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Memoir Mastery: How to Write a Compelling Memoir

How to Write a Memoir

As a writer, teacher and long-time memoir fan, I’ve found that writing your story can be an incredibly rewarding journey. It can also be quite 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 your life experiences?

That’s why I created my Memoir Mastery course.

For years, I grappled with the disconnect between writing a short piece and completing a full-length manuscript. Writing a book was much more complex, and my MFA program taught us how to write short pieces, not book-length manuscripts.

Which meant that I had lot of gaps to fill, including finding the right structure for my book, pacing myself and navigating the self-care that memoir demands.

Meanwhile, I was teaching creative writing in the larger community as well as at the college level. Once again, I was finding that the writing communities where I taught weren’t designed to support book-length writers, either.

That’s why I created Memoir Mastery–so that you could learn the lessons it took me 20 years (and multiple books) to learn.

My next round of Memoir Mastery starts on January 6, 2021.


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.

Early bird registration opens on Tuesday, November 17. Look for your 15% off coupon code in your next email.


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Memoir Mastery: 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, 6 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 the Course 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 downloadable video trainings and supporting PDFs accessible to you for the lifetime of the course.
  • 6 live group coaching calls (we’ll meet on Zoom, and all calls will be recorded in case you’re unable to make it).
  • Private forum for Q&A, support and accountability.
  • 4 “lift-off” bonus interviews with authors, editors and book reviewers to clarify next steps.

Click here for a full description of the course. Here’s the module breakdown:

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 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 also start to explore your book’s minor themes.

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 in memoir, then show 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!

Here are a few 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.

We start on January 6, 2021. Please join us!

Here’s the Schedule:

Each week you’ll get an email from our learning platform. When you log in to the dashboard, you’ll see the material for that week’s lesson–a mix of downloadable videos, audios and supporting PDFs. Your materials will be available to you to access whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you.

The schedule is as follows:

  • “On Ramp” bonuses: available immediately
  • Module 1: opens 1/6
  • Module 2: opens 1/13
  • (Integration week 1/20)
  • Module 3: opens 1/27
  • Module 4: opens 2/3
  • (Integration week 2/10)
  • Module 5: opens 2/17
  • Module 6: opens 2/24
  • “Lift-off” Bonus Interviews: 3/3

The Supported level of this course includes 6 live group calls on Zoom.

Calls are 1 hour in length and will meet Wednesdays from 12:00-1:00 pm Mountain/ 2:00-3:00 pm Eastern. The schedule is as follows:

  • Wed 1/13 Discuss Module 1
  • Wed 1/20 Discuss Module 2
  • (No call on 1/27)
  • Wed 2/3 Discuss Module 3
  • Wed 2/10 Discuss Module 4
  • (No call on 2/17)
  • Wed 2/24 Discuss Module 5
  • Wed 3/3 Discuss Module 6

If you know that you’ll miss a call, simply send me your question in advance. All calls are on Zoom and will be recorded. Recordings will be uploaded within 24 hours and available for you to access at your convenience.

Click here to read more about the course.

Choose Your Level of Support

There are two ways to take the course. You can navigate the materials on your own with the Standard version or you can take the Supported version, which includes 6 live calls, coaching and a private community forum.

The Standard level of this course is a good fit if you work well on your own and are self-directed.

I recommend taking the Supported level if you’re wanting feedback, support and accountability. If you’re worried about getting stuck, the Supported level will be the most valuable to getting you to the finish line. Alums have told me the calls are some of their favorite parts of the course and have been invaluable for creating community as well as helping them stay on track.

Click here for more info.

How is this Memoir Writing Class Different?

Memoir Mastery isn’t your typical creative writing course. 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, absolutely, 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.”

Can I Hire You as a Memoir Coach Instead?

I’ll be frank: for me to give you this level of support privately would cost you 10x the amount of this course, and that’s ridiculous. This course will give you the same foundation in a much more efficient, affordable and cost-effective manner.

Clarifying your story’s scope and structure while learning the specific craft and technique of memoir can be a process, and I’ve found that the clients who start with my Memoir Mastery course achieve the best results.

Many of the women I work with find that the mix of video lessons + live calls + individual support from me + the supportive nature of the larger group creates a magical container in which to mine their memoirs.

Once writers have completed my Memoir Mastery course, I’m available to support you with manuscript reviews, private offerings and more advanced group offerings.

Click here to read more about the course.

Early bird registration opens on Tuesday, November 17.

The course starts on January 6, 2021.


Here’s What Writers Have Said About the Course:

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.

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

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 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.

If Memoir Mastery calls to you, please join us!



P.S.: If you need financial support, please reach out–I have a few partial scholarships available. Email me at: tanja [at] tanjapajevic [dot] com

If you’re a Memoir Mastery alum and would like to join our January cohort, please email me for your 50% off discount.

P.S.S.: If you’d like to learn more about my background and teaching philosophy, click here.

P.P.S.S: If you’d like to get started right away, grab my Story Starter Kit here. This will give you a taste of what we’ll be doing in Memoir Mastery.

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