Writing Lives (Online)

Course summary

  • Wed 11 Jan 2017 to Fri 24 Mar 2017
  • Online
  • From £370.00
  • 10 CATS points
  • Course code O16P408CRV
  • onlinecourses@conted.ox.ac.uk
  • Applications being accepted

Writing Lives (Online)


Is there a true story that only you can tell? This course is designed to provide you with the skills you need to turn experiences, recollections and real-life phenomena into literary works that are enjoyable and accessible to a wider audience.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Are there stories, events or circumstances in your own experience, your family's, or those of people known to you, that you've always wanted to investigate, and that you think would make good reading? This course will provide you with all you need to shape your materials into an enjoyable and accessible literary work. 'Life Writing' is prose non-fiction devoted to exploring the events and emotions of real lives. The Life Writing course will enable you to recognise which things are significant, how to characterize them in way that really brings them to life, and how to structure them into a narrative that will keep a reader's interest.

Programme details

Session One: Getting Started
Getting acquainted; how to work with the truth; memory; good practices

Session Two: Point-of-view
Memory and imagination; using the senses; finding a voice

Session Three: Descriptive Writing
Getting the surfaces right; getting below the surfaces

Session Four: Characterizing Others
Revealing motivation, psychological depths and habits

Session Five: Characterizing Yourself
Re-living your life inside and outside time and experience – making yourself knowable

Session Six: Dialogue
Writing the authentic, the important and the plausible simultaneously.

Session Seven: Structure
Finding the plot in history; realising potential and maximising drama

Session Eight: Sequence and Situation
How to form episodes combining characters, dialogue and description

Session Nine: Beginnings and Endings
How to start and where to stop.

Session Ten: Re-writing and Editing
Finishing, polishing, re-making, re-telling, expanding and cutting.

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following book:

• Roorbach, B., Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays and Life into Literature (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008)

Recommended, but not required:

Bell, J. and A. Motion, eds., The Creative Writing Coursebook (Macmillan, 2001)
Hackles, L., Writing from Life: How to Turn Your Personal Experiences into Profitable Prose (How To Books, 2008)
Oke, M., Times of Our Lives: The Essential Companion to Writing Your Own Life Story (How To Books, 2004)


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to do so.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.


Home/EU Fee: £370.00
Non-EU Fee: £495.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Ms Lisa Selvidge


Lisa has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she subsequently worked for 15 years both as tutor and academic director for Continuing Education. She wrote and taught one of the first short online courses in creative writing. Her works include, The Last Dance over The Berlin Wall, Beyond the Sea and Writing Fiction Workbook.


Course aims

This course aims to provide students with insight into the major aspects affecting life-writing and to enable them to use these features confidently in writing their own creative non-fiction.

Teaching methods

1. Introductory section, outlining key areas of work within each unit.
2. Description of required reading and recommended reading.
3. Presentation of materials taken from additional (eg. online) sources, relevant to each unit.
4. Online discussion forum.
5. Online personal study diary.
6. Area for short responses to literary extracts from key texts.
7. Tutor responses to forum and exercises.
8. Assessment and feedback.

Teaching outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

1. Key features (such as perspective, dialogue, etc) in a work of life-writing
2. The applicability of such characteristics in their own work.
3. How to use at least some of these aspects of technical expertise with increased skill and confidence.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

1. The ability to recognize and name key features in contemporary life-writing
2. Knowledge of why authors employ these features and what their different effects are.
3. Increased confidence in their own use of such features as enhancements to the development of an individual ‘voice’ in life-writing.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.