Welcome! We’ve had a lot of new folks join our community recently, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome you to our community as well as tell you a bit about who I am and why I do this work.
How it all Started (Or How I Accidentally Became a Teacher)
In 1998, I started my MFA program at Indiana University, a kid whose immigrant parents hadn’t gone to college. Suddenly I was in grad school, thrown into teaching two classes a semester while juggling my own class load. Many days, I was in over my head.
Along the way, I picked up a business writing class (a fluke), then taught a few more. In three years, I taught 10 classes in creative writing, business writing and contemporary American literature. Throughout, I hid a secret: although I was earning my MFA in fiction, my heart was in memoir. I spent my precious free time devouring any memoir I could get my hands on.
After grad school, I expected to become a creative writing professor and publish the novel I’d written on a Fulbright. Instead, a series of family events took me to Colorado, where I met Ken and took a position teaching creative writing and business writing at CU-Denver. Remember that biz writing class I’d picked up as a fluke? Yup—it turned out to be useful.
There were plenty of ups and downs during my brief stint in academia (including a co-teacher with a drinking problem) but the gist of it is that I had become burned out from the darker sides of workshop and couldn’t wrap my mind around the politics of academia. Plus, I was a newlywed commuting two hours a day, working nights and weekends, and at the age of 35, about to start a family. Something had to give.
How I Accidentally Started A Business
A friend recommended I try working with a business coach, and it wasn’t long before I’d left academia and was teaching writing workshops at my dining room table. About the same time, I began doing writing consulting for a local environmental consulting company. It was 2005 and somehow, I’d stumbled into starting my own company.
How I Accidentally Wrote Two Books I Never Thought I’d Write (After Writing Three Other Books that Never Saw the Light of Day)
And I was writing again, having fun with a jokey blog about rebooting your marriage while raising young kids. I got tons of traffic after writing a post about marriage and resentment (another fluke), and people started coming out of the woodwork for advice. As I was trying to wade through all those emails, I ended up writing a self-help how-to book on resentment and marriage as a more effective way of answering them. By this point, I had already written a novel and two memoir book proposals and considered myself a (cough) serious writer. If you’d have told my younger self that my first published book would be a self-help book about marriage, I probably would have laughed. Or served you another drink.
In 2012, everything shifted again. I’d wrapped up my consulting gig and had just started sending out a book proposal for a memoir so that I could, gasp, work on it full-time. (Hear the universe laughing again?) My children were 3 and 5 years old, young, innocent, needy. And then my mother died.
Everything ground to a halt, as you might imagine. I abandoned that writing project and started what would become The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir because damn we need help when it comes to learning how to grieve consciously, at least in the US. As I was completing that book, I began teaching grief writing workshops around Boulder. Like business writing, this was another new skill set to master.
Over the years, the workshops I was teaching had morphed and changed, and people found me through word of mouth, reaching out when they wanted help with their creative writing projects. But something was shifting. After years of sand-shifting change, I was ready for more solid ground. And I was tired of doing everything on my own. After years of being a lone wolf, I was ready for community. I began to shore up my writing coaching business as well as learned how to build my first online class.
This wasn’t necessarily easy. Because here’s the thing: I tend to be a lone wolf at heart. Like many other writers, I’m an introvert. Although I can be quite social at times, I crave quiet (rare in my household of boys). But by my mid-40s, it had become clear to me that one can only accomplish so much alone. Finding your people is essential.
How I Intentionally Joined a Community and Became Part of Something Larger
Hence my reason for joining the faculty of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Since they’re located in Denver (not doing that commute again!), it took me years to reach out. But once they opened up a satellite location in Louisville, 20 minutes from my house, and I met the founders, I jumped in with two feet. In the writing world, you don’t always find such a kind, supportive community. (If you’ve taken writing workshops before, you’ll know what I mean).
How None of it Was an Accident
It’s funny how much of my journey has come full-circle. I rarely work with fiction clients anymore—although it’s my background, it’s not my specialty. In my bid to align with my highest good, it’s become clear to me that my gift is in memoir as well as personal narrative.
After years of hiding my love of memoir, I’m out in the open about it now. That might not be surprising now that so many of us are writing memoir, but for a long time, it was considered the redheaded stepchild of literature. I can’t say I ever cared about that.
There’s something so compelling about personal stories—for many of us, learning how someone else overcame their challenges becomes our lifeline. To me, these dramatic, messy stories about real life are what make us special, unique, human. I might not be great at small talk, but damn, if you want to talk about a pivotal transformation in your life, I’m your gal. That’s why I love what I do.
Personal stories are what connect us as humans. Change, conflict, transformation, repeat. These are the essential elements of any good story. These are the essential elements of life.
Why am I telling you this story now?
What We Share with Each Other Matters
In the past week, I’ve spoken with a handful of folks who know me through one aspect of my identity (i.e.: the woman who religiously goes to her dance class, the woman who wrote a grief book) and have no idea that I’ve been teaching writing for the past 20 years. In this day and age, many of us only know surface level info about each other, which always makes me sad. We might know what someone’s occupation is, but do we know what makes their heart sing? I suppose this post is my answer to that question.
Sometimes people who don’t know me well ask if I have another book in me. Here’s the thing: writing’s in my blood. It’s something I’ve done for the past 30 years, and it’s something I’ll always do. Along with dance, writing keeps me sane. In addition to the two published books I have out in the world, I’ve written three others. (30 years is a long time, you know.)
(And yes, I’m working on something new. And no, I’m not at the point where I can discuss it yet. I always tell my clients to protect their stories, especially when it’s in the early stages, and I do the same.)
Highlighting the Meaning in Your Life Allows You to Reclaim It
All of this has gotten me thinking about the larger trajectory of my career—where I was when I started and what the gifts have been along the way. It’s been interesting to see how so much of what I thought was tangential to my “real work” has dovetailed to support me now. Nothing is ever wasted, truly.
My years of teaching business writing continue to provide me with gifts, as does my work teaching grief writing. All memoir involves some element of loss, and I’m so thankful to have a skill set to help support that. As for my own losses, well, they humble me as well as expand my capacity for compassion.
So I’m thankful for all of it. Life isn’t a straight path, but it sure is a rich one. With my 50th birthday on the horizon (April!), I’ve been feeling much more reflective lately; what is it that I want in this next decade? Who do I want to be? Looking back allows me to see who I was and how far I’ve come so that I can move forward more consciously. Who could have guessed that so many seemingly disparate events would weave into this amazingly career that I love so much. The universe did have another plan for me; I just had to learn to trust it.
So tell me: where has the path taken you? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way? And where will it take you next?
P.S.: If you’d like to join us for Memoir Mastery, now’s the time. We start this Wednesday 1/15 and still have room for a few more!
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But don’t wait! Life’s too quick.
Here’s what past 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. –JGS
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.
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