Lisa Cooper Ellison

Memoir Beginnings

Where to begin, what to include, and what to leave out


Lisa Cooper Ellison


Live on May 18, 2022, or watch recording


Beginning to intermediate memoirists


Closed captions by Otter; transcript provided with recording

You’ve been working on your manuscript for a while now, but you’re still not sure your memoir’s opening actually launches your story. Or worse, an agent, critique group member, or beta reader has said you’re not starting in the right place.

You love your beginning, but what if they’re right?

Perhaps you’ve been told the first fifty pages of your memoir must hook your reader and propel your story forward, but your brain insists you begin with essential backstory readers must know.

So now what? How do you know where to start and what to include? And how do you evade the backstory traps that slow down your manuscript?

During this 90-minute live class taught by Lisa Cooper Ellison, you’ll learn what the first 50 pages of your manuscript must accomplish, how to choose the best opening for your book, and strategies for incorporating backstory. You’ll learn:

  • The essential tasks of any story opening
  • How to assess your current opening
  • If needed, how to choose a better opening for your manuscript
  • How to avoid the dreaded backstory trap
  • How to trim the bloat and cut tangents from your opening

Attendees will receive a workbook after the class that includes checklists, questions, activities, and a resource list to help you map, assess, and then revise the beginning of your memoir.

Who should take this class

  • Memoirists who fear their opening isn’t working
  • Memoirists who’ve been told they’re starting in the wrong place
  • Memoirists who completed several drafts and now want to choose—or vet—their openings
  • Querying memoirists who aren’t receiving requests for additional pages
  • Memoirists struggling to manage back story
  • Memoirists who want to deepen their understanding of the craft of memoir

This class isn’t suited for

  • Personal essayists
  • Novelists
  • Children’s writers
  • Poets

What’s included in all of Jane’s classes

How do I attend the live class?

This class uses Zoom webinar technology (see system requirements). You will join through your Internet-connected computer or mobile device. When you register, you will receive information via email on how to join the class. If you don’t receive it within 1 hour of registering, please contact us.

  • When: Wednesday, May 18, 2022
  • Time: 1:00–2:30 p.m. Eastern / 10:00 a.m. Pacific
  • Fee: $25

The webinar is broadcasted via the internet with live audio delivered through your computer or mobile device speakers. The visual presentation is displayed directly from the presenter’s computer to your computer screen. The Q&A is managed through a chat-style submission system with questions read and answered by the presenter for the entire class to hear.

Closed captions are provided during the live class. We use Zoom’s automated closed caption service (powered by Otter), which is about 80%+ accurate. We also use Otter AI to generate an unedited transcript, provided with the recording.

Lisa Cooper Ellison

About the instructor

Lisa Cooper Ellison is an editor, writing coach, and speaker with an Ed.S in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a background in mindfulness. She has spent the last two decades helping clients and students turn difficult experiences into art and currently teaches courses in memoir, creative nonfiction, scene writing, and mindful writing practices. Her life story and essays have appeared on NPR’s With Good Reason and in Hippocampus Literary MagazineKenyon Review OnlineHuffington Post, and The Guardian, among others. 

Lisa’s course was fantastic. Thanks for making her expertise and course materials available! Everything was done at an impressive level of professionalism.

Sam Farler, student

Lisa is both an accomplished teacher and very talented practitioner of mindful writing. She is a very capable, empathic and insightful writing teacher, who creates and sustains a safe, warm space for students to learn and become successful writers themselves.

Rita Hart, student

Time flew by, an indicator that the webinar was good and on point. Thank you to Lisa for offering us a generous amount of useful info. My questions were answered.

Gillian Foster, student

All students receive the following

  • Access to the live class. After roughly 75 minutes, the instructor will take questions during class using in-class chat/text. The class will end after roughly 90 minutes.
  • A recording of the class—audio and video. This is especially helpful if you have a conflict with the class time or something comes up and you can’t make the session. Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 30 days. You do not have to attend the live event to access the recordings.
  • Presentation slides. All participants receive a copy of the slide presentation in PDF form.
  • Rough transcript. We use Otter to create an automated transcript of the entire webinar, which we’ll share with you in addition to the audio and video recording.
  • Supplementary materials: After the class, attendees will receive a workbook that includes checklists, questions, activities, and a resource list to help map, assess, and then revise the beginning of your memoir.

Event Attendance & Anti-Harassment Policy

We strive to provide an environment where all present—whether attendee, presenter, or staff—can feel supported. In order to ensure a welcoming event, here is what we expect from all who participate.

  • That the presenter and the presenter’s work be treated with respect by attendees and that all attendees treat each other with respect and a generosity of spirit.
  • That attendees will refrain from harassment of any sort including (but not limited to) comments or questions of a racist, homophobic, sexist/sexual, or threatening nature. This includes actions that disrupt or interfere with anyone’s ability to participate. Offenders will be disconnected from the live event.