Navigating the Messy Middle
How to Reenergize Your Writing, Shorten Your Timeframe and Increase Your Memoir’s Reach

After a strong start with your memoir, you got stuck. Somewhere in the messy middle, your clarity and excitement dissipated, and you got stuck in the reeds.

Now what? How do you find your way forward? How do you straighten out your manuscript? How do you draw your reader in and keep them engaged to the very end? And how do you reignite the excitement that inspired you in the first place? 

I’m Tanja Pajevic, and I’ve spent the past 20 years addressing these questions in my own writing as well as with the writers I work with. I created this course to show you a quicker and easier way to shorten your timeframe, increase your memoir’s reach and reenergize your vision for this book.  

In Navigating the Messy Middle, we get clear on the big picture pieces of your memoir, including your primary narrative arc as well as your minor themes. Once we have that 10,000 foot view, we’ll pull apart what you have in order to see what’s working and where you need to course-correct. I’ll teach you what I look for when I do a developmental edit (and then we’ll spend two weeks doing developmental reviews of our manuscripts together) in order to increase your memoir’s reach and save months of writing your way into dead-ends. This process will also save you money, since hiring a developmental editor (or working with a private coach) gets pricey.

Last but not least, I’ll teach you tools to reenergize your writing, cut through the fear and put your inner mentor in the driver’s seat instead of your inner critic. As always, our foundation will be on safety, self-care and mind/body support in order to keep you sane and healthy and facilitate a sustainable experience.

Please note: this isn’t a traditional “workshop” where we discuss pages. Instead, it’s meant to streamline the process and help you strengthen your narrative arc—key to keeping your reader engaged and getting your memoir published—and nail down that messy middle. Our live calls will be devoted to helping you brainstorm, troubleshoot and clarify your puzzle pieces with lots of support from me and our fellow writers.

Here's what you'll be learning:


Creating Your Road Map

In our first module, we’ll get clear on your memoir’s primary theme, transformation and time frame. We’ll also clarify your goal, audience and your big why. From there, I’ll show you how to use your road map to stay on track throughout the writing process. We’ll also do a deep dive into tangible ways to support your mind and body while working with intense personal material from your life, since our goal is to help you stay healthy and supported throughout the memoir-writing process.


Strengthening Your Narrative Arc

In Module 2, we’ll do a deep dive into narrative arc as you crystallize the parameter of your story. We’ll learn the science of story, the elements your memoir absolutely must have, and discuss narrative arc structures. We’ll also chart out your plot points in order to highlight places where your story sags or loses momentum, as well as identify where we need to course-correct. Last but not least, we’ll do a powerful exercise to connect you to your inner mentor, so that she can help guide you through this process.


Deepening Your Minor Themes

In Module 3, we’ll do a deep dive into your minor themes, charting them out in order to ensure they’re consistently woven throughout your book. We’ll also discuss various ways of organizing your material, and we’ll wrap up with a discussion on how to let excitement (not fear) drive your vision for your book.


Tightening Your Pacing

In Module 4, we’ll look at pacing issues in your memoir. We’ll discuss the techniques that keep your narrative moving forward as well as identify what makes a story feel flat. I’ll give you my rule of thumb for balancing scene vs. summary, and I’ll show you how to vary the emotional tenor of your narrative. Last, but not least, we’ll consider how to support your writing process with a gift goal instead of a should-goal.


Weaving in Backstory, Flashback and Transitions

In Module 5, we’ll dive into backstory, flashback and transitions. We’ll discuss how and where to weave in backstory, and I’ll show you some handy techniques for transitioning between chapters and scenes, as well as flashback and backstory. We’ll also continue our conversation on how to set yourself up for success during the memoir-writing process.


Supporting Your Manuscript with a Developmental Edit

In Module 6, I’ll show you how to do a developmental edit (also known as a substantative edit) of your materials. In this hands-on exercise, we’ll pull apart your pages in order to see what’s working and where you need to course-correct. I’ll teach you what I look for when I do a developmental edit, then we’ll spend two weeks doing developmental reviews of our manuscripts in order to increase your memoir’s reach and save you months of writing your way into dead-ends. We’ll wrap up with a clear set of next steps so that you know what to do next.


Micro Editing and Next Steps

In our final module, we’ll discuss micro editing as well as what to do next. We’ll revisit our tools for mind-body support, and wrap up by celebrating the progress we’ve made in our 8 weeks together. Last but not least, we'll create a system of support to keep you moving forward beyond the limits of our class.

Join Us for the Next Round!

If you’re interested in joining us for a future session of Navigating the Messy Middle, click the button below to get on the advance notice list (including early bird discounts!). You'll also receive articles and inspiration from Tanja.

Add me to the list!

Frequently Asked Questions

How will the teachings be delivered?

Navigating the Messy Middle is a hybrid class. The teachings will be available to you in video, audio and PDF format in our private learning platform. You'll be able to review the materials at your convenience, then bring your questions and sticking points to our live calls. In addition to the calls, we'll check in with each other in the private forum for additional support.

What's the live call schedule?

We'll meet on Zoom each Wednesday from March 2-April 27. Calls are from 12-1:30 pm PST/ 1-2:30 pm MST/ 2-3:30 pm CST/ 3-4:30 pm EST and will be recorded if you're unable to join us live.

Will I be getting feedback on my manuscript?

If you've taken creative writing workshops before, please know that this course has a different focus. Instead of sharing pages and receiving feedback, we'll be focused on the big picture concepts. As such, the forum and our live calls will be devoted to discussions rather than traditional feedback. We'll use those discussions to help shape your narrative arc, identify takeaways for your reader, gain a deeper understanding of flashbacks, etc. For the most part, these types of discussions don't translate well into document-sharing. However, if you'd like to share documents, you'll be able to share 10 pages during our time together. Some writers have used that guideline to get feedback on a visual of their narrative arc, ask for support winnowing down their minor themes, share multiple revisions of their mission statement, etc.

Will I be getting writing prompts?

The focus of our time together is on ensuring that the big picture pieces of your memoir work well together. Since generative writing exercises tend to complicate this part of the process, that's outside the scope of this course. However, writers have shared that our time together has renewed their clarity about what needs to be written next.

Who is this course for?

Navigating the Messy Middle is a comprehensive course designed for intermediate and advanced writers who have a partial or full manuscript and a basic grasp of creative writing techniques. Although the course has been helpful for newer writers, it's not designed to help you begin a memoir.

If you're in the early stages of writing your memoir, I recommend my Memoir Mastery course, which will teach you how to write a compelling memoir from the ground up.

I already know I have a schedule conflict. What if I fall behind?

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 throughout the summer, and the teachings and modules will remain available to you for two years. And you'll 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.

Do you offer refunds?

No refund is available once the class has started. Please read the description carefully, and ask any questions before you register.

What if this course brings up a lot of big life stuff?

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.

Any other questions?

Email me at and I'l get back to you within 48 business hours.

About Your Instructor

Tanja Pajevic is the author of The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir, winner of the Nautilus Silver Book Award. She's on the faculty of Lighthouse Writers and has taught creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver, the Community College of Denver and Indiana University, where she earned her M.F.A. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post, Writer’s Digest, and Crab Orchard Review, among other places. The recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, Hemingway Fellowship, and faculty award from the University of Colorado Denver for her project “Writing as Healing,” Tanja lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband and two teenage sons.

Here's What Others Have Said About the Course:

"I wanted to tell you how much I loved this class! It's been so helpful in so many ways… this class gave me the tools ( big rocks, etc.) to write this myself. It helped me identify the themes, the arc and other elements that all story telling have in common but this story felt overwhelming before the class, now it feels manageable."

Celeste Donohue

"Navigating the Messy Middle is an invaluable course if you're stuck in the mud mid-way through a memoir.  I've taken and taught many creative writing courses, and this one is different--it gets down into the nitty-gritty of structural problems and emotional hiccups in your writing life.  The course is expertly arranged and I couldn't wait for each week's recorded videos and live Zoom classes.  It's supportive and rigorous at the same time, the right combo of instruction and encouragement to help you complete that memoir project sitting on your computer.  I thoroughly enjoyed my intelligent and insightful fellow students as well as Tanja's warm and wise mentoring. Now that I have completed the course, I am focused on re-structuring my memoir project."

Becca Black

"I will recommend this course to friends who are working on memoir because of the high level of professionalism and skill it brings to the work of students.  I was educated,  inspired, supported and encouraged. I came to the course because my memoir has gone through several revisions but is still not doing what it needs to do to work. Now I have direction and focus to move forward. I think the material, organization,  and presentation...course design...were excellent because I saw the interconnectedness between all modules and benefited from the progress built in. The only problem is that the course ends, but that is remedied by the availability of the modules and the offer of future are a wonderful teacher."

Grace Gibbons

"As a beginning writer now with a lot of discrete stand-alone stories triggered by strong memories and events, I’ve yearned for a better understanding of how one might use this material to produce an overall narrative and book. This course directly addressed my need in this regard. It not only clearly addressed what types of structure might work best for a memoir, but it also gave me an understanding of the subsequent component steps necessary to develop a memoir based upon that structure choice. Overall, the course was very much about explaining and illustrating the process one needs to use to develop a memoir—very useful to me and worth recommending to a friend. Thank you, Tanja!"


"I’ve been meaning to tell you how the Navigating the Messy Middle course helped me. I joined it because I didn’t know how to organize or outline my memoir with its long time span and complexity of what I’d like to convey. Your helpful teachings about finding and listing the scenes that move the story forward in keeping with its theme were priceless to me. Also the group energy, and your insightful feedback to the other students, made the information ‘click’ for me. And I appreciate your acceptance of my unique vision for a book. I found you to be honest and aligned with your words, so I knew I could trust your encouragement as being genuine."

Jeane Manning

Join Us!

Learn How to Reenergize Your Writing, Shorten Your Timeframe and Increase Your Memoir’s Reach