The Memoir — Can’t start/Can’t stop

My experience working on personal stories and some resources for your endeavors

Have you ever tried to write a personal memoir story or chapter? A lot of my essays are of the personal memory style with a little opinion thrown in. But when I get down to writing something of any length, I seem to get really bogged down in the details and the enormous amount of material.

I had a few false starts over the years toying with styles ranging from chronological to subject ordered to writing prompt stream of consciousness to compilations of random essays. I’ve read numerous books on how to write a memoir or just read recommended memoirs. I’ve joined writing groups and taken classes online.

In my personal opinion, some of what I’ve written is good. But then I get stuck. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t tell everything in one book. In fact, one of the highly recommended authors I’ve learned about has written numerous memoirs and each one tackles just one point or person in her life. Who is this author? I don’t remember and can’t find my notes. However, read up on any good memoirist and you will find the same formula. Here’s an article from Book Riot, 100 Must Read Memoirs.

If you’re ready to tackle the tricky task of writing stories based on personal memories, here are a few resources I’ve collected over the years. If you do a search on free online memoir writing, several low priced or free choices will come up at any given time.

Free or less than $50 online courses:

Video Course: Break the Rules and Free Your Story from Anya Achtenberg, The Disobedient Writer — I completed all the exercises from this course in 2018.

Udemy Kick Start Your Memoir Writing Exercises — On sale right now but regular price is $79.99. I try to find deep discounts on Udemy courses. Current price for this one is $12.99 (as of 5-19-2021).

The Memoir Network — Lots of free resources, including several mailing lists with lessons. Just takes an email to register. I just recently joined this network.

Coursera has a course from Wesleyan University called Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself. The videos and exercises are free but you have to pay if you want peer feedback. Also, this is part of a larger unit that is not free. I completed the exercises in 2020.

The following are books I’ve purchased over the last several years to kickstart the essays and work on writing prompts. These are not necessarily the best books on the subject and I haven’t actually read any of them all the way through but there are some good ideas and some writing prompt exercises to get you started.

Old Friend From Far Away — The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg

The Situation and the Story — The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

Writing Life Stories — How to Make Memories into Memoirs by Bill Roorbach

Forums and Groups

I have looked into joining a few times over the years but for the most part, it seems like it’s more work and time than I want to put in to this when I’d rather be working on my own writing. For several of the groups, you can get peer feedback but you have to earn points in order to do so, which requires leaving your own feedback numerous times before you can submit your own work.

Some online forums include:

My Writer’s Circle

Writing Forums


The only one I paid for was actually quite professional and I enjoyed the interaction with the group members but at the time, I didn’t really have a focus and wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend my time on the fiction or the non-fiction so I bowed out until I could be more proactive in the group.

Inked Voices — free for 14 days, then $85 a year.

Here are free Online Resources, including blog posts on writing, that I’ve bookmarked over the years:

Association of Writers and Writing Programs

LitReacter — a really good site; just takes an email to join. I’ve read some very helpful blog posts here.


David Gaughran puts out a lot of free materials, including resources on self-publishing— email to register

Writer’s Digest

May all your writing be fruitful.


A New Long Term Project

I want to introduce something I began working on this week and that I hope will occupy my time for at least the next six months. This project is a series of personal essays and I will be publishing excerpts here on this blog, hopefully on a regular basis.

I am envisioning the end result to be about one hundred personal essays of about 1200 words each. I do have a title in mind already but I’m going to hold off on publicizing that. I am still working on my cozy mystery novels so will actually have two projects going at the same time. It’s nice to be able to breakaway from memory-dumping and self-actualization to some good old-fashioned light-hearted murder mystery shenanigans.

I won’t be posting any of the really raw stuff here. You’ll have to buy the book to get the real dirt. But I will try to make the bits and pieces I do post here of the highest quality. When one decides to take pieces of a writing project and publish on a blog, it becomes real really fast. You can’t change your mind or continue editing. Well, you can but you know what I mean.

I tried to start a memoir almost two years ago but just couldn’t get through more than a couple chapters. I still had some emotional stuff to work out and I didn’t have a real direction. With the personal essay format, I’m hoping that things will come together with more cohesion than previously. I think this will be more in tune with my ADHD tendencies and my writing style, which is more pantster than planner.

And just for fun, this week I started a free online course at Coursera called Writing a Personal Essay from Wesleyan University. Join me! The first assignment isn’t due until November 30.