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How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 17 of 25

Step One: Not Writing


How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 17 of 25

Step One: Not Writing


Lesson Info

Step One: Not Writing

So the step one, not writing, just thinking. I spent 19 months just thinking about what this story, how I was going to tell this story. I was doing many other things too but, and you know, I wouldn't recommend this as the location or the circumstances in which to do some thinking but I'll tell you, I spent hours and hours and hours in doctors offices and hospital rooms and a hospital bed, I used to just climb in next to Jim and often we didn't talk. Often he was asleep or he was just in too much pain and I just lay there. I didn't wanna turn on a TV and distract myself. I didn't even particularly wanna listen to music. I thought, and I had a little green notebook and I scribbled down things, much as I scribble down things on the whiteboard here. In no particular order, I wasn't trying to organize chapters just things that came to me. And after awhile when you look at your scribbles they begin to organize themselves. I didn't take extensive notes about things like medical procedures and...

names of drugs because I knew I could get that later and I also knew that that was not at the heart of what this story was going to be about and the most important things I probably didn't have to write down at all. A moment like the moment when we came back from the hospital for the last time and Jim stood outside the door to our house, it was the house we had bought together just a year and a half earlier, just two years earlier, and we had bought it when the wisteria was in bloom and the wisteria was in bloom again and he looked around and he breathed in the wisteria and the jasmine and he said, "This would be a good place to die." Did I need to write that down? No I did not, I knew I would remember that one. But, and one of the things that you need to be as a good writer, is a good listener. You need to recognize when somebody says something deeply, that deeply matters. Tom, of course our sports writer is a master at this. He can pick up the line that is the one to get and I tried very hard to record Jim's voice, I don't mean sadly, I don't mean literally, I didn't think to do that but I wanted to bring Jim's voice on the page. But this was not Jim telling his story, this was me telling the story of loving and losing Jim. So, first I didn't write. That was the first step to my book. Not writing for a long time. There was one point about, as it turned out about six weeks before Jim died when he said to me, "One day you will tell this story." And I often think about that when I do tell this story and I think it gave him pleasure to know that I was going to tell that story. He was a deeply private man incidentally. A deeply private man but he celebrated what I did and he, and I think it was important to him, that to know that he was participating in the act of making something of meaning. And it was absolutely a participatory endeavor.

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 :)