Learn How to Write Memoir (Level I)

Learn how to write a memoir

  • 4-6:30 PM BST/GMT every other Saturday
  • Sept 3/17, Oct 1/15/29, Nov 12/26, Dec 10
  • Eight 2.5 hour sessions
  • 15-min tea break midway through class
  • Detailed feedback on all writing
  • Limited to 14 people
  • Tuition: £550

“Kathryn’s workshops are absolute troves of clear, thoughtfully presented material. She seamlessly blends engaging and foundational readings, compelling lecture, and meaningful workshopping. What I was most blown away by, though, was her fierce dedication to each participant’s journey – meeting each one of us where we were and guiding us further along in our writing path. From handwritten feedback to answering questions after hours, Kathryn really went above and beyond to ensure our growth and success.”

Kimberley, Atlanta, Georgia


From The Confessions of Saint Augustine in the fifth century to contemporary personal essays by David Sedaris and others in The New Yorker, memoir continues to grow in form and in popularity.  Unlike autobiography, which follows a clear linear chronology, memoir follows no such formula. It can be personal essay, creative nonfiction, and prose poetry. It can start at the end and rewind. It can read like a collage. Despite different modes of expression, key memoir components include having a distinctive writing voice, a willingness to be vulnerable in bearing witness to our lives, a strong narrative arc, and a sense of transcendence/change/re-birth.

In this foundational Level I Memoir and Life Writing course, you will learn key narrative nonfiction skills from an experienced teacher of writing. This class teaches you how to write a memoir with the knowledge, structure, support, and feedback you need to write about your own life or to explore larger issues through a personal lens.   From here, you are welcome to continue building your writing muscles and expand your projects in Levels II and III, offered in Winter and Spring of 2023. In this course, you will learn how to mind-map, outline, and free write to retrieve and order memories. You will learn how to create scenes and write a narrative arc in mind so that your writing shows, rather than just tells.  You will begin to understand how to unfold in visually-rich cinematic style. You will have opportunities to reflect upon how your personal story may resonate with universal truths.

Kathryn teaches through lectures, discussions, guest authors, reflective exercises, and workshops. The bi-weekly pacing of class provides the space to process and reflect, to read and write. Lectures are focused on particular topics related to getting started with memoir.  Discussions are based on assigned readings of several memoirs and essays. Workshops provide a warm and supportive place to share your initial work while giving and receiving vital peer feedback.  In-class exercises are also interspersed throughout each session to help you think about your topics and gain new writing skills. You will outline your ideas, explore ignition points (points of personal change), and flesh out key scenes. You will leave with seven essays between 4-6 pages each that will provide you with about 40 pages of new writing.

Special Guest Author

Paul Dodgson, author of On the Road Not Taken: A Memoir about the Power of Music. Paul joined the BBC as a studio manager and went on to become a producer making programmes for all BBC Radio networks. In 2001, he left the BBC and has since written sixteen plays for Radio 4 and been a member of the Eastenders writing team. He has written for the theatre, taught creative writing around the world, and has been writer-in-residence at Exeter University and a Hawthornden Fellow.

A quick read: How to Write a Memoir


  • Learn how to write a memoir through exploring memories, research, mind-mapping, and outlining
  • Learn the difference between biography, autobiography, memoir, and profiles
  • Learn techniques of narrative nonfiction to shape experiences into engaging narrative arcs
  • Experiment with different memoir form and texture to best express your own stories
  • Learn why voice and vulnerability play such a compelling role in memoir
  • Enjoy the supportive structure of a global writing community with shared aims
  • Read and discuss a selection of inspiring essays and books




No matter your subject or style, you will find a great writing community in this small, bi-weekly creative nonfiction writing course. All of Kathryn’s courses are characterised by a warm sense of fellowship and accountability, which will keep you focused on your writing goals.


  • Brief social time (10-15 min)
  • A reading or a writing prompt (5-10 min)
  • Review of previous lessons (2-10 min)
  • Lecture (25-30 min)
  • Writing prompt (10 min)
  • Break (15 min)
  • Discussion (30 min)
  • Writing workshop* (40 min)
  • Q&A and review for next class (5-10 min)

*Papers are shared in a Google Drive two days before class. Students are assigned small groups of 4-5. Writing workshops are excellent opportunities to hear how your writings lands on others. While this can feel scary at first — most people are not used to hearing live and immediate feedback on their work — initial discomfort wanes. Students find this component of class exceptionally valuable.


  • Payment plans for tuition are available. Just drop a line to gardens@kathrynaalto.com.
  • Upon payment, you will receive two emails:1)  an automatic payment confirmation 2) a personal email with a Zoom link and course syllabus.


Read more testimonials here.

“I have been making my living with journalistic texts for four years now. Tied to my desk due to the pandemic I decided it was time to take my writing to another level and enrolled in The Art of Narrative Nonfiction. Being skeptical of virtual courses at first, I was immediately drawn into the group by her professional and yet entertaining moderation of the weekly online gatherings. With an attractive mix of lecture, discussion, workshop and personal tutoring she enabled us to not only profit from her vast experience as a writer but also to open up our pieces to our peers from various cultural backgrounds. I’ll definitely be back for more.”

Johannes, Cologne, Germany

“Margaret Atwood said ‘If you really want to write, and you’re struggling to get started, you’re afraid of something.’ Kathryn fixes those nagging fears by showing writers what we have that is already good, and what we can do better tomorrow. It’s win-win, and she remakes a traditional “class” into such an enjoyable, productive journey. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience the awe-inspiring surroundings and warm community that form the bedrock of the Rural Writing Institute. It’s not often that you can genuinely say that one long weekend shifted the way you look at the world, but the effects are still with me in my reading and writing years later.”

Caroline, Aberdeen, Scotland

“After six months of working with Kathryn–which is a bit like entering the space of a handwritten letter, what with her sharp aesthetic sense, far-ranging intelligence, wit, and curiosity–I’ve made tangible progress on an unwieldy, long-form project I was struggling to articulate. I came to her Memoir and Life Writing class for accountability, and came away having experienced the kind of support, writing insight, and real feeling of friendship that can be difficult to find in a workshop environment. Kathryn fostered a warm, charming atmosphere in class (a real feat online), allowing for life-long connections to develop among our group of writers. She cares about the arc of her student’s writing lives–a form of attention that encourages artistic growth and positive risk-taking. She not only brought her years of writing and publishing experience to class and to our bi-monthly writing assignments (her personal feedback, often handwritten, is invaluable), she also brought her unique perspective. Writer-gardener-historians are, I think, particularly adept at imagining the possibilities for a piece, no matter your subject. Kathryn pushed me to dig deeper, moving my writing in new directions. No matter where one is in their writing life, working with Kathryn will be an experience of profound joy, insight, and artistic deepening.”

Veronica, Portland, Oregon


Kathryn Aalto’s teaching philosophy is focused on encouraging a uniquely personal exploration of narrative nonfiction. At its core, she believes teaching is about responding to each student, whether they are an emerging writer or writing beyond the level of content mastery. She cultivates a mindful and supportive learning environment that fosters personal expression, critical thinking, and individual artistic growth in the literary arts.


Kathryn Aalto is a passionate practitioner and teacher of narrative nonfiction.  For more than twenty-five years, she has taught writing and literature courses at colleges and universities including Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Plymouth University and has given guest lectures at Cambridge University, Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, and more. She has a global mentoring practice and thriving online writing courses, and leads in-person retreats, courses, and workshops in the United States and United Kingdom.