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Summer Writing Retreat 2023: “True Stories Told Well: Memory, Form, and Voice in Memoir and Personal Essay” with Rachel Starnes

July 10, 2023 - July 31, 2023

$269.00 – $389.00


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Level 1 (Class Only): $269 for Members, $329 for Non-Members

Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation): $329 for Members, $389 for Non-Members*

*WLT Members have an exclusive window to register for the 20 seats available in the Level 2 registration. After May 22, non-members will be able to register for Level 2 if seats remain. To access the member price, please be sure to log in to your account.  

This July, join us for our virtual 2023 Summer Writing Retreat featuring three classes on memoir, fiction, and revision plus lots of special events throughout the month, including Saturday Craft Seminars (July 8 and July 29), meet-ups, and dedicated writing time. Want to know more? Watch our 2023 Summer Writing Retreat Informational Session on YouTube here.

Each class will meet weekly for four weeks, starting the week of July 10, ending the week of July 31. Our memoir and personal essay class with Rachel Starnes will meet every Monday (July 10, 17, 24, 31) from 6:30 PM CDT to 9:30 PM CDT via Zoom. A recording of each class session will be shared with all class registrants the day after – so you won’t miss anything even if you need to skip a session. Class details are below.

Registration for this class will close at 5:00 PM CDT on Monday, July 10. 

Joan Didion said “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Storytelling is an act of meaning-making, both for the author and the audience, and the choices we make – which events to include, how to frame them, and in what order – influence how we understand the world and our place in it. Especially when the raw material we are working with is challenging or flawed (imperfect memories, contested accounts of an event), these choices matter.

In this class we’ll practice noticing the choices in our own stories and the stories of others. Through close readings of other writers and short exercises of our own, we’ll experiment with different techniques and practices to broaden the range of options we employ in our writing.

Over the course of four sessions, we will explore both memoir and personal essays, including work from Carmen Maria Machado, Deborah Levy, Jo Ann Beard, and Brian Doyle. The focus of our discussions will be on form, voice, and style.

Before each class, students will be asked to read an excerpt of a published work and will be given a list of questions to guide their reading. Short written exercises may be assigned.

By the end of the course, students will have written several pieces that can be worked into a larger in-progress project or form the basis of new work. They will also be conversant in the elements of personal nonfiction writing.

About each session: 

Week 1 (July 10): The Lay of the Land: We’ll start with a short history of the forms and why now is a particularly exciting time for memoirs and personal essays. Our exercises and discussion will lay out a working knowledge of some of the elements of personal nonfiction, including narrative persona and the differences between scene, summary, and analysis.

Week 2 (July 17): Memories and Other Imperfect Things: In this second session, we’ll discuss a little neuroscience around memory formation, the special case of trauma, and how writers define their “line in the sand” when it comes to narrative truth. Exercises and discussion will focus on techniques for calling out, and working with, the holes in our memories.

Week 3 (July 24): Adventures in Form: In the third session, we’ll explore a few innovative choices in form, including lyric essays, collage form, and a Choose Your Own Adventure. Our discussion will focus on tension and expectations, and exercises will give students a chance to perform a few experiments of their own.

Week 4 (July 31): Revising and Getting Unstuck: Writing and revising are two entirely different skills that call on different parts of the brain. In this final session, we’ll revisit some of the pieces we’ve written during the course (or other work in-progress) and practice a few techniques for reworking, or reimagining an idea.

Take this class if…:

Take this class if you’ve got a memoir or personal essay in-progress, are thinking about starting one, or are stuck somewhere along the way. The exercises we do and the excerpts we explore are meant to jumpstart your creativity and expand your toolkit.

Preparation for the first day:

Students will be asked to read an essay by Jo Ann Beard. A brief list of guiding questions will be provided to help frame our discussion.

Registration details:

Choose your registration level:

Level 1 (Class Only): $269 for Members, $329 for Non-Members


Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation): $329 for Members, $389 for Non-Members

The difference: Level 2 (Class + Private Consultation) registrations include one 20-minute meeting with Rachel Starnes sometime during the month (via Zoom). If you’d like, you can also share 10 pages of your work for feedback ahead of the meeting.

You may register online, or download the mail-in registration form here.


Rachel Starnes is the author of The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace and Other Missions Impossible. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from California State University, Fresno and her BA from the University of Texas. Her essays have appeared in The Colorado Review, Front Porch Journal, and O Magazine, and she has been a guest on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.

Before purchasing, please read all policies as noted below and on our Classes page.

If your browser has difficulty with our website store, or if you prefer to mail in a check, click here for a class registration form. The document provides instructions on where to mail it. If you prefer this option, please email wlt@writersleague.org with a copy of the form as well to ensure we add you to the class roster as soon as possible.

Expecting to see the member price, but it’s not appearing?

Confirm you are logged into your account first and foremost. The member price will only appear when you are logged into your account and have an active membership on file. If you are having trouble accessing your account, please email member@writersleague.org and explain the situation.

Class & Event Registration Policy

Once a purchase has been made, registrations are not refundable and cannot be transferred to a different class or event. No exceptions will be made. If you purchase a registration and then find you cannot attend the class or event, someone else can attend in your stead. Simply contact us at wlt@writersleague.org and let us know the name and contact information for the person who will be using the registration so that we can update the class or event roster.

Accessibility Policy

Closed captioning is available for all online classes and special events.

The WLT is committed to making its programs & services accessible to all writers. Please contact us at wlt@writersleague.org or at 512-499-8914 for more information or to discuss accommodations you may need.

Credit Card Transaction Handling Fee Policy

All credit card transactions will incur a 4% handling fee. If you’d prefer to pay by check for membership, a class, or an event, you can use the provided forms on the membership or event pages and mail to: WLT, P.O. Box 14355, Austin, TX, 78704.


Our classes offer a combination of lecture and practical exercises, determined by the individual instructor, on focused aspects of the craft and business of writing. Your fellow participants will come from a range of writing experience, from beginners to people with MFA degrees and published books. WLT instructors, participants, and administrators all work together to create a welcoming, supportive environment.

If you haven’t taken a class with us in recent years, feel free to email the WLT staff at wlt@writersleague.org if you’d like to discuss whether our programming is the right fit for your needs.


Once you register for the class, you’ll receive an email with detailed instructions no later than 48 hours before the class date. You should expect 2-2.5 hours of direct teaching and 30 minutes of Q&A (for three hours total). If you need to leave the class early or can’t attend the class on that date, all registrants will have access to the recording for one month after the class date. No microphone or camera required, just an Internet connection capable of streaming video. All online classes are hosted on Zoom. To learn more about how Zoom works, click HERE. 

Plan to log in to the online platform an hour before the class so that you can update your software or any other settings required to access the platform. (Updates usually only take a few minutes, but you don’t want to wait until the beginning of class.) Questions? Email us at wlt@writersleague.org.

Cultural Arts City of Austin

This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department. Visit Austin at NowPlayingAustin.com.

Texas Commission on the Arts

Writers’ League of Texas classes and workshops are also funded in part by the Texas Commission on the Arts – Investing in a Creative Texas. For more information, go to www.arts.texas.gov.

National Endowment for the Arts

This project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.

Mid-America Arts Alliance

This project is supported in part by the Mid-America Arts Alliance. For more information, go to www.maaa.org.


July 10, 2023
July 31, 2023
$269.00 – $389.00
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Online via Zoom