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How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 24 of 25

The Internal Landing Place


How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 24 of 25

The Internal Landing Place


Lesson Info

The Internal Landing Place

The landing place. Well there's two landing places. There's the physical facts of what happened, I think, I say almost nothing about the moment, I wasn't necessarily awake for Jim's death. I woke up and saw that he was dead, but there's the reflection after the event. There's the internal, there's the thing that the reporter watching you would never know what to say. And then there is, I always do go back to the physical. So I'm going to give you both of my landing places. "Here's what happens when you love someone a great deal and he gets sick and then he dies." And this is what, you earn yourself this. You first tell all the stories and you show the scenes and you give us the characters and the dialogue and you refrain from describing and interpreting and you let the reader, you be a documentary filmmaker, you let the reader take it all in for herself or himself. And then maybe at the end when you have learned and grown and changed, you get to speak. And I waited until the end to say...

this. "Here's what happens when you love someone a great deal and then he gets sick and then he dies. All those months you spent taking care of him, it was almost as if the two of you were one person. He was the one with cancer, but the pain consumed you both. You were off in the North Atlantic somewhere, stranded on an iceberg. And though it was brutally cold in that place and every single thing about being there was hard, you were together on your iceberg. There was hardly one thing that took place that you did not share." Nobody but the person who lived through it can say that. That's the story only you can tell. Who you are, what you feel after you've witnessed and experienced everything. You know, Tom, I'm going to say to you because your book is going to fabulous and your book is going to be 95% wonderful stories about sports, events that you've seen, and more the characters that played in them. But at the end, I want one glorious moment where you stand up and speak, finally. The one who has just been listening to everybody else, watching all the other games, when you speak and tell your story. And this is my moment to tell mine. "Then your iceberg broke in two. You floated off in one direction, he in another. And though the place you ended up is a warmer one with sailboats passing by, their bright flags fluttering in the breeze, and people waving and calling out to you, sunshine again, and maybe even porpoises circling with their smiling faces, your fellow traveler has disappeared. His iceberg melted away with him on it. New things are happening now that you experience and he does not; some wonderful, some awful. What would Jim have thought about the election of Donald Trump? "That would have killed him," I said to a friend the morning after, "if he wasn't already dead." Maybe this is what people mean when they say, "Life goes on." This is the good news and the terrible. It began that summer, this process of drifting out to sea. It doesn't mean you cease loving the person who left. Everything that you had and everything that happened remains with you. Life doesn't stop, is all. Not yet, anyway." But that is not the end of the book because I really believe in being a filmmaker on the page, I want to leave you with a picture. And how I end the book is my message to you on what my journey was all about and how I end the book is very much informed by how I began the book. How did I begin the book? I wanted, I wanted to know love. I wanted to believe that there was some partner out there for me and I found him, and I didn't get to keep him, but I was changed and better for it. And where I end up the story, I have actually left my home, our home, the house that we bought together that I could not bear to be in. I have left that home and I have gone back to where I cam from, New Hampshire, to a little cabin that I had got myself on the shores of a lake, about 15 minutes from where my daughter lives, and where I lived long ago. I'm driving a Honda Civic again, I'm back where I started out in New Hampshire and I'm nowhere near where I started out. I am changed, I am transformed. Everything that I want to happen to- I know you are changed and transformed by your experiences, so you don't have to invent the transformation, you just have to identify it and give me that journey. So I land in New Hampshire, there's a whole series I, kind of like you, Samantha, I catch up on where everybody is. I even, you know I mentioned that one of the columns was the Golden State Warriors, the last few weeks of Jim's life the Golden State Warriors were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Jim was watching those games and he was rooting for Steph Curry, who he called a little guy because he was only six-foot-four and he identified with him 'cause Jim was not a tall man, himself. So one of the things that I talk about is my son takes me to a Golden State Warriors game, the Porsche dies, all these things happen. I give away all of his beautiful suits and his Italian leather shoes, and I find homes for the guitars and the cameras, and I do all those things and one by one, I go back to music and photographs and cars and home and Beatles and I pick up those crumbs that I have scattered out and now I'm going back to the beginning again. And I land in New Hampshire and a friend of mine picks me up and brings me to the house where I'm going to spend the summer and write this book. And I'll read you just the last couple of paragraphs. "I climb the steps to the porch. The previous owners had taken the rocking chairs, but I'd buy another one. I put the key in the lock, stepped in the door, breathed in the smell of an old summer cottage. Through the windows, late afternoon sun streamed in. I could see the water." Water! Oh, I didn't include that in my columns, but swimming is one of the themes that I sort of follow all the way through. "I could see the water dappling in the places where the trout come up to feed. "How Jim would have loved this," I said. "If he were here with me, he'd light a cigar." Oh, cigars (audience laughs) were all the way through this book, too. He lights a cigar at many crucial points. "He'd light a cigar on the porch and rest his feet on the railing and watch as I walked down to the water and he would keep his eyes on me until I reached the shore again. My guard dog. And after, over a good meal, we'd have many things to tell each other. "What happens to those things," I asked myself, "when there is no longer, when there is no longer anyone to tell?" It was just me now, a woman with her laptop wearing a blue and white checked flannel shirt." Guess who that belonged to? Clothes. He was the same size as me, smaller at the end. "Wearing a blue and white checked flannel shirt to keep her warm on chilly nights, looking up at the constellations whose names she tries to remember and sometimes does, though from this hemisphere the Magellanic Cloud was not in evidence." And guess who taught me about the Magellanic Cloud? "One solitary woman and one solitary lune. Every night that summer from where I slept in the boathouse down by the water, I heard her long, mournful cry. Somewhere out there at the other side of the shore maybe, her mate would call out to her. Every morning just as the sun came up, I'd stand at the water's edge for a moment then swim." And that is the end of the book. And I choose that as the end of the book, not unlike how you, Bambi, I guess this was yesterday. The days are kind of blurring for me, but we had a fabulous session on the personal essay and we talked to a woman who had also experienced a terrible loss, the loss of her daughter, but is fundamentally an optimistic, hopeful person, as am I. How I want your story to end is with you doing what you do every single night of your life. You go out and you dance under the stars; I happen to swim. The message that I am leaving you with, and I can only do this if it's the truth, but it actually is, is I will go on. This book does not end with, "And now I'm just gonna go slit my wrists." I will go on and that is the story of this. That I have lost, but I have also gained something. I will carry on. And I hope, I can't make you feel optimistic and not every story is going to have a happy ending. This one you can't exactly call a happy ending, but I look for redemption. I look for some gift even out of the hard things and I actually do believe that it's there.

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 :)