From Memory to Memoir: A workshop with Janelle Hanchett


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin

In the subtle words of my agent: “Nobody gives a shit about what happened to you. They care about the meaning you make of it.”

In other words, it’s the meaning we create out of the events of our lives that makes our story interesting, relatable, and worth reading. We turn our memories into a memoir. 

Memoir isn’t recounting the cleverest, most shocking stories of our lives, nor is it sharing a collection of brilliant thoughts we’ve formed over our years on earth. It’s about weaving the events of our lives into a narrative that shows something about the human condition. It’s about using real life events to draw greater truths, to bring people together into a shared experience through the page. Even if they haven’t lived what you lived, they have felt what you’ve felt, and our job as memoirists is to tell a very old story in new words, in a new way, in a way only we can.

James Baldwin said he thought his pain was unprecedented in the history of the world and then he read, and he realized his pain is what connects him with every human who has ever lived. That is, in my opinion, the point of all writing, including memoir.

Let’s be real: Unless we are Mick Jagger or that dude who had to saw his own arm off after it got stuck under a rock during a solo hiking trip, our lives aren’t interesting enough to just tell the world about it. Even our family trauma. Even that summer in Europe. Even that one really fucked-up cousin.

Memoirs are thematic. We choose events to say something about a topic.

We create a plot. We strip away that which isn’t relevant. We create characters. To me, a good memoir pulls me into an author’s life and head, and we travel along with her, hopefully ending up somewhere new. One of the worst feelings I have is when I close a book and think “What was the point of reading that? What was the author saying?”

I have spent eight years writing creative nonfiction in essays and blog posts, and I memoir called I’M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, which was published by Hachette in 2018. I have a BA and an MA in English and have taught writing at the college level.

I’ve been teaching creative writing workshops for five years now, and have led writing retreats both by invitation and on my own, but that’s all kind of bullshit, isn’t it? 

The only way to decide if a writing teacher is for you is to read their work. So, please read my memoir, and if it appeals to you, let’s do this. 


So, what am I offering?

This will be a six-week online workshop for the person who wants to write a memoir or has a draft they’d like to revise. In other words, this will benefit you whether you’re thinking of writing a memoir or have an abandoned one that needs direction, structure, plot, cohesion, narrative arc, fewer words, etc.

We will have six one-hour online video conferences, each centering on different topics.

Here’s what we’ll talk about each week, and the main questions we’ll be answering:

Week 1: Framing your story: What’s this memoir about? How do I turn this into an engaging story? What’s the meaning behind that story? (Or, why would people care?) At the end of this week, you’ll be able to articulate a through line, what story you are telling and, more importantly, what you’re trying to show and explore with that story.

Week 2: Writing about other people: Where do I end and you begin? Boundaries, fairness, and not infuriating the people you love. The questions I get more often than any others are: How do I write hard things about people I love? How do I not get sued? How can I write three-dimensional characters without violating others’ privacy?

Week 3: Dialogue & Character development: Writing yourself as a character. Writing loved ones as characters. How much do I share about them and my own life? What can be left out? How do I illustrate internal and external growth in myself and others? And how does dialogue reveal character? What about the recreation of scenes I can’t exactly recall?

Week 4: Structure & Tense: How do I structure this memoir? How do I write flashbacks? Do I use present or past tense? Do I write the past with the voice of today, or do I let “back then” simply speak for itself? In other words, do I include the way I see things now or just write the scene as I saw it then? And how the hell does a writer make these choices at all? We will discuss different ways to structure memoir, and how to get started figuring out what makes sense for book.

Week 5: Pacing & Scene: When do I speed up the narrative and slow it down? How do I figure out which scenes need to be glossed over as back-story and which ones need development and detail? How do I move this thing along so my reader doesn’t grow bored?

Week 6: Voice & Tone: How do I not sound like a self-important, navel-gazing asshole? How do I get my personality in there? What’s the role of humor even in heavy topics? Why does my first draft sound like a 12-year-old trying to be clever and what the hell do I do about it? What will set my memoir apart from others?


May 5 – June 9, 2020

Calls on Tuesdays, 10am PST/1pm EST

Max enrollment: 12

Cost: $385-$1150*


Option 1: $385*

  • Weekly video workshops (recorded so you can keep the content and not miss anything even if you can’t attend one week)
  • Private Facebook group where you can ask questions, meet other memoirists, etc.

Option 2: $485*

  • Weekly video workshops (recorded )
  • Private Facebook group where you can ask questions, meet other memoirists, etc.
  • A one-hour, 1:1 video conference with me to discuss your memoir
  • My feedback on up to 20 pages of your writing

Option 3: $1150*

  • Weekly video workshops 
  • Private Facebook group where you can ask questions, connect with other memoirists, give and receive feedback
  • A one-hour, 1:1 video conference with me to discuss your memoir
  • Whole manuscript review (this is a smokin’ deal. $1500 is my starting rate for a wholistic manuscript review)
  • One month of follow-up email support 
Memoir, May 2020

*REFUND POLICY: I offer a full refund as requested before April 5, 2020. From April 5, 2020 through April 15, 2020, I offer a 50% refund. After April 15, 2020, I cannot provide a refund. By signing up for this workshop, you are agreeing to this refund policy. Thank you!