Online | Nonfiction | Memoir | Workshop

The Online Memoir Generator: 12 Months to a Full Draft

We are currently in the process of sending out acceptances to this course. If you haven't yet applied and would like to send in an application, please do so with the understanding that we will place your application under consideration for our waitlist.

Isn’t it time you transformed your experiences—or handful of chapters, or messy first draft—into a finished memoir?

At Catapult, we believe there’s a better—or at least less lonely—way to write a memoir. Our competitive 12-month online memoir writing course is designed to help writers generate and refine a submission-ready draft in a supportive and motivating atmosphere. Alongside a group of talented peers and under the guidance of a published memoirist and accomplished mentor, writers will spend a year thinking deeply about how to build their story from the ground up. In addition to rigorous craft lessons on structure, voice, theme, reflection, and other elements of memoir, this course will include thorough workshops that invite author participation and questions and careful analysis of notable published work. Students will also be exposed to accessible, invaluable information about the world of publishing.

This class is open to writers of all genres and forms of memoir but is best suited to those with a clear idea of what they want to work on over the course of the year—whether that idea takes the form of a collection of notes or an entire draft. The program will be divided into three phases, each focusing on a different element of the writing process and building upon earlier lessons. Each phase will feature guest visitors—debut memoirists, seasoned writers, acquiring agents, and literary nonfiction editors from big houses and small—with insights on how one can best write and publish their debut.

We believe the writing process is sacred and should be protected from industry concerns in the early stages. With that in mind, phase one will focus on helping writers find and generate the scenes that define their story; phase two, on finishing and refining the draft. We also believe that the opaque barriers between the publishing industry and creative writing classes should be broken down, and that writers who hope to publish can be better served by writing education that treats publishing like a challenging, but achievable, goal. For that reason, phase three will center on navigating the literary marketplace.

Throughout the year, class will meet 40 times for three hours per session with several breaks for holidays and “between” phases. Writers will graduate the 12-month memoir generator with a substantial number of new pages, a better understanding of the literary marketplace, valuable connections, and productive and strategic work habits that will transform their writing lives moving forward, as well as a supportive community throughout the complexities of negotiating our memories and lived experiences.

To apply to the course, please submit up to 20 double-spaced pages of your memoir in-progress or other writing that deals with the themes you will be addressing in your project.

Phase 1 - Finding the story (Tuesdays, 8-11 p.m. ET/5-8 p.m. PT; Jun. 9 - Sept. 1, 2020)

In the first phase, weekly sessions will alternate between craft and workshop. Our in-class work will be geared toward helping each writer generate the material that lives in their bones—the memories, frustrations, fascinations, and questions that will anchor the book. Whether you’re coming into class with an idea or an entire draft, we’ll look closely at the beginning of your book to consider the questions that you’re wrestling with, the scenes you’re moving through, and what you’d like the reader to carry from your story into theirs. We’ll approach reading as inspiration, challenge, and treasure map, exploring both classic and contemporary literary work in the context of our own creative problem solving. Craft classes will be geared towards generating new pages, drafting and outlining, and solidifying the memoir’s structure, with specific attention paid to meeting each writer where they are. In this phase, students will have the opportunity to workshop once, up to 25-50 pages, and will meet with the instructor over the phone or Skype for an individual conference following their workshop.

Phase 2 - Finishing and refining the draft (Tuesdays, 8-11 p.m. ET/5-8 p.m. PT; Oct 6, 2020 - Jan 19, 2021; no class Nov. 3, Nov. 24, Dec. 22, & Dec. 29)

The second phase will focus on helping writers get to the final page of their draft, with craft classes specifically focused on strategies for refining and revising. This will be the first meaty engagement with the full manuscript. We will establish and discuss the primary themes and structure of your memoir, naming, unpacking, and ensuring that each part of your draft relates to the whole. Students will have the opportunity to workshop twice during phase two, up to 150 pages each time, and will meet with the instructor over the phone or Skype following these workshops to discuss strategies for revision and their progress.

Phase 3 - Navigating the marketplace (Tuesdays, 8-11 p.m. ET/5-8 p.m. PT; Feb 23 - May 25, 2021)

The third and final phase of the 12-month memoir generator will help writers begin the process of thinking about audience, specifically how their memoir might fit into the marketplace. Non-workshop classes will focus on writing the query letter, demystifying the literary publishing landscape, and building an author platform. Students will each have a final workshop, submitting their entire draft for peer review, and will also meet over the phone or Skype with a Catapult editor who will read the draft in full and meet with the writer to discuss. Guest visitors will include agents, editors, and book marketers, and students will have an opportunity to meet one-on-one over the phone or Skype with a leading literary agent. Graduation will be celebrated with excerpts from the memoirs will be featured on Catapult’s website.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.


- 120 hours of instruction, including four workshops per student

- Four 30 minute one-on-one meetings over phone or Skype with the instructor

- 20% off all Catapult conferences, classes, and events, including residential programs and writers retreats, for the duration of the program

- 2nd Reader: in addition to the dedicated feedback from the writer/instructor as well as members of the class, each student will submit their manuscript to a Catapult editor for a close reading and a one-on-one meeting over phone or Skype to discuss their work

- A passionate and talented community of peer readers

- A deeper understanding of the craft of memoir writing and how to develop a narrative across the span of a book-length manuscript

- A finished draft* (No class can promise that you’ll finish your memoir draft within the year. But we can promise that if you commit to showing up and doing the work, you will be given all the tools you need to get to that last page.)

- Agent one-on-one meeting over phone or Skype

- Greater fluency with the contemporary literary marketplace

- Regular guest speakers and networking opportunities

- Showcase publication and online graduation reading and ceremony


Why Catapult, and not an MFA program?

Catapult is an award-winning independent publisher of literary fiction and nonfiction. Books are our business: every day we work to help the stories and writers we love find their audience. Our program is designed to unite the best things about an MFA program—community, mentorship, and intensive craft analysis—with specialized and practical publishing advice.

Why does this class cost so much?

The 12-month memoir generator is an MFA level course, taught by a published memoirist who is also an experienced educator with years of creative writing teaching experience at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Your tuition helps pay your instructor a living wage, and covers the cost of booking guest speakers, arranging second readers, scheduling events, and administering the program.

I finished the memoir generator. When will I get published?

We can’t promise that every writer who leaves the 12-month memoir generator will get published right away, or ever. Publishing is a tricky business, involving lots of luck and time—as students who enroll in this course will learn! That said, as publishers ourselves, we strongly believe that we can help prepare emerging memoirists to better navigate the publishing industry, and that our program and the connections made here will increase your chances of success.

In the course description, there are mentions of guest visitors, agents, and invitations to special events. I want the details right now! Why can’t I have them?

People who work in publishing are busy and we confirm guest visitors on a rolling basis, as their schedules permit. Agencies represented in past guest speaker line-ups include WME, ICM, Trident Media Group, Sterling Lord, Janklow & Nesbit, Inkwell, Writers House, and many more. We’ve had editors and publishing professionals from Big Five imprints including Knopf, Henry Holt, Riverhead, Penguin Press, William Morrow, Scribner, Crown, and many others, as well as indie representation from SoHo Press, Grove Atlantic, Melville House, and New Directions.

I barely have an idea for a memoir. Is this class too advanced?

Maybe. How serious are you about the idea? If you just have an inkling, but you’re committed to coming in and focusing on that idea over the course of the year, this class might be the right fit for you. The key thing is that on the first day, you come ready to write. No one will write the pages of your memoir for you, but this course can help you apply structure to your idea, and motivate you to finish the draft. 

I have written several drafts of a memoir, and I can’t seem to find an agent or figure out the next steps. Should I take this class?

Absolutely. Sometimes taking a memoir to the next level requires cracking it open and figuring out how it works, and that process can be helped along by the insight of new readers. So long as you are open to digging into the drafts again, this class will give you new perspective on your work and offer concrete next steps for you and your memoir.

I’m still not sure if this class is for me. Could I talk to someone about it?

Yes! We would love to talk with you. Please email Atom Atkinson ([email protected]), Director of Writing Programs, to set up an appointment.

How much does this class cost? Are scholarships, financial aid, or payment plans available?

Full tuition for this year-long course is $6,250. Payment plans of varying installments are available upon acceptance to the course. Applicants with demonstrated need will be considered for a limited number of financial aid awards. If you have questions about payment plans and/or financial aid, email our Writing Programs Coordinator, Stella Cabot Wilson ([email protected]).

Upon acceptance to the course, all students who apply before the financial aid deadline (May 1) will have the opportunity to apply for financial aid.

Megan Stielstra

Megan Stielstra is the author of Everyone Remain Calm, Once I Was Cool, and The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, winner of the 2017 Book of the Year in Nonfiction from the Chicago Review of Books. Her work appears in Best American Essays, New York Times, Poets & Writers, The Believer, Tin House, and elsewhere. A longtime company member with 2nd Story, she has told stories for NPR, Museum of Contemporary Art, and theatres, festivals, and classrooms across the country. She teaches creative nonfiction at Northwestern University and is a Senior Media Fellow with the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC.


“When Megan Stielstra writes you can actually feel her beautiful heart pumping blood through every sentence.”


"Reading this book is like listening to stories from a wise, compassionate, and irrepressibly funny friend—one who allows her empathy to fill every unflinching tale about how fear both plagues and saves us. Whether she's writing about gun laws, a bear attack, or postpartum depression, Stielstra's clear voice calls for us to stay awake, and to pay attention."


"Stielstra brings all her selves to the table and in doing so provides a crystalline haven of acceptance and safety to anyone—wife, mother, educator, lover, writer—who is both present in every moment and wondering how she arrived at any particular juncture in time. Stielstra has both questions and answers. Is my writing good enough? Am I loving and loved, loyal and worthy? The answers have been amassed over the years, but more questions crop up for every one that’s resolved. For its wisdom and compassion, honesty and courage, Stielstra’s stellar essay collection is a lifeline and a microscope, a means of examining the dread of whatever one finds daunting and a manner of exorcising demons through the sheer power of commitment and desire."

Booklist starred review

“Stielstra has a knack for giving voice to the kinds of thoughts and feelings we assume are deeply personal but, we slowly discover, are mostly universal… funny, heartfelt and refreshingly candid, inspiring readers to make peace with their own imperfections.”

The Chicago Tribune