.
Third, I also benefited from the constant reminders to analyze what the inner critic was saying and learn how to deal with the voices and emotions resulting from that inner critic. Being aware that the inner critic exists, acknowledging that, and then finding ways to re-empower and move on is really important. Fourth, the reminders to think about what to leave out was really important for me . . . I think I will ask myself that question numerous times as continue to write: Does this need to be in here or not? --Sandi York
This amazing course has given me the courage and inspiration to get on with my memoir. The whole set up is unique, especially since there are videos for each segment .... and then you get to ask questions in a group setting for each module. The use of wonderful examples from other memoirs, got me steeped in the literature. Tanja is a wonderful teacher! –A.M.H.
Tanja's class was just what I needed to get my memoir off the ground, especially a memoir about grief. She not only gave me tips and tricks for writing, but I also gained some life coaching hacks that I will use with my inner critic and be able to pass that onto to my clients. She also created a nurturing and safe container for all of our stories. She's compassionate, wise, and encouraging. She truly believes in the power of getting your story out into the world for not only your sake but for your readers who will be blessed by your story. –Beth Erlander
I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge, experience and skills with us. I think you did a fantastic job with the videos too. And I really like the interviews with people who have varying experience in publishing and writing. Really well done. I'm so glad I took this course. Thank you.
I am so grateful that at 8 weeks I am fully organized and have a regular writing routine. I am so grateful for the support and help ... So thank you, Tanja Pajevic and my fellow writers, for helping me get where I am today! And, I am really, really enjoying the writing and feeling quite delighted by how this is turning out. --Elena Davis
My favorite parts of your course were your normalizing, encouraging, "mindset" and inner critic pieces. And the "where you might get stuck" pieces. I've taken years-worth of creative writing courses/workshops and everyone teaches the same craft techniques (understandably), but I've never been as encouraged and given the most practical approaches to dealing with my neurosis/inner critic for writing, as I have with you. It's one of the many reasons I want to keep working with you. --C.C.
Thank you! I was so alone as a writer - the community and having a place to ask questions of other writers (not just friends and family) was so helpful. Your input and experience was so valuable. I'm so glad I found the course!
Tanja's Memoir Mastery Class is the perfect intro class for anyone starting out with memoir writing or even those who want to journal out their lives but don't know where to start. It's overwhelming to sit down to a blank screen and not know how or where to start and how much detail to include. Memoir Mastery breaks down the writing process into first figuring out what type of memoir you want to create, get clear on your theme, timeline, and narrative, and how to focus first on certain pieces of your story then build the rest around it. I personally had no idea of the various memoir writing styles and themes, so learning those before writing allowed me to get clear on my narrative and focus on exactly what I wanted to convey. Without learning to pay attention to detail I would still be writing all over the place without any specific direction or clear theme in mind... I highly recommend this class and attending the live calls to connect with other members and get added support!” --S.K.
I've enjoyed the course. It was worth every penny! Thank you!
You are a wonderful teacher!
Tanja has the amazing talent of creating a totally positive and magical environment where writers can feel comfortable and confident enough to share their most intimate work while giving deeply reflective and creative feedback. –S.A.S.
Memoir Mastery made me feel as if I just completed a mini-MFA in memoir writing. The course lessons on the craft of writing memoir are clear, organized, and grounded in experience. Tanja provides a very thorough step-by-step guide from inception to completion of your memoir. She is able to meet each writer where they are, while offering generous and skillful guidance. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better mentor for this process, as she creates a safe space to develop as a writer, explore vulnerable moments, and make meaningful progress on my work. --Julie Badal
Tanja is a wonderful teacher and guide through this territory. In her memoir classes, Tanja has helped me get so much farther on my memoir, and has provided information on everything from creating scenes to publishing. Along the way Tanja has also found ways to create circles and supportive communities of writers. -- Rise
The structure of the videos and lessons interspersed with the calls was fantastic. [The class was] super helpful and necessary to create direction for my book and writing. I am so grateful to you and this journey and discoveries… [Your] course helped focus me on what matters most in my journey and my writing. The combination of skill based activities as well as encouraging conversation and direction has kept me on the right course for writing my memoir. --J.G.S.
“In addition to her very professional and useful instruction on the craft of writing, Tanja’s personal touch, guidance, and support stand out as some of the great hallmarks of this course.” --S.S.
Tanja’s .. a master at conveying the process of writing, how to focus and what to do when you’re starting to go in circles and feel overwhelmed. I’ve gotten perfect coaching and great tools to stay on task, but more than that, insights into both the mechanics and heart of writing that bring me wholeheartedly into the process. -- Kim Mooney
I’m still just over the moon with how much I learned in one day from you. Every single detail of the class was perfect – from listing a story’s “big rocks” down to scanning the room for tigers ...You are an absolutely amazing teacher ... I’m just really, really, really grateful that I didn’t go one more year without taking your class. --K.T.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who is this course for?
A: This course is for writers interested in writing personal narratives or book-length memoirs.
If you haven’t started your book yet, this course covers the craft and technique you need to create a powerful, moving memoir.
If you’ve started your memoir, this course will give you an eagle-eyed view of what’s working as well as what’s not working--helping you fix and tighten up your manuscript before submitting it to an editor, saving you time, money and frustration.
Please note: Memoir Mastery is NOT your typical creative writing class! Writing a full-length book is a much different process than crafting a short piece, and it's why we spend so much time on narrative arc and structure as well as safety and mindset. Craft is important, but you'll need all of these tools to get to the finish line.
Many clients have told me how thankful they were for these unique aspects of Memoir Mastery--despite their initial reluctance to take "yet another course."
Q: How will the content be delivered and what will it include?
A: Memoir Mastery is a hybrid class, with a mix of live and recorded elements. The teachings will be available to you in video, audio and PDF format in our private learning platform. You'll be able to access the teaching materials as soon as you register and will be able to work your way through the materials as quickly (or as slowly) as you like. You'll have access to these materials for two years, so no need to rush!
From there, we'll use the discussion forum to check in and support you, answering questions and clarifying sticking points. I'll be active in the forum a few times a week through mid-August, so there will be plenty of time to get your questions answered. I'll also host 5 live "office hour" calls throughout the summer for additional support. To accommodate work and travel schedules, these calls will take place every couple of weeks on Tuesday & Wednesday nights, so you can drop in when you have questions or need extra support.
If you're unable to join us live, you can always send me your question in advance. All calls will be recorded and available to you within 24 hours.
Q: What's the schedule for the live calls?
A: To support summer schedules, I'll be holding a series of 5 "office hour" calls over the summer. These are optional calls where you can check in, ask questions and receive support.
Calls will meet from 6-7pm PST/ 7-8pm MST/ 8-9pm CST/ 9-10pm EST. All calls are on Zoom.
Here's the schedule:
Tues June 7
Wed June 22
Wed July 13
Tues July 26
Wed Aug 10
If you know that you'll miss a call, simply send me your question in advance. Call recordings will be uploaded within 24 hours and are available for you to access at your convenience.
Q: What does the course include?
A: Memoir Mastery includes 6 comprehensive modules on the craft and technique of writing memoir + teachings on how to structure your memoir and organize your materials. We also cover mindset and self-care to help you stay healthy during the writing process and reach the finish line.
The course includes 5 "office hour" calls as well as feedback on your short writing exercises, up to 15 pages total. Sharing your exercises is completely voluntary. However, alums have told me how beneficial it is to apply the concepts to their writing in progress and receive real-time feedback.
The course also includes access to our private community forum, where I'll be checking in a few times a week over the summer and providing feedback on short homework assignments.
Our Memoir Mastery community is a special place where folks feel seen, heard and supported as they work to get their story on the page.
Q: How much time do I need for this course?
A: I’d suggest setting aside 2-3 hours a week to watch the videos, do the homework and get feedback from your fellow writers.
From there, it depends on how often you choose to write and how quickly you want to go with your manuscript. My recommendation is to set aside an additional 2-5 hours a week to write. If you can only write 1-2 hours a week, great! Start there.
The key is creating a consistent writing habit, which is what the "On Ramp" bonuses will help you do.
Q: I already know I have a schedule conflict. What if I miss a week or fall behind? How long will I be able to access the course?
A: You can take this course at your own speed--there's no rush to get to the finish line. I'll be active in the forum through mid-August and the teachings and modules will remain available to you for two years.
You'll also be able to send in your questions in advance if you can't make a call. The live calls will be recorded and available to you to access at a time that's right for you.
Q: Do you offer refunds?
A: No refund is available once the class has started. Please read the description carefully, and ask any questions before you register.
Q: Any other questions?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'l get back to you within 48 business hours!
Q: What if this course brings up a lot of big life stuff?
A: That’s a common occurrence while writing memoir, and one of the reasons I recommend reaching out to a therapist if you find yourself needing additional support.
Although I can give you tips and techniques to help make this a safe process, please remember that I’m a writer and teacher, not a trained therapist.
Because the world needs your gifts, perhaps now more than ever.