07. October 2020 - 14:00
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Self-Adaptation: Making the Personal Publishable | Wednesday, 07. October 2020

Using reading and writing to learn how to adapt a memoir chapter into a publishable personal essay or article.

About this Event

This course is aimed at writers who are working on a memoir or autobiographical novel and want to adapt a chapter for a personal essay or piece of literary journalism to be published in a journal as they go along, in order to build their profile, but also monetise their long-form writing. You will learn from reading and discussing published pieces, and also via peer feedback of your own writing.

Creative nonfiction (CNF) is becoming increasingly popular in the UK with established magazines and journals publishing it alongside short fiction and journalism, and new outlets popping up all the time. But writing for a book-length project and writing a polished article or essay demand different skills.

You’ll take a guided tour of the various different essay structures, from CNF flash, through the personal essay to literary journalism. You’ll also see how many published personal essays tap into the zeitgeist or something newsworthy or topical. We will focus on how we make the personal universal, continually returning to how – to borrow a Leslie Jamison term – we can use our life as evidence.

The group will be kept small in order to create a safe supportive teaching environment; we will come together in topic-focused group discussion of set reading, and there will be an opportunity for recommended reading lists. We would hope you will have decided which part of your memoir you’d like to adapt in the first half of the course, ready to share a draft in the peer feedback that follows.

In the second half of the course, the reading group becomes a writing group. The aim is to share your work-in-progress and receive constructive feedback through group discussion.

Course structure

During weeks 1-5, you’ll receive a weekly hit of creative nonfiction, as well as a slice of critical insight on the different forms of CNF being published (see below for examples). We’ll also discuss some known examples of where writers have adapted a chapter of a memoir to published essay, and the kinds of decisions they have made. Each Wednesday evening, we’ll get together on Zoom to discuss. The aim of these first five weeks is for us to:

  • Practice reading as writers (material will come with tips on what to look out for)
  • Practice delivering thoughtful and constructive critique of creative nonfiction
  • Discuss how to adapt an existing chapter and make it a standalone piece
  • Get inspiration and insight for our own writing (optional writing prompts accompany each set of reading material)
  • Get to know each other’s voices, interests and aversions when it comes to writing from personal experience

During weeks 6-10, you’ll share your own work-in-progress (two pieces per course member, up to 3,000 words each), and continue to meet weekly on Zoom to discuss and give feedback. The aim of these last five weeks is for us to:

  • Receive feedback on drafts and work-in-progress to help us improve
  • Learn from constructively critiquing the work of other writers
  • Identify themes in your writing
  • Learn how your thinking about your article will feedback into writing the memoir, and how this then feeds into future ideas of articles
  • Make supportive connections that can endure after the course

Forms of short CNF for the reading weeks:

  • Flash CNF
  • The Personal Essay
  • The Lyric Essay
  • Literary Journalism
  • The Braided Essay; Hybrid; Experimental

You are welcome to join this course whether you have experience of group workshopping or not – it is designed to help everyone learn this useful skill via critical reading and discussion of published work. But we do ask that you have either finished a memoir or autobiographical novel, or have one in progress. You will need to allow about 2 hours each week for course reading.

Learning online

Throughout the course, as well as the Zoom meetings, all members will have access to a closed group on the messaging platform Slack. Here you can share more thoughts on the reading, make your own recommendations, ask the course tutor questions and discuss your writing.

You’ll need to have internet access for the Zoom meetings, and to interact on Slack now and again. The course tutor will send you links and instructions for both.

Course tutor

Lily Dunn is a novelist and memoirist. Her first novel Shadowing the Sun was published by Portobello Books (2007) and she is currently finishing her memoir, STARMAN, essays from which have been published by many publications. She has become a regular contributor to Aeon magazine and her latest essay ‘The Joy of Intimacy’; was their most popular essay in February 2020. Other Aeon essays include ‘The Lost Children’ and Shooting Stars: on Female Jealousy, to be published in summer 2020. She is also published by Granta (‘The Fog and the Sea’; ‘It’s Only Skin’) and The Real Story; MIR Online; Litro: and Hinterland. She is co-founder of London Lit Lab and has been teaching a variation of this memoir course for many years.

Course dates and times: 10 weeks, 5th October – 14th December (first reading material distributed one week before the start date). Weekly Zoom meetings on Wednesday evenings, 7.30pm (1.5 hours for the reading groups, 2 hours for the feedback groups).

The course will run with a minimum of 8 participants and a maximum of 10, to ensure we all get time to share our ideas and receive feedback on our work.

This is what people have said about Lily's online courses:

'I enjoyed Lily’s passion and knowledge for the subject. Everything felt authentic. I also liked that Lily used her own writing experiences as examples, and that she wasn’t afraid to be self-critical. Her feedback was thoughtful and always on time.' MS

'This course felt less ‘distant’ than some of the other online courses I’ve attended. I think this is because of Lily’s dedication and professionalism.' Maggie

'Lily is a really lovely teacher. She's both well informed and encouraging.' Eva

'I felt really supported and guided by Lily. The course was well paced and I felt secure with its structure.' TR

'Lily is incredibly professional! - her course was organised and structured really well, but also everyone felt comfortable enough to speak and be listened to.' GM

'I felt Lily's ability to touch on her own negative experience a powerful tool in allowing others to feel comfortable talking about themselves.' JH

If you have any questions, do drop us a line at email, and we’ll be happy to help.