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All in the Family

Research & write your family history

Have you ever wanted to put into words the stories of your life, and to preserve the stories passed down to you? Have you wondered where to find information about your family history? And how you can incorporate all of that research and memory into an effective narrative that moves others without stepping on anyone’s toes?

This 10 lesson course (designed to be followed over 10 weeks) will focus first on the research process, then on the appropriate writing styles to craft the research into memorable creative nonfiction. Through a series of weekly exercises, you will learn where to go to discover your family’s past, who to talk to, how to take and organize your notes to help you structure a narrative outline, and ultimately use what you’ve unearthed to generate compelling storylines with suspense and lyrical beauty.

Who should take this course

  • Anyone unsure of where to start researching family history and incorporating that research into a written story.
  • Those who need the confidence to write openly about family and personal stories, and writing strategies to help open the door to deeper personal insights that honest reflection can reveal.
  • Someone who has done a fair amount of research already, but now needs to organize that information and use it to create an effective storyline.
  • Those wishing to improve their general writing skills, working on story arcs, lyrical description, imagery, tension, resolution, dialogue, setting the scene, and incorporating personal reflection.
  • Essayists, memoirists, dabblers, dreamers.

What the course includes

  • 10 video lectures, around 30 minutes in length, full of ideas that will challenge and motivate you to begin your journey toward writing about your family.
  • Research and writing assignments for you to complete at your own pace; at the end of the course you should have performed a good deal of research which has led to a written piece of roughly 20-30 pages.
  • Tips and links to helpful websites and organizations that provide information on genealogy, history, science, and culture.
  • Writing prompts that will help jog your memory, focus your project, and develop descriptive precision and narrative arcs.
  • Suggested timeline, with step-by-step guide to plan your research and writing project.
  • Examples of essays that serve as guides or touchstones to emulate as you work on your project.

If you want more

Contact Benjamin and benefit from private consultations / editing of your work:

  • Submit a final 20-30 page essay. You'll receive a full line-by-line critique with fresh insight, new ideas, and constructive suggestions to motivate you in the editing process.
  • A 30-minute one-on-one live office hour session. Scheduled at your request (via Skype) to work together on any aspect of your writing.
  • The above services can be arranged with Benjamin via email for an additional $150.

Lesson Plan

  • Lesson 1: What’s The Story You Want to Tell? We’ll focus on where to begin the narrative journey, and then explore how and what to research to develop that story.
  • Lesson 2: Organizing Research. Doing the reading and interviewing is the easy part, now how do you put that research into easily-found documents to refer to as you write? How can you begin to see the story outline as you go through this process of organizing?
  • Lesson 3: What’s the REAL Story You Want to Tell? It’s very likely that research has opened up some new and deeper reflections, maybe even totally changed your topic. We’ll write to explore that new story and see what else needs to be discovered.
  • Lesson 4: Walking on Eggshells. One of the biggest obstacles in writing nonfiction about family is fear – not only in your abilities as a writer, but also the idea that loved ones will read your essay. How can we be brave and follow the story through to the core? How can we risk honesty and up the ante for our writing?
  • Lesson 5: Setting the Scene. Description and detail are key to involving the reader, helping them see and feel their way into a narrative; it’s also key to helping you open up and remember even more.
  • Lesson 6: High Wire Act. Watching someone risk their life in a high-stakes situation brings us to the edge of our seats, wanting more. We’ll look at what tools you can use to create not only engrossing moments, story arcs, and structure, but how you can make the reader an essential part of the action.
  • Lesson 7: Bet You Didn’t See That Coming. Writing and researching creative nonfiction surprises the writer as much as the reader. How can you show some of this process on the page as part of the story? How does personal reflection add tension, create another dimension to scenes, and help you face pesky fears and doubts?
  • Lesson 8: Who Said That? Dialogue isn’t just a way to make the page look more interesting, it’s an essential tool to prying open the creaky doors of memory—even it it’s almost totally made up.
  • Lesson 9: Living in the Moment. Being a writer means fostering equal parts devotion, passion, obstinacy, and faith. The biggest breakthroughs happen when you’re the most tired and frustrated, and learning to acknowledge those moments—and how to deal with them—will reinvigorate the writing process and your life.
  • Lesson 10: Revising and Polishing the Draft. Where does the real writing happen? Draft after draft after draft. We’ll explore the major and minor issues you should be addressing, then create a timeline for continued work on your project.

About the Instructor

Benjamin Vogt has a Ph.D. in creative writing (two dissertations, memoir and poetry) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University, and has taught nearly 60 English courses at every college level while receiving four awards for his work with students. Benjamin's writing has appeared in over 50 publications like Creative Nonfiction, Orion, The Sun, as well as in eight anthologies including The Tallgrass Prairie Reader.

He has been nominated multiple times for a Pushcart Prize and received grants or awards from The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Ropewalk Writer’s Retreat, as well as several university fellowships.

Benjamin is the author of two chapbooks, a poetry collection, Afterimage (SFA Press), the nonfiction work A New Garden Ethic, and writes a weekly garden column for Houzz.com while freelancing for other publications. He is currently at work on a 90,000-word memoir about his family’s homesteading the Oklahoma prairie in the 1800s, which incorporates genealogy, family interviews and diaries, natural and cultural history, travelogue, environmental advocacy, personal reflection, and even some fiction.


Frequently Asked Questions


When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
Sorry to hear that, but classes are nonrefundable. All sales are final.

"I don't know how you worked your magic, but I have a new vision of my project, a couple of scenes, and a pretty solid narrative arc to get me going. Thank you for your guidance, advice, and well-timed lessons."

Kathy M.


"Benjamin is very motivational and is really good at connecting with students. He WANTS to see us do well and that felt really nice to have."

Brittany N.


"Benjamin entices students to think passionately. Rarely does he ever allow his own ideas to infect the opinions of his students; instead, he allows them to flourish at their own pace."

Michael A.


"Benjamin pushes students because he sees the potential in us to write the way we should. He has us build up our confidence, and it helps throughout the class."

Paul M.

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