If you feel called to write about your life and are ready to set yourself up for success as a creative nonfiction author, today’s video is for you! If we haven’t met yet, I’m Nicole Breit, an award-winning poet, essayist, and memoir writing coach.
I’m the creator of the Spark Your Story Lab, a program for creative non-fiction writers who want to craft their best work and share it with the world.
Watch how my program can help you craft submission-worthy creative nonfiction and share your stories with the world – even if you’ve never written a personal essay or it’s been years since you’ve done any creative writing at all.
Watch the video here
In this episode for memoir writers, you’ll learn:
- A bit about me and my journey as a writer and writing instructor.
- The decision that made me go from a struggling writer to an award-winning writer.
- What I’ve learned about emerging as an artist.
- How teaching creative nonfiction helped me build a transformative program.
- The most recent updates to the Spark Your Story Lab.
- How breaking traditional forms centers the experience of marginalized folx.
- Why I don’t include workshopping in any of my writing programs.
- How creative nonfiction can open new doors for aspiring writers of any genre.
- How to find your sweet spot as a writer.
- Who is the Spark Your Story Lab for?
- What does your 12-month access to the Spark Your Story Lab include?
- The one live component in Spark Your Story Lab.
- A look inside the Spark Your Story Lab, module by module.
- What’s included in Spark Your Story Resources and bonuses?
Have questions about the Spark Your Story Lab? Email me!
Don’t want to watch the video? Read all about the Spark Your Story Lab here.
If you feel called to write about your life and are ready to set yourself up for success as a creative nonfiction author, this coaching program for memoir writers is for you!
Welcome to my presentation on the Spark Your Story Lab, my 12-month online program for writers of creative nonfiction and memoir. If we haven’t met yet, I’m Nicole Breit, an award-winning poet, essayist, and writing coach. I’m also the creator of the Spark Your Story Lab, a program for creative non-fiction writers who want to craft their best work and share it with the world.
I can’t wait to dive in and tell you all about my memoir writing program and how it can help you craft submission worthy creative nonfiction and share your stories with the world, even if you’ve never written a personal essay or it’s been years since you’ve done any creative writing at all.
Like Spark Your Story Lab writer Shelley Logan. Shelley hadn’t written anything creative in 20 years when she joined the Spark Your Story Lab and celebrated her first publication acceptances in less than two months.
That is a quarter of the time it took me to reach the same milestone. But before we talk further about how the Spark Your Story Lab can help you make big leaps forward toward your writing dreams, I’d like to tell you just a little bit about me and my own journey as a writer and instructor – so you have some context about how I learned what it is that I now teach.
A bit about me and my journey as a writer and memoir writing instructor…
Ten years ago I was an unknown writer who dreamed of one day writing a deeply personal book about my life, but I had no idea how to get started or how I was ever going to get published. When I think back to my youngest days, I had always felt called to write about my life. I actually created this little scrapbooking page, not as a school project when I was in first grade, but something I wanted to do at home and asked my mom to help me with.
That’s how passionate I’ve always been about personal storytelling. For me, it was really the big life transition of becoming a mom that motivated me to try and figure out how I was going to finally be a writer.
Life was busy at the time. I was the mom of two young kids. I worked full-time. I was looking after aging parents. I had big dreams for my writing, but I didn’t have a lot of time to figure things out.
That is why I’m really excited to share what I’ve learned about writing short-form memoir. I know it can help a lot of other writers who are in the same place. They don’t have a lot of time to devote to their writing, so they need to be highly effective with the time that they do have.
My decision to sign up for a creative nonfiction course changed everything
In 2014, I took my first creative nonfiction course on the lyric essay – a hybrid form that marries poetry and prose. The lyric essay unlocked the stories I had always wanted to write. It was just the perfect genre for me.
When I experimented with structure, I found that the creative process became easier and more fun, even when writing into my more difficult material. A lot of writers who come into my programs want to write about difficult life experiences, trauma, personal loss – and they struggle to figure out how to do that.
Like Shelley who shared this feedback with me about her experience in the Spark Your Story Lab:
Experimenting with different short forms has been incredibly helpful for accessing memories and actually getting some of these stories from my mind to the page. It is crazy how I’ve been able to write things that became too overwhelming and daunting to even try.
Experimentation led to creative AND career breakthroughs
The creative experimentation I was doing in my first course on the lyric essay was essential to the development of my work, and it launched my career. The very first lyric essay I wrote became my first publication in the literary journal. All of my award-winning essays play with form in some way. Here’s what my first lyric essay looked like. I wrote it in the form of a list.
I like to call the magic of working with form story chemistry. Something magical happens when you take the story ideas, the material you have, and you mash it with a form that you have never tried before. And now you have a hint about why I called my signature program, the Spark Your Story Lab. It really is inspired by experimentation.
In 2016, I won three literary awards for my lyric essays
Winning those awards was absolutely life changing for me. So here’s what happened next. I had trained as a teacher, but I had taught elementary school. Those awards gave me the confidence to teach writers who also shared my passion for personal storytelling. Now my job is to help writers enjoy the recognition their work deserves in a fraction of the time it took me to figure it out.
I launched my first creative nonfiction course called CNF Outliers in January 2017. Since then, I’ve guided many authors towards their first publications and awards in my writing programs, including the writers I’ve featured here who posted in our private Facebook group when and where some of the work they drafted in my courses ended up being accepted for publication or even nominated for and won awards.
Here’s what I’ve learned about emerging as an artist
Career breakthroughs begin with creative breakthroughs. That was true for me and for many of the writers that I’ve taught. And the thing that holds most writers back isn’t a lack of being gifted or talented, it’s just a gap in knowledge. Not knowing the way forward. That is why I created my signature program, the Spark Your Story Lab. I was amazed and humbled by what writers who were new to creative nonfiction were able to achieve in just a six week course once they learned what they didn’t know: the possibilities of form and structure for personal storytelling.
Perhaps even more importantly, I knew that I could help writers because by teaching writers I had the opportunity to learn exactly where they had gaps in their knowledge. Even seasoned authors with MFAs were coming into my courses to learn things that they weren’t learning in other workshops. That insight allowed me to build a new program that was different than other programs out there and could help writers in ways my other courses couldn’t Because I now had the benefit of greater insight into how to help writers. I could see the patterns, I could see what was working, and I could see where they tended to fall.
My goal was to help creative nonfiction writers trim years off their learning curve with the help of my creative writing coaching
I developed my memoir writing program to show them how to quickly craft innovative new work and help them maintain momentum by teaching them how to work with rather than against their creative process.
When a writer understands the relationship of process, form, and craft, they have all the keys to a creative and fulfilling writing practice. However, process and form are rarely taught, and I’ve never seen them integrated with lessons on craft anywhere else. I knew I was creating something special and unique in the world of online writing courses that didn’t resemble anything out there in its aim, scope or design – based on insights I had personally gathered by writing and teaching experimental CNF for years.
How teaching creative nonfiction helped me build a transformative memoir writing program
Over the years, I’d read and reviewed hundreds of stories and based much of my new curriculum on comments that I was repeating over and over again when offering feedback. One of the very first tools I created was a revision checklist to help writers read their drafts back with an objective eye and identify next steps without having to rely on another reader until they felt ready to share.
The 2019 beta version of the course was called Spark Your Story, and it has gone through several iterations to make it more inclusive and effective as a unique self-guided program now called the Spark Your Story Lab.
The most recent updates to the Spark Your Story Lab
In 2021 I was reading books about anti-racism and decolonizing classrooms at the same time I was really thinking about what scientists and artists have in common – this pull to find creative solutions to questions by the process of experimentation. Inspired by that open, playful, and curious approach to creative experimentation had served me and my previous students well. It was actually key to my success as an award-winning writer.
I revamped the program as a story lab and that decision affected every element of its design. This is the lab manual that looks like a high school biology manual. I even created a periodic table of elements as a bonus download you can print and tack over your desk.
Although the Spark Your Story lab is an end-to-end program that takes you from the very first spark of an idea through revision and publication, it’s also very intentionally designed not to overwhelm you.
This isn’t an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink program. I give you exactly what you need – no more and no less – to master the essentials of powerful storytelling and focus on crafting fresh and innovative new work you’re excited to share with the world. I even include a list of 50 markets I’ve compiled over the years when writers who go through my courses get published, so you know exactly where to submit your work.
How breaking traditional forms centers the experience of marginalized folx
One of the things I love best about the forms I teach in the Spark Your Story Lab is that what I call Outlier CNF – creative nonfiction on the fringes – centers the experience of marginalized folx by breaking traditional linear storytelling structure that has been used over the ages to encode patriarchy and legitimize colonial narratives.
LGBTQ2S+ writers (like me), as well as my BIPOC, mixed race, differently abled, neurodiverse students – and those dealing with mental illness or recovering from trauma – tell me how liberating it feels to bend and break form to tell new kinds of stories. And that this radical act mirrors their experience of fractured memories and their attempt to piece together fragments to make something whole.
Ensuring representation of marginalized voices had always been a concern as I developed curricula for my courses. With the Spark Your Story Lab, I had been reading about how to create an anti-racist learning environment, and I came to see that I had intuitively built writing programs from the beginning that bucked the troubling conventions of traditional writing workshops – even though at the time I admittedly (and regrettably) lacked awareness of how BIPOC or multiracial writers might experience these online and in-person learning environments.
Why I don’t include workshopping in any of my writing programs
I was coming from my own place when I decided that the workshopping model wasn’t for me and the courses that I taught. My focus was on designing an alternative to the workshopping model that would support and encourage creative work for every writer who wanted to learn from me in an online format. I was working from a place of discomfort with workshopping as a highly sensitive queer woman who needs to feel a great deal of safety and trust to share works in progress, especially when they deal with raw or vulnerable material. I thought other writers would appreciate that too, that there had to be a different way to run a writing class.
Each reading that I include in the Spark Your Story Lab was drafted by a writer in one of my earlier courses, so they reflect the demographics of writers who had been enrolling in my programs from 2017 on. I chose those readings to best exemplify the form and structures that I teach. Although the 10 readings don’t represent every voice or story, I have taken care to ensure diverse voices are present in the rest of the program. You’ll find them in the lessons when I need to illustrate a concept with a reference or quote.
How creative nonfiction can open new doors for aspiring writers of any genre
Creative nonfiction is an art form that I love for so many reasons, including the fact that writing experimental short form memoir can really help kickstart writing careers faster than many authors expect or even believe is possible. If you are a poet, if you write fiction, creative non-fiction is a catchall genre. Bring your knowledge of arc and literary devices to tell stories that have a higher chance of being accepted for publication because fewer writers submit to creative non-fiction contests. Fewer writers submit their work to regular submissions for journals that publish creative nonfiction. So if you want to write a book, I really encourage you to start getting those publication credits by learning to write creative non-fiction and submitting your work to contests and journals.
Meet multi award-winning author Rowan McCandless. Rowan won her first of several literary awards within six months of taking my first CNF course. She is now the editor of a literary magazine. She’s a respected instructor. She’s the author of a celebrated memoir that began in my first CNF class that was nominated for Canada’s top literary prize, The Governor General’s Award, in 2022.
Rowan’s book deals with difficult material like intergenerational trauma, race and domestic abuse. Her debut memoir Persephone’s Children: A Life in Fragments includes several award-winning pieces drafted in my Spark Your Story programs.
In Rowan’s words:
I had a drawer full of essays that I didn’t know what to do with Nicole. Help me learn to shape the stories that were sitting idle, just waiting for their creative spark. I’ve become a better writer and finally feel I can express my true self.
I’d also like you to meet Spark Your Story Lab writer Margaret Nowaczyk. In 2018, Margaret told me that she stopped writing after a slew of rejections. Then in 2019 she signed up for my Spark Your Story Lab, the beta version of the course, and wrote about her fraught relationship with her mother as a hermit crab essay in the form of a mother-daughter phrase book.
This was a story she’d struggled to tell for years, but finally found her form when she was in the Spark Your Story Lab. She explained that a phrase book is a very common stylistic trope in Polish language instruction booklets where people can study everyday dialogue as they study a foreign language. Her essay ended up winning the 2020 Creative Nonfiction Collective CNF Award.
Judge Ian Brown had this to say:
Mother Daughter Phrasebook: Definitions is a very original, very subtle piece that has a very original form. It doesn’t follow any form I’ve ever seen before.
What’s happening structurally in Margaret’s piece, as well as in Rowan’s work, is an interplay of form and content which creates resonant resonance and amplifies meaning while stretching the idea of what an essay can be. That’s what I can teach you in the Spark Your Story Lab.
Do you worry no one is going to care about your story?
A lot of writers worry about their subject matter and think, why would a contest judge or editor or reader care about this thing that happened to me? Or nothing really dramatic has happened. I’m not writing about contemporary issues. Is anyone going to care?
They let those fears hold them back from learning about how to write their stories and get them published.
Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing literary genre, which means there is actually a hungry market of leaders for true stories that are well told.
Your sweet spot is what people wanna read – true stories well told – and what you want to write, the burning story you’re here to tell.
You might think every topic has been written about. Just show us a different way to look at the theme. Just like there are only so many themes, there are only so many ways to construct a sentence and there are only so many literary devices out there and just a handful of craft techniques that instantly improve your work. So my advice to you is to learn the many possibilities of form and start experimenting. Master the fundamentals of craft and start submitting if you want to get published.
If I can do this, you can too. I’ve seen so many writers come through my programs who have no experience with creative nonfiction. Maybe they haven’t even written anything creative in years.
Imagine how it will feel to finally realize your writing dreams…
So now that we’ve covered the backstory to this program and how I came to teach it, I want you to imagine finally writing the stories you’ve been carrying with you for years or decades.
Ready to make some story chemistry? I would love to tell you more about what’s included in the Spark Your Story Lab.
In the Spark Your Story Lab you get everything you need to produce a portfolio of compelling, shapely, well-crafted stories you can submit to publications with guidance on my entire step-by-step process from story idea and structure to polishing and submitting your work. You’re going to learn an empowering process that integrates the three elements of storymaking I mentioned earlier in this presentation: process, form, and craft.
Who is the Spark Your Story Lab for?
This self-guided program is perfect for you if:
- you need flexibility to learn around a busy schedule
- you want a program you can work through at your own pace, at your own convenience
- you are a self-motivated learner who is comfortable developing new skills with the guidance of lessons, videos, exercises, checklists and guidance. There are no live lectures in the Spark Your Story Lab
Although I can’t provide one-to-one coaching or feedback on your work in the Lab, I have designed it to feel like I’m right there beside you every step of the way so you can write your best work and make some amazing discoveries in the process.
Like Spark Your Story Lab writer, Jane Boch, who shared these words with me about a project she started and finished in the Lab.
It was really hard and fun and rewarding to put on paper things that I never would have before in that way, one of the pieces I had really written already, but it took a completely different form. And once I put it into that new form, then watching what that did to the writing was really exciting. It’s easy to think, okay, the writing’s not gonna be as good because I have to change the form, but it works the other way! The form made the writing better and that was so incredible to see happen. I’m just so proud that I put that together and very grateful to you to have led me there. So thank you.
Your 12-month access to the Spark Your Story Lab includes:
- The Spark Your Story Method 5-part mini-course
- 6 workshops (i.e. Story Labs)
- A 40 page lab manual
- 10 sample readings
- Office Hours (i.e. monthly write-ins and a Q&A)
- 40+ short videos
- A resource library
- 5 bonus guides and
- a 10 story structures cheat sheet
The one live component is our monthly write-in and Q&A. I love hosting them and connecting with other writers in the Spark Your Story Lab!
My bonus guide to polishing and publishing will save you countless hours of research and includes alist of 50 creative nonfiction journals where my students have published work produced in my programs. So you do not have to spend your weekend researching where to submit the work that you create in the Lab.
You are going to cut years off your learning curve when you know essential craft elements for drafting powerful stories – like what you need to know about story arc when you’re writing CNF and how to move past doubt, fear and resistance. What I teach about process is not typically taught even in MFA programs.
I’d like you to meet Spark Your Story writer Christina Brobby, who’s lyric essay “On Severance and Connection” won Subterrain’s 2019 Lush Triumphant literary contest and “On Playing Double Jeopardy” which won the Malahat Review’s 2020 Constance Rook CNF Prize. Both of these pieces began in my Spark Your Story courses.
Christina’s piece “Moon in Fragments” recently won the Writer Union of Canada’s short prose competition. In Christina’s words:
“Moon in Fragments” was not written in one of Nicole’s classes, but I wrote it based on everything I learned with her. It is a collage essay that I would never have drafted in that form if it weren’t for working with Nicole earlier. This is the most exciting development for me because all of the processes I learned in Spark Your story are so ingrained in me now that it’s changed the way I approach writing forever.
A look inside the Spark Your Story Lab, module by module.
Module 0: The Spark Your Story Method
This 5-part mini course will show you how to work with your creative process so you can write past blocks like fear and resistance and avoid what I call large scale overwhelm.
Module 1: The Origin Stories Lab
- Learn how to assess each of your story ideas, to uncover your most potent material
- Practice a technique called “perhapsing” to speculate gaps in ancestral ancestral memory
- Explore early memories in the form of a diptych (two-part) essay.
Module 2: The Emergent Self Lab
- Learn how to craft powerful essays using three essential techniques.
- Write a potent micro-length essay by practicing the art of compression, which is important for all of your writing, not just creative non-fiction.
- Explore vulnerable material in the form of a hermit crab essay.
Module 3: The Body Lab
- Learn how to revise effortlessly using my attentive noticing technique
- Practice writing sensual imagery by writing from the body’s point of view
- Balance the art of showing and telling in a photo essay.
Module 4: Where the Heart is Lab
- Learn how to make readers feel what you are feeling using mood and atmosphere
- Practice self-care tools, which are so important when working with difficult material.
- Learn how to effectively structure your story in three parts, otherwise known as a triptych essay.
Module 5: The Bigger World Lab
- Learn how to use identity markers to situate your story in a greater cultural, social, or geographical context.
- Practice effective revision techniques
- Link your thoughts, memory, and images in a collage essay
Module 6: Nature + The Spirit Lab
- Learn how to use identity markers to situate your story in a greater cultural, social, or geographical context.
- Practice effective revision techniques
- Link your thoughts, memory, and images in a collage essay
You’re going to learn how to make the intangible tangible with concrete detail in your writing. You’re going to practice polishing your work and preparing for publication and you’re going to build an arrange a powerful lyric essay
Meet Spark your Story writer Kae Solomon:
Just opened my email to see my very first acceptance for “Hands on the Piano” written in the Spark Your Story Lab. I can’t wait to finally be a published writer!
Spark Your Story Resources
There are a number of resources included in the Spark Your Story Lab as well, and I’d like to quickly run through them.
- 10 sample readings that exemplify the 10 forms you’ll be learning about. You are going to learn how to construct your own experimental essays by reading essays that were written bey writers in my Spark Your Story courses. You’re going to also identify and reinforce the key elements of each of those structures in your own writing projects.
- The Spark Your Story Lab Manual is where you are going to find and complete exercises, activities, and writing projects with helpful checklists that reinforce your learning in the labs themselves.
- The Story Structures cheat sheet is a printable two pager that outlines the 10 story structures included in the Lab to help you shape your raw material into powerful short form memoir.
Spark Your Story Lab Bonuses
- The Spark Your Story Lab Periodic Table of Craft Elements – a printable 2 page reference that provides an at a glance summary of 35 literary devices. I’ve highlighted the most important ones that I teach in the Lab. The second page has a brief definition of each that’s going to help you continue to craft your best work.
- The Spark Your Story Lab Guide to Working with a Partner or Group – I know that some writers really benefit from working with a partner or a group, so I created this 14 page guide to help you nurture progress with a four week suggested schedule for working through each of the Labs with a partner. It also includes tips for providing helpful feedback on each other’s work or anytime you work with a writing group.
- The Spark Your Story Lab Guide to Polishing + Publishing – This guide includes my revision checklist and list of 50 curated markets to help you take the final steps, polishing your work and submitting it for publication.
- The Spark Your Story Lab Resource List – This resource will help you maintain momentum on your writing even after you finish your time in the Lab with 40+ resources books, articles and videos on craftm structure and grief writing to support your growth s a creative nonfiction writer.
- The Spark Your Story Lab Process Guide – This one page printable will help keep you on track with my 10 point step by step guide to developing your memoir in progress or any work of creative non-fiction.
Nicole’s writing programs have launched so many careers at this point, I’m calling it a movement.
~ Emily James
Now that you know what to expect in the Spark Your Story Lab…
If the program feels like a fit for where you’re at right now with your writing, enrollment is open now. Join the Spark Your Story Lab today.
Thank you so much for tuning in to learn about the Spark Your Story Lab. I hope that this video gave you the information you need, and I would love to see you inside the program.
If you have any questions at all, you can always email me at info (at) sparkyourstory.com. Thank you so much for tuning in and I will see you in another video!