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How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 21 of 25

How to Show the Passing of Time in your Writing


How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 21 of 25

How to Show the Passing of Time in your Writing


Lesson Info

How to Show the Passing of Time in your Writing

An unlikely digression, you know, this is the kind of thing you get to do in a memoir that you don't so much in an essay. You get to go off the track a little bit as long as you know what the track is. You never lose sight of the track. There is a section of The Best of Us in which Jim is not yet sick, he hasn't had the diagnosis, but he's having trouble in his law practice. He's not getting very many clients, he's gone into private practice mostly so he can take more trips with me, and he's not much of a rainmaker, and a guy comes to him who's seeking legal advice with an absolutely impossible case that is completely outside of his field of expertise. He was an estate attorney, and this was an African man from Nigeria who'd been kicked out of medical school perhaps very unfairly, and I persuaded Jim, who could always be persuaded by me, to take on his case for absolute pro bono. And I made the promise that I would work with him and help him on this case if he would take on this case. ...

And I tell the story of this impossible lost cause of the case, which occupied us completely for about three months, and which we did spectacularly lose, and there's a key moment in that scene in which we're sitting, I pretended that I was Jim's legal assistant when we went into this hearing with the hospital board, and I'm wearing a thrift shop suit, and I'm sitting next to him carrying a borrowed briefcase, and he's looking, you know he is looking like a lawyer 'cause he is a lawyer, and I had done a lot of research, so I'm passing him notes frantically, and they're completely shooting down all the stuff. They're being really, really cold. This was not actually a court of law, this was a hospital board that we were fighting. And at one point, they were being so awful, that I sent him, I passed him a note that said, this is a mind fuck. (audience laughs) I hope you can say that on CreativeLive. I pass him a note that says, this is a mind fuck, and Jim, the most restrained, proper, sort of you know, well-trained lawyer, San Francisco lawyer says, looks up, and in kind of a daze, and he says, this is a mind fuck. (audience laughs) And then I see this look of horror come over his face. He can't believe himself that he said this. (audience laughs) Well, we lost the case of course, and he actually did get, he was reported to the California bar, as people who are attorneys know that you know, he was cited and it was okay. You know he didn't lose his license, but does that story belong there? Actually, yes, and not just because it's a funny anecdote. That's not, or funny, sad, many things. It belongs there, number one, it says something about Jim, who he was, that he would take on this case, and that he worked on it every bit as hard as he would have if he was getting $450 an hour. But it also said something about the way Jim was with me. That if I passed him a note that said, this is a mind fuck, he read that note. He trusted me that much. (audience laughs) (sighs) So the unlikely digression. On occasion, sparingly, let yourself take them.

Class Description

Bundle this class with How To Write a Personal Essay and save!

You don’t have to be a famous celebrity to have a story worth sharing. And you don’t need to have a long life full of significant events and intriguing encounters. To write a compelling memoir, you just need to highlight your most unique, interesting or transformative experiences—the moments in your life that really matter.

Master memoirist and bestselling author Joyce Maynard is the ideal person to show you how to take your life story and transform it into a fascinating book that gets published and finds an audience.

You’ll begin by identifying the major themes of your life and which one you want to explore. Then you’ll figure out who your characters are and their motivations, what the conflict of the story is, and how it will ultimately be resolved. Maynard will use both her own books and the work of students in the live audience to illustrate the writing process, giving you both the tools and the inspiration you need to translate your life into a fascinating memoir.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Figure out where and how to begin and not feel overwhelmed.
  • Identify the difference between “What happened?” and “What did it mean?”
  • Eliminate the parts of your story that don’t belong and focus on the big emotional moments that changed you.
  • Write about the small events that support the overarching story.
  • Maintain your point of view and not lose sight of your real story.
  • Stop worrying about hurting or alienating someone in your life or yourself.
  • End your memoir—when your own life isn’t over yet.


Michelle Foulia

I've been working on my memoir for over a year and was close to the end of the first draft. This amazing class is filled with so much wisdom and excellent teaching. I have watched all the videos back to back, made plenty of notes and loved every moment. I am really grateful I bought this class before moving any further with my memoir as sadly I definitely need to start from scratch. As frustrating as that is, I am relieved it happened now and I can use all this knowledge in the rewrite. I also can't wait to read Joyce Maynard's books. Brilliant!

Doris Freeston

Excellent course! Joyce Maynard provides valuable insights and practical instruction in the art of memoir writing, while telling her own stories, with grace, humility and humour. Thank you, Joyce.

Chevaun Nel

Joyce is amazing, I got so much out of this class, thank you so much :)