From Journal to Memoir – October 2023

From Journal to Memoir – October 2023

Do you long to make the leap from writing in your journal to crafting a memoir?  Many journal writers have an interest in other forms of life writing, including memoir.  But writing memoir is different than writing in a journal.

Journals can be a great place to find raw material for your memoir project!  But how do you do that? Where do you start?

In this 6 week facilitated online workshop (2 hours of class time via Zoom per week), with poet and memoirist Sheila Bender, participating journal keepers will learn how to identify memoir material in their journals and how to journal (at least some of the time) with future memoir writing in mind.

Join Sheila and a small group of fellow journalers (yes, that is a word) and aspiring memoir writers in this supportive and accessible online workshop.  Space is limited to 8 participants to ensure ample time for workshopping your writing!


Location: Classes are held online via Zoom from the comfort of your own home.

Register now.

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To learn more about this course – watch this short video with Sheila Bender & Lynda Monk

What to expect in this live virtual 6 week workshop?

During this highly interactive and engaging online workshop, you will learn how to go from journaling to writing memoir!

What will the process be like?

Each week there will be a live class held via Zoom where you will learn how to identify memoir material in your journals and also learn how to journal (at least some of the time) with future memoir writing in mind.

Through studying and discussing the strategies of published memoirists Sheila will provide models for how to locate memoir material in your journal and shape it using sensory images, good transitions, vivid scenes, insight, and discovery, which are at the heart of successful memoir writing.

Workshopping short pieces from each participant over two classes will help you see how to succeed in making these strategies your own.

Each week, participants will be given an assignment and asked to bring a short sample of their writing for workshopping during the live call on Zoom.   Sheila will be teaching various aspects of memoir writing and offering suggestions and strategies for mining your journal for stories and content.  This is a course, a workshop and a coaching program all wrapped into one!

You will have the benefit of direct feedback, support and teaching from a leading writing teacher during 6 live workshop sessions.  Broadly, here is the weekly overview for this interactive virtual workshop…

Outline of the Weeks’ Instructional Topics

Week One: Getting Started

How is memoir different than a journal entry—perhaps the difference is between reporting and writing toward discovery. Where can you locate that frame of mind in the published short memoir presented? How might you shape your journal entries toward discovery? The instructor will share material from her book A Year in the Life: Journaling for Self-Discovery.

Week Two:  Memoir Forms

We will look at some unusual memoir forms: fragmentary writing, flash nonfiction, and lyric nonfiction. We will learn from the writing of Olivia Drescher, Ron Carlson and Brenda Miller.

Week Three: Workshop Our Writing

Sheila is dedicated to the idea that for work-in-progress there is no such thing as “bad” writing, only the opportunity for good writing. She offers response in three steps and leads the group in doing this: 1) saying back words that stick to show we heard the writing, 2) citing the feelings responders think the writing wants them to have, 3) citing the feelings that jar them from the full effect of the writing, and 4) posing questions about what they are curious about learning from the author. The responses are stated as “I” statements. The writer is thereby empowered to decide what changes seem necessary to make in the writing. And the reliance on sensory images and scenes will develop.

That is how we will respond to the work posted for our workshop this week.

Week Four: Creating Scenes & Transitions

When we journal, we know what we are talking about and don’t have the need to put as much on the page as a memoir reader might need to have readers truly experience the situation they are writing about. As writers, we have to learn to slow time down so the reader can experience what we experienced. Not only do we have to create scenes readers can enter rather than be told about, we have to make time and space transitions in prose that may no longer be time and date stamped.

We will look into a strategy from master teacher Jack Grapes that helps writers write scenes. We will also study the way images help us make time and place transitions by reading the story “Indian Casino” by David Shuman.

Week Five: Shaping Your Writing

Using rhetorical forms for shape: how-to, letterform and comparison and contrast. We will study work by Sarah Russell, Lori Moore, Margaret Atwood and contributors to David Eggers’ Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond.

Week Six: Going Forward

We’ll discuss your posted piece and offer response that empowers you to continue developing your journal entries for memoir.

As a step toward moving forward after class, we will share ideas on setting deadlines (or having them set for you), using short spurts to write and other tips for getting started and keeping going writing. We’ll discuss sending short form work out to journals for publication and we’ll discuss how to put what you’ve learned to use in book length memoir.

Next course dates TBD in 2024.

  • You will receive details on how to access Zoom the week prior to the start of the course.
  • Course materials, resources and reading materials are provided weekly by the instructor.

Register now. Space is limited to 8 participants to ensure a supportive and meaningful learning experience for all.

Move closer to your memoir writing dreams.

Sheila Bender

Sheila Bender

Sheila Bender is the founder and publisher of, a resource community for those who write from personal experience. She is the author of the poetry collection, Behind Us the Way Grows Wider, the prose memoir A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief and many books on writing, including Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief, Writing in a Convertible with the Top Down, and Writing Personal Essays: Shaping and Sharing Your Life Experience. She was the 2013 Distinguished Guest Lecturer in Poetry at Seattle University and teaches for Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, WA where she lives, as well as for other writers’ conferences. Her motto when it comes to teaching the writing process is that as creators we must think this way: when you are drafting there is no such thing as bad writing, only the opportunity for good writing.

“This course was awesome! I hated to see it come to an end. Sheila offered such great suggestions and exercises, I can't wait to have time to go over them again and to dig further into the resources, especially those provided on the last day of the course.”  Annette Erickson, Counsellor & IAJW Member, Canada


"It was an absolute privilege to participate in the Journal to Memoir Course. It was so much more than I expected and I am grateful that through IAJW I had the opportunity to learn from such an awesome educator as Sheila. The course was extremely well planned, presented and jointly facilitated. The course content provided me with the necessary tools to improve my writing skills and I cannot believe how much I learnt in 6 weeks. The suggested reading for each module was helpful, easy to understand, and provided ample resources. The assignments each week provided a great opportunity for participants to have others hear their work and provide responses, as well as the responses from Sheila, which were all provided and accepted with respect and kindness. The participants committed to and gave of themselves willingly over the duration of the course, and this showed in the united regret that the course was ending. I am proud to have been in this first course and am happy to offer my endorsement that it provides so much information, valuable resources and motivation to help push ahead with one's writing of memoir."  Lyn Smith, IAJW Member, Australia


Feedback from Sheila's past students...

“You have given me the courage to take my writing seriously. Your excellent editing has shown me the way forward.” Suzy Beal


“Most of all, I’m very appreciative, Sheila, of the curriculum you designed, the care you took with our writing and the encouragement and enthusiasm you provided.” Joan Weber


“Thanks so much for your wise and thoughtful trimming. You are amazing. I imagine others have told you the same thing over the years. We writers have trouble with letting go of those phrases we are wedded to and, yet, less is more, and a good editor can trim redundancy much easier than the writer.” Nyla Dartt


“I don’t know if you realize how much you have given me, or made possible for me. Certainly, I’m not building a resume at this stage in life, but I am increasingly loving what I’m doing or attempting to do and spending more and more time in my re-invented writing life…” Nancy Levinson

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