Write your life (or somebody else’s)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Writers Victoria

Photo from the This is Your Life TV show
This is your life

Each of us has a story to tell, but it can be hard to know where to start (or how to finish).

That’s why Writers Victoria's workshop program includes a full range of life-writing workshops to help aspiring writers identify what their stories are, how they can get them down and how to craft them so they sparkle (and so their family members still speak to them afterwards).

There are workshops for writers at all levels, ranging from one-day introductory workshops to evening seminars or a six-month online intensive.

Memoirs and biographies are at the forefront of Australia’s publishing scene, with new and experimental formats sitting alongside more traditional volumes. It was this ever-increasing popularity of the personal memoir that prompted WV tutor Lee Kofman to ask the question: could creative non-fiction be the new black?

“The attraction might be in part because this genre reflects the zeitgeist of our blogging and reality show era,” Kofman wrote in an article for Writers Victoria. “We have developed an appetite for ‘true’.”

Kofman shared her top tips for writing in the creative non-fiction genre.

“The most obvious, and least sexy, tip is that to engage deeply with creative non-fiction you have to read as many books in this genre as you can,” Kofman wrote, before encouraging readers to be honest about the limits of their memories (but not too honest).

“Memory, as we all know, is a fickle, capricious princess,” she said. “Sometimes it’s worth admitting that our memory is more a suspect than a trustworthy assistant and to write this tension between truth and fiction into the work.”

Our new Digital Memoir Intensive with Jo Case (running from January to June 2017) will help writers navigate this tricky ethical territory of writing about people they know via this fully-online course. “If you don’t risk anything, there’s no point in writing memoir,” Case said. “This doesn’t mean revealing your most shameful moments; it just means going beyond your comfort zone.”

Life writing is so much more than getting down the facts and timelines. “Most genealogy books and sites show how to research your family,” said WV tutor Hazel Edwards. “TV programs like 'Who Do You Think You Are?' glamorise family history sleuthing. But crafting your findings into a format that others will want to read is the real challenge.”

Regional writers will be able to get the benefit of Edwards’ workshop on Writing a Non-Boring Family History in Sale or our upcoming memoir course on This Fascinating Life with Spiri Tsinziras in Woodend.

But how do you sift through the millions of moments that make up your life and distil them into something worth reading? Back in Melbourne, Meelee Soorkia will help us answer that question with her Winter School workshop on Writing and Structuring Memoir, or you can check out Alice Pung’s Writing Memoir seminar at this year’s Glen Eira Storytelling Festival.

Every community has its storytellers – those people with a knack for narrative drama, who may be more interested in telling other people’s stories than their own. But how does the storyteller negotiate the process of collaboration? And what are the politics and priorities of creating a human life on the page?

“It often happens that the storyteller will act as a facilitator for those who urgently wish to convey their tale,” said WV tutor Robert Hillman in the lead up to his February course on Writing with Others, “but they can need a helping hand.”

Our lives, times and traumas have always been fodder for memoir writers. So you may also be interested in our Summer School workshop with Leah Kaminsky on Writing and Your Body or our Winter School workshop on Writing Grief and Trauma Eliza Henry Jones.

But whether you want to create a life blog, a personal essay or a full-blown memoir, we’ve got something to help your writing dreams come true.

UPDATE: Lee will be running a Memoir in a Year: Voice & Narration workshop at Writers Victoria in November 2017.