Writing the Taboo in Memoir

5 techniques to help you delve into messy truths


Katie Bannon


Live on March 30, 2023, or watch recording


Beginning to intermediate memoirists


Closed captions by Otter; transcript provided with recording

Topics like mental illness, sex, and violence are often branded taboo and can be some of the most difficult material to write about. In many cultures, we’re taught to avoid these kinds of thorny topics, and that sharing them is TMI (“too much information”). But at their best, these narratives speak to our darkest truths and teach us what it means to be human.

Even the most stigmatized topics can be made approachable if you know how to pull the reader in and give your story universal resonance. No matter how difficult the subject matter, memoirists can keep readers engaged by using craft techniques like specificity, identifying universal truths, and exercising narrative authority. As writers, we have the ability to delve into messy truths while still maintaining control of the story—and that balance is achieved through a writer’s mastery of their craft. This webinar with Katie Bannon will teach you five craft tools for doing just that.

We will examine the challenges and opportunities of writing honestly about taboo topics. We’ll discuss why it’s so important to give voice to “unspeakable” truths, and how to use craft tools to create unforgettable (and publishable) memoirs and essays. We’ll also address self-care strategies, how to know when material is “too” explicit, and how and when to exercise narrative restraint.

In this class, you will:

  • Explore why certain topics are considered taboo in personal narratives, and why you should write about them anyway.
  • Learn craft tools for making such stories feel resonant to the masses, including getting concrete, grappling on the page, exercising narrative control, and identifying universal truths.
  • Discover how selective “underwriting” of vulnerable scenes can help you avoid cliché and sentimentality.
  • Appreciate how leaning into taboos, by diving right into their complexity, can enhance a reader’s emotional connection to our stories.
  • Address the practical challenges of writing about taboo topics, including knowing when material is too explicit and understanding when to use narrative restraint.
  • Uncover self-care techniques to avoid fatigue, re-traumatization, and writer’s block, allowing you to stay well throughout the writing and revision process.
  • Build a roadmap for applying these craft tools to your own works in progress, helping you write beautifully crafted, universally resonant manuscripts and essays.

You will leave with several writing exercises to help with your work in progress. You will also receive a supplementary handout from Katie with bonus writing exercises and additional resources.

Who should take this class

  • Memoirists who are in the drafting or revision stages and in need of a fresh approach to their taboo stories, including stigmatized topics like mental illness, sex, violence, and more
  • Personal essayists who want craft techniques for grappling with vulnerable, explicit, or difficult topics
  • Creative nonfiction writers struggling with a specific scene in their memoir or personal essay, one that is particularly vulnerable and/or explicit
  • Creative nonfiction writers who are concerned they’re getting “too graphic” in their writing
  • Creative nonfiction writers who are afraid to address a certain topic and/or story, and need craft and self-care techniques to make it more approachable

This class isn’t suited for

  • Writers of prescriptive nonfiction, or anything that is not story driven

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: Thursday, March 30, 2023
  • Time: 1:00–2:15 p.m. Eastern / 10:00 a.m. Pacific
  • Fee: $25

The webinar is broadcast 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.

About the instructor

Katie Bannon is a writer, editor, and educator whose work has appeared in The Rumpus, ELLE Magazine, Narratively, and more. Her memoir manuscript, which charts her journey as a compulsive hair puller, was a finalist for the Permafrost Nonfiction Book Prize. A graduate of GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator, she holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Emerson College. She is a developmental editor who loves working with memoirists and essayists on how to write and revise their most vulnerable, taboo stories. She teaches at GrubStreet and lives in Central Massachusetts with her partner and two cats.

Katie Bannon is a rare find. She’s a writer who’s exceptionally skilled in both teaching methodology and editing/coaching. She consistently demonstrates expertise and personal warmth while guiding others in writing and rewriting stories that are difficult to put on the page.

Deb F.

I learned more in the 3 hours of this class than I have in graduate school level semester-long classes. She is an amazing teacher—kind, thoughtful, giving, insightful, razor-sharp lessons, always well prepared, intelligent.”

Amanda W.

Katie is the best writing instructor I have ever had. Her presentation was impeccable. She looked for questions and answered every one thoughtfully and respectfully. She provided an abundance of ideas, details, examples, and information. In fact, the class was overflowing with information. I have nothing but praise for Katie.

Cathy P.

All students receive the following

  • Access to the live class. After roughly 60 minutes, the instructor will take questions during class using in-class chat/text. The class will end after roughly 75 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.
  • Additional resources: You will receive a supplementary handout with bonus writing exercises

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.