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Independent Study: Outlining Your Memoir

Outlines serve two major purposes for memoirists:

1) They’re a great revision tool. It’s so much easier to see the big picture of your story and fix any structural issues when you can see it all at once and have all the important details right in front of you. Not to mention the fact that moving pieces around in a 10-page outline is logistically so much easier than in a 200-page manuscript!

2) They’re also an essential part of the book proposal that you’ll eventually need in order to sell your book—even if you’re able to sign an agent based on a query letter and complete manuscript, you’ll still most likely need to write a book proposal for that agent to send to publishers.

This independent study will guide you through a three-step process to write an outline that will suit both of those purposes. If you’re still in the drafting and revision stage, the outline you’ll put together here will help you see your structure clearly so you can rework and hone it. And then when you’re done revising (or if you’ve come to this independent study with an already finished and polished manuscript), you can also use this outline for your book proposal.

This is an independent study and does not include any feedback or interaction with the instructor. If you're interested in refining your outline and/or would like feedback on your memoir project, check out Lilly Dancyger's 6-week memoir structure workshop, which includes craft lessons on outlines as a revision tool and in-depth feedback on your story structure. An outline of your memoir is required in order to apply to the class. 

Questions? Please email [email protected]

Lilly Dancyger

Lilly Dancyger is the author of Negative Space, a reported and illustrated memoir selected by Carmen Maria Machado as one of the winners of the 2019 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards, and the editor of Burn it Down, a critically acclaimed anthology of essays on women's anger from Seal Press. Lilly's writing has been published by Longreads, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, Glamour, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and more. Find her on Twitter here.


“Lilly knows what makes a story effective, and how to employ the writing techniques that will sharpen even the best and most vulnerable personal narratives. She's attentive to the writer's needs, and knows how to ask questions that will direct the writer toward the best story possible while retaining their own artistic voice. Lilly's editing helps take the personal essay from personal to universal. It's not often I feel like an editor isn't afraid to give it their all in editing a vulnerable topic, but also isn't hunting for just the most shock value and ‘universally appealing’ parts of a story, all while wanting the narrative to actually be strong, tight, compelling, and effective.”

NARRATIVELY contributor

“It demystified the writing process a little bit, and made it feel like writing is more tangible, and less abstract – something I could achieve. Ms. Dancyger gave great feedback. She was approachable, engaged, and encouraging.”

former student

“Ms. Dancyger understands the craft of the personal essay, how to weave narrative with theme, how to make the personal resonate. She draws the reader into the scene, evoking our senses and emotions.”

Erin Khar Managing Editor, RAVISHLY