The word of the day is: REINVENTION

I’m on a reinvention tip. I’m reinventing my heart. My body. My work. Why? Because I’ve been feeling for some time that it’s time to change things up. Because these hostile times have shown me that personal narrative is more important now than perhaps ever. Because personal writing has been a part of every revolution in recorded history. Because we’re living in revolutionary times. Because my passion for this work, for writing about our lives, my life, demands that I make this work accessible to everyone. So, I’ve reinvented the Writing Our Lives Workshop to reflect this. As a response. As a necessity. Because I believe that it’s my job, our job, to share what we’ve learned along the way. However we know how. This is how I know how. This is why I teach. Because I have something to say. And so do so many. And I want to help them say it!

The details:

  • All workshops focus on writing personal narrative/memoir
  • All workshops are intensives on specific aspects of writing story: Digging into Memory, Character Development, Sensory Writing, Voice, and the Writing Life
  • All workshops are held at Hunter College, 68th Street campus.
  • All workshops are on five consecutive Sundays: October 21, 28, November 4, 11 & 18
  • All workshops are 4 hours long, from noon to 4pm (except the November 11th workshop which is 1pm-5pm)
  • All workshops are $30 per class.
  • You can take one or two or all.

Interested? Send me an email to

What are the workshops? See below!

October 21: Digging Into Memory

“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!” ~John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

We write our lives for so many reasons. To remember. To forget. To document. To redeem ourselves and others. The hardest part of writing memoir is remembering. Remembering how something happened and why. For centuries, people have been struggling with this same issue: how do I remember?

This workshop is here to help you shake those memories loose, remember the dull color of the walls, the crisp scent in the air, the piercing look in someone’s eyes, how you shattered and came back together.
The way to start writing personal narratives, to pick topics and themes, is to remember. We will work through a slew of memory prompts to help you remember people, events, and emotions from your past. We will write and write and write. And in so doing, we will remember!

October 28th: Character Development

When writing personal narratives, you are writing about situations you really experienced. We must remember that memoir is still story. And every good story is character driven.

Yes, the characters that make up our narratives are part of our lives. And, because we know them so well, it’s easy to skimp on characterization as we write our stories. We expect the reader to find the person interesting because he/she is interesting to us. But the reader knows nothing about any of these people until we tell them. So, it’s our job as writers to be vigilant in presenting the people we write about as characters.

Our lives are populated with people who will make wonderful characters if we take the time and care to render them accurately. That’s what we’ll do in this workshop.

November 4th: Sensory Writing

Memoir is story about what happened in the past. It’s not reporting what happened. People don’t want to read a list of what your childhood was like. They want to live it with you. They want to see it, feel it , smell it, hear it. They want to taste the memory you’re writing about. That is sensory detail!

It’s your job to take your reader into your mind and heart. To transport them to the scene so they smell your mother’s coffee, see the ugly yellow flowers on the dress you had to wear on the first day of school.
Sensory writing is not just saying that it’s raining. It’s writing about the feel of being rained on. Your reader will only care that it’s raining if you speak to their senses. Why? Because we perceive the world through our senses.

This workshop is intended to help you add the meat and teeth and skin of the scenes through the use of your senses. Because telling isn’t enough. We must show!

November 11th: Voice

Sometimes, it is not so much as what is said, but how things are said that gets people’s attention. This is voice.

In memoir, what you’re saying throughout the course of the story matters. And, how the story is being filtered through the narrator (you) to the audience is also critical because it’s through voice that you get readers emotionally invested in your life’s story.

Voice is the lens through which the reader will interpret what is going on throughout the movement of the narrative. It helps the reader understand the significance of the scene you are documenting.

It is not impossible to find the appropriate voice. In fact, finding the voice will make the actual writing come easier.

The goal of this class is to help you find YOUR voice. That is, HOW you are going to tell the story. Your story.

November 18th: The Writing Life

What is the writer’s life? It’s writing! Yes, duh! But it’s so much more as well. It’s struggling with the writing. With putting our marrow on paper. It’s taking risks. It’s submitting to journals and anthologies and open calls. It’s taking classes to hone the craft. It’s reading. Lots of reading. And then reading some more. It’s building a community of people that support you and your work. A writer’s life is so very much.
This workshop is a run through of what it means to live the life of a writer and how YOU can make it happen, directly from the mouth and heart of a woman who’s living the life. This life. The writer’s life.

About the facilitator: Vanessa Mártir is currently completing her memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings. She has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry and To Play Write, and also co-authored Do Something: A Handbook for Young Activists, which recently won The Carol D. Reiser Children’s Book Award was nominated for a 2011 Books for a Better World Award. Vanessa is the mother of an eight year old dancer and writer, and is a four-time alum of the Voices of our Nation’s Arts (VONA) Summer Writing workshops where she studied with Chris Abani, Elmaz Abinader, Staceyann Chin and Mat Johnson. A graduate of Columbia University, Vanessa is the editor of the VONA newsletter, works as a teaching artist throughout NYC public schools, and facilitates the Writing Our Lives Workshop, which she created, at Hunter College. You can check out her blog here:

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