Class Title: "Memory to Memoir: Saving a Life One Story at a Time—and Loving It, Part 1"
Instructor: Paula Stallings Yost
Class Term: Winter 2008 (8 weeks: Jan 19-Mar 16)
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Overwhelmed by the idea of producing a life story? Wonder where to begin? Stop fretting and just do it. The delights and benefits of reminiscence will be revealed as you write your personal or family history, one great story at a time. In this class, we will learn effective life-writing techniques while we relax and have fun with a variety of writing and memory-jogger exercises. "There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior, there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy." —Mark Twain

Class Description

You will compose four short stories that will be edited by the instructor and returned with helpful suggestions for improvement or expansion. You will learn tips for transitioning and organizing the stories into a creative nonfiction narrative. Writing guidelines, story ideas, and a bibliography of suggested reading materials will be provided as well. Writing fundamentals (including grammar, syntax, vocabulary, narrative flow, punctuation, spelling, proper manuscript format, etc.) are an important part of writing success. Therefore, careful attention will be paid to these fundamentals and will be addressed in the instructor's critiques.

Class Outline

This class is very informal and easily adjustable to students' varied schedules. Each Monday during the course (Jan. 19 and 26, February 2 and 9), I will send you a lesson, including writing tips and exercises. You will have a week in which to accomplish the assignment before the next lesson comes along. There is no formal class "session." You may choose to read and absorb the information at your convenience (even at two o'clock in the morning if you wish) and then submit a story specifically responding to that week's lesson or a story in your "previously written" stash. When I receive your assignment, I will edit it and provide a constructive critique, usually within 48 hours. Students will be given the opportunity to share their work with each other or not, as they choose. Otherwise, all your correspondence will be directly with me, in the interest of preserving your privacy.
  1. Unit 1: Tips for Getting Started & Discovering the Fun in Writing a Memoir, One Great Story at a Time: A few ideas for finding those special stories that define who you are and motivate your creative streak. A bibliography and sample story included.
  2. Unit 2: Weaving Your Story Through Life's Pivotal Points: Exploring the effect of those key moments or crossroads in our lives that set us off in new directions and often can provide our most meaningful stories. Also included: A Helpful Links Internet bibliography—an invaluable aid for improving grammatical/mechanical writing skills.
  3. Unit 3: Family Orchards and Building Character: Discover new ideas and exercises for learning more about the people in your memoir and for developing them into strong and interesting, yet realistic, characters that your readers will care about, too. Also included: Interview Tips to ease into conversations with family members and others.
  4. Unit 4: Making a Scene: Time to work on developing or .setting. a scene within your story, including a comparison of narrative scenes to dramatic scenes and the typical ingredients of scenes that work. Also included: More Story Ideas.
  5. Class Bonus: The Power of Journaling and Where Do I Go from Here?: Exercises and ideas for working on your own, later, and at your own pace. Explore methods of creating stories from your journal or writing a story in the style of a daily journal. Consider suggestions for organizing your stories into a book by creating a table of contents and developing a list of memorabilia, photos, etc., to include eventually.

Student Skills, Equipment required

Although you do not need to be a computer genius, you must be able to complete your assignments within a Word program, have access to an e-mail system, and be able to send and receive Word documents as e-mail attachments. This class is designed for novice and intermediate writers.

Tuition/Fees for this course

SCN members: $225. Non-SCN members: $250.

Instructor Bio

Paula Stallings Yost An experienced journalist, personal historian, and past vice president of the Association of Personal Historians, Paula Stallings Yost believes passionately in the power of story. In 1999, she jettisoned a public relations/journalism career and life in the suburbs to found LifeSketches.a biography service in the piney woods of East Texas helping others preserve the real stories of people from all walks of life. Paula also served as a co-editor and contributing author for the SCN anthology, What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest, and has recently retired as co-editor of Story Circle Book Reviews. For more information, an interview published in the Story Circle Journal may be found here.

Praise for Paula's Classes

  • I found this class to be extremely helpful. I wasn't sure how this format would work, or how well it would facilitate the learning that I wanted to get from the class, but I have to say that I am 100% satisified. Paula Yost's comments each week were very relevent and useful, and she provided concrete suggestions that I can take and apply to future projects. —Linda H., Auburn WA

  • Your writing will definitely improve with the outstanding feedback and suggestions provided by Paula Yost. Her suggested changes definitely improve your essays. —Bonnie D., San Antonio TX

  • Paula Yost gave incredible critiques that helped to hone my writing. She is alert to every detail and made me aware of the tiny mistakes that make the difference between a good writing and a great piece that others would want to read. —Judy W., Spring Branch TX

  • Some of my submissions were re-writes of things I'd written before but now was able, with the instructor's help, to add extensively to the idea... Paula Yost helped with many suggestions on how I could organize my stories in a more comprehensive manner with better flow. —Jackie N., Austin TX

  • Paula Yost's course (instructions, comments, editing, assistance, etc.) was the best I've had in twenty years of writing classes, conferences, workshops, etc. And last year, I graduated from McMaster University's Writing Certificate Program with A's in every class, but I have learned much more from this course. —Marjorie K., Dundas ON Canada

  • I now have a better grasp of the quality of my writing and the process. I also have a plan of action and a timeline. I can do this! And I am excited about it. Thanks, Paula Yost! —Gail A., Markham ON Canada

  • Fantastic—I couldn't wait to get Paula Yost's comments—she was so on target—it was such a help—I want to put her in my back pocket like a little ipod and listen to her suggestions whenever i write. —Mary S., Ronkonkoma NY

  • Please offer more courses and more courses like Paula Yost's! Or possibly even a Stage 2 of the one just offered. I am more likely to join a course associated with SCN than some of the others such as Writers' Digest, since I trust SCN to find good teachers, to offer a more personal touch and to preserve privacy. Thank you! —Jane C., Meinier, Geneva Switzerland