Patti MillerPatti Miller on Writing True Stories

We asked Patti Miller to tell us a little about her experience teaching Writing True Stories and what students can expect to achieve.

We know that memoir and biography are two types of true stories but what other sorts of narrative non-fiction have people brought to your courses?

Over the last few years several people have been writing true crime, including one ex-detective who had all the inside knowledge on the case. Others have worked on nature-writing, and true adventure and then an extraordinary family story of a Great Grandmother who was an international con-woman and yet another was working on a set of personal essays about her travels.

In a world where everyone is chronicling their own story in words and pictures on social media, what additional value does writing a true narrative have?

Anyone can write on social media or anywhere else - itís about how to do it well, whether you want to write a post or a blog or a book. We explore how to write the story, how to create the texture of life, how to research, how to structure, how to find an authentic voice. Itís also about how to expand out into a long form, not just a quick note on the day. Itís very rewarding to make something which will last longer than a day or two.

What one thing do you hope students will have learnt at the end of your course?

I hope they have established a consistent writing practice and that they believe in the value of writing their own story as well as they possibly can. Itís not so much about pouring it all out, itís about making something fine and strong for other people to inhabit - that is for readers to enter into and experience.

Do you have some narrative non-fiction reading suggestions for our readers to delve into?

Well, this summer Iíve been reading and enjoying, The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri, Night Fishing by Vicki Hastrich, and Yellow Notebook, Helen Garnerís diaries - and may I also boldly suggest my own latest book, The Joy of High Places.

Students often tell us about the value they have gained from the group work you encourage in your course. Can you tell us little about how you enable group work/collaboration in your course? What can students expect?

From the beginning, students share their work with each other. It is very difficult to critique oneís own work, so itís important to be able to learn from each other. The first job for me is to create a warm, trusting, supportive atmosphere for sharing our precious words. We start with exercises, then whole chapters. Many ex-students find this so useful, they keep meeting and sharing their work long after the course has finished.

Thank you to Patti Miller

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