Kathleen Paul

Class Title: Opening the Door: Focusing Your Vision
Instructor: Kathleen Paul
Class Term: May 13-June 24, 2019
We are not accepting any more enrollments for Kathleen's class; the class has started.


You know you have stories to tell, and you've been writing pieces and chapters for awhile. But ... are you writing a memoir? a travel book? Maybe it should really be fiction? These aren't silly questions, and it's not as easy as it looks sometimes to find the answers! This class offers tools and sorting-out processes that will let you step on to a path that's going somewhere instead of into a wilderness of possibilities.

Class Description

We'll look at the work you're immersed in today, or work you want to go back to, or even work that is just emerging. Using specific tools to see your writing through the lens of memoir or fiction, shorter and longer writing forms, you'll develop skills to manage the choices that can sometimes overwhelm writers. We'll use both live, interactive sessions (recorded for those who can't be there at the time), instructor-provided written materials, and individual feedback/interaction from the instructor to you. Sharing of content, questions, frustrations among us all is encouraged and supported, but not required. 

Class Goals

  1. understand and define the different forms that memoir, autobiography, life-storytelling can take
  2. apply clear guidelines that help a writer make decisions and sort through materials that can sometimes be very messy
  3. understand and be somewhat comfortable with the concept that plans and formats may evolve and shift as a writer works with her material
  4. Use tools and guidelines from this class to recognize and work with an evolving vision effectively
  5. celebrate the richness of story without being overwhelmed by choices and possibilities
  6. understand considerations about real people who are part of our stories -- and how that may affect the choice of format or genre.

Group participation


Class Method

Interactive sessions conducted using Zoom, which is a free, easy to use tool for students.

Written materials will be available via a private, secure website for this course only.

Students will use the Group IO site for classroom interaction -- if appropriate, this will also serve as location for course material distribution, rather than having students go to another site.

Students will submit materials, private questions/concerns, to instructor via private, secure website for this course, and instructor will respond privately, as well.

Students will have one individual session (1 hour) with instructor via Zoom or student's preferred communication method (e.g. phone, FaceTime, Skype) -- time to be scheduled independent of class scheduled time by student/instructor.

Email is always an option for communication for those students who do not feel comfortable using other methods.

Bibliography of recommended resources is part of course materials, but students are not required to obtain any of those resources for the course.


6 weeks: May 13-June 19 (Class site open May 13. First class meeting May 15).

Designed for beginning-intermediate writers who want to write or have started writing, but are not quite sure what they are writing or how to figure that out.

Expectations: Your learning experience will be expanded if you make time to reflect and work through some of the exercises, and share that process with your colleagues in the class. My hope is that you will feel comfortable sharing not only with me, but also with the group.

Each week you'll submit some writing to me for feedback, and also, if you like, you'll submit a piece to the group for their comment. Ideally, it's the same piece, but the one to the group can be a smaller segment. Additionally, please read as many of the other submissions as you are able, and comment where you can be helpful and supportive. Specific questions are provided weekly to help guide your review.

  • Unit 1: Introductions (to be completed before Wednesday May 15, if possible!) Please introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about what you're working on and, if possible, what's frustrating you or creating challenges for you at this stage. Feel free to share the beginning segment of your work (this can be a chapter, a few paragraphs, or just the concept).
    • Materials/Interactive Discussion: The Basics: The Memoir. What is it? Why Write it? How does it differ/align with just telling your story? What might be a problem when writing a memoir? The Basics: Fiction and life stories. How do writing fiction and writing life stories/memoir/autobiography overlap? What if ... you don't want anyone to know it's your story? The Basics: In Between. Essays, articles, chapters. What does length have to do with it? And how do you make use of all this information?
    • Assignment (to be completed between Unit 1 & 2): Apply the lens. Using the materials/discussion about The Basics, consider the story or stories you want to tell. Work through the general questions for each separate category (materials provided), as they apply to your particular story. Please share as much as you'd like with the group via the class site.
    • Guidelines/Suggestions provided for review of other students' materials, as well as for submissions to instructor. Submissions to instructor due no later than Monday morning 8:00 am PDT, for feedback prior to next class meeting (Wednesday).
  • Unit 2: Imagine: IF you are writing a memoir: what does it cover (timeframe, basic events, etc)? Who is involved? Why? What is the story you want to tell?
    • Materials/Interactive Discussion: Additional details and materials provided regarding memoir genre: scope, focus, people/characters. Discussion and materials regarding narrative structure, power of story, pacing, and how to end it, as these concepts apply to memoir.
    • Assignment (to be completed between Unit 2 & 3): Keeping in mind the details about writing memoir, write or rewrite a key chapter/segment of your project. It can be the opening, or a chapter a bit further into the narrative, but choose a selection that you imagine appearing in the first half of the book. Post your 'memoir' version (or a piece that you'd like to share) to the class site, along with any questions/issue that emerged when you worked on it.
    • Guidelines/Suggestions provided for review of other students' materials, as well as for submissions to instructor. Submissions to instructor due no later than Monday morning 8:00 am PDT, for feedback prior to next class meeting (Wednesday).
  • Unit 3: Imagine: IF you have a story to tell that you want to fictionalize, what does that look like? Literally, when the book is published, what does the cover look like? What would the title be? What genre of fiction would it fall into?
    • Materials/Interactive Discussion: Additional materials provided and discussion guided to help unpack the concept of fiction and the influence of life experience on the writer's process and storytelling. What is the difference between research and experience in developing story? If you want to capture a story that you've been imagining for years, in another world, with rules that are different than the one we live in, how do you move that story from your imagination to actual words?
    • Assignment (to be completed between Unit 3 & 4): Write one chapter or one section of the project you're working on as fiction. If this hasn't been your focus before, it might require you to shift perspective significantly. If your story is dramatic, or quiet, or hilarious, or something you've never read before, remember the old adage: "Truth is stranger than fiction." Now tell your story as if it never happened, but a story you imagined. Post it to the class forum and share your frustrations, insights or concerns that emerged as you went through this exercise.
    • Guidelines/Suggestions provided for review of other students' materials, as well as for submissions to instructor. Submissions to instructor due no later than Monday morning 8:00 am PDT, for feedback prior to next class meeting (Wednesday).
  • Unit 4: Format/Length ... and Objective? How do writers decide whether to write a short story or a novel? What about collections of shorter pieces? What's an essay, really? Shorter pieces lend themselves to certain subjects and objectives. Some writers say they are easier to write, others say they are more difficult to get right. How do extremely short pieces -- 140 or 280 words, for instance -- fit into our understanding of storytelling?
    • Materials/Interactive Discussion: What's the difference between an essay, an op-ed piece in a newspaper, an article? What's the relationship between a short story and a longer piece of fiction? We'll look at how to see where your story or part of story feels right and where it fits. Some writers believe that stories have a shape and size and life of their own. What does it mean to understand what the story wants?
    • Assignment (to be completed between Unit 4 & 5): Take one of the pieces from the first several weeks of the class (either memoir or fiction), and write the essence of that piece in a short format. No matter how long the piece is, your assignment for this week is to rewrite it so it is half the length of the original piece. Maximum length is 1000 words. Challenge yourself by writing the story in 500 words. Post it on the class forum, and please share the challenges and insights you encountered in working through this exercise.
    • Guidelines/Suggestions provided for review of other students' materials, as well as for submissions to instructor. Submissions to instructor due no later than Monday morning 8:00 am PDT, for feedback prior to next class meeting (Wednesday).
  • Unit 5: Now What? Illumination and the Pit of Despair.  You might be feeling overwhelmed by too much information, or maybe you're feeling that you have no idea what story you want to tell or why, and that this class has just confused you more. This is both completely normal and completely understandable, although it's probably uncomfortable. This week, we'll sort out at least some of the pieces.
    • Materials/Interactive Discussion: Specific examples provided from authors who have told their stories from multiple angles and approaches. How to determine which approach best aligns your voice, your story, and the people you want to hear it. We'll talk about the reader/audience (which sometimes includes your inner critic), and how they play into the decision-making also.
    • Assignment (to be completed between Unit 5 & 6): By now, you probably have at least a sense of what form your story will take as you continue writing. Spend some time reflecting and perhaps meditating on the shape of the story. Choosing the form means setting aside other options right now. That doesn't mean you'll never write in other forms or genres. It just means that for this story or this version of your story, you have a framework, some basic guidelines and principles, and a way forward.

      As best you can right now, jot out a quick bullet list of chapters or sections or scenes that will hold your story in a specific form. For yourself, identify where things feel murky, and possibly why, if you have an inkling. Post as much as you feel comfortable with to the class forum, and add any comments about what is still foggy or what has been illuminated as you've worked through this process.

    • Guidelines/Suggestions provided for review of other students' materials, as well as for submissions to instructor. Submissions to instructor due no later than Monday morning 8:00 am PDT, for feedback prior to next class meeting (Wednesday).
  • Unit 6: Wrapping Up & The Beginning.  Even gaining a bit of clarity about direction allows us to move toward our vision. In this unit, we'll talk about what you might encounter as you continue work on your project, what specific problems didn't get solved through this process, what can be done about those, and what your next steps might be.
    • Materials/Interactive Discussion: Additional materials, including worksheets, provided to facilitate creating a "plan" for completing your project. Some writers find this helpful, some do not, and we'll also talk about individual process and how to bring your project to a completion point.
    • Individual Session: You will each have had an individual meeting with me before our last class meeting, which is an opportunity to talk about some of the details related to your specific work. We'll set up the session to accommodate our personal schedules, and it's a meeting that occurs outside any of the regular class meetings.

Time Commitment

1 hour per week virtual meeting.
1 hour per week completing assignment (this will vary per student, and instructor expectation is that students will bring different experience and interest to invest in the assignments).

Student Skills, Equipment, and Time Required

Beginning-Intermediate writing skills.

Basic computer skills, including ability to download and install (2 clicks required) software for virtual meeting). Possible to dial-in for phone access only as well.

Ability to use Word, email, access and post to Group IO.

Ability to navigate web.

Instructor available for 1-1 troubleshooting and assistance for students who are less comfortable with any of the technology.

Tuition/Fees for this course

SCN members: $192. Non-SCN members: $240.

Instructor Bio

Kathleen has an eclectic professional background that includes teaching introductory and advanced writing classes, as well as professional development classesfor faculty, and extended studies classes in areas such as mythmaking and ritual. She has been recognized for her practical and inclusive approach to teaching and coaching, and believes in the practice of meeting people where they are, adapting her instruction to do just that. Kathleen has published in creative and business-related fields. You can see more about her background at


  • MA, Literature, Middlebury College; MA Writing, Johns Hopkins University
  • Taught introductory and advanced writing classes at community college/university level for 10 years;
  • Trained in competency-based curriculum models, developed courses, programs in such models, adapted them to online/virtual formats. Developed integrated degree programs based on competency-based assessments, while retaining academically rigorous standards.
  • Developed and taught introductory and advanced technical writing classes to engineering students via very early chat rooms and emerging technology in 1990s, early 2000s.
  • Developed courses, degree programs, online help resources and faculty training for online course platform (locally, nationally, internationally)
  • Developed and taught various in person and online corporate training programs


  • Early adopter/advocate of technology resources related to communication and educational support, specifically related to expanding access for adults returning to college, and/or those with limited access due to geography or family/work obligations.
  • Have used/promoted internet resources to support education since 1980s.
  • Developed one of first student help guides for online courses, which was adopted and used internationally.
  • Have taught all range of writing classes online, as well as courses related to degree completion for women (extensive, deeply researched essay-based program).
  • Early adopter of blog technology, listservs and email groups, although have minimized participation in recent years. Currently updating and expanding online presence, although will continue to use certain platforms in limited ways. I actively promote SCN in face to face interactions and meetings as well as with remotely located friends.
  • Completed online certification program in Creative Depth Coaching, which involved both virtual meetings, online classroom, uploading and commenting on visual art as well as written submissions.
  • Additional examples available if needed. Received multiple executive-level awards for innovation and leadership at organizational, state and national levels while working in public/private arenas around technology implementation (including Western Governors' University at outset), etc.
  • Currently launching new website and supporting resources. Work in progress.