Skip to main content

How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 14 of 25

When You Aren't Used to be Being Centre of Attention


How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 14 of 25

When You Aren't Used to be Being Centre of Attention


Lesson Info

When You Aren't Used to be Being Centre of Attention

And I'm now gonna bring up somebody. A good friend who's been extremely generous in being willing to travel across the country to join us today. Tom Callahan! Tom, come on up here. This is not Tom's first rodeo. If you followed sports journalism anytime over the last 50-some years, you would have read Tom's work in the Washington Post. He was the sports editor of Time Magazine. The head sports writer of Time Magazine. He was, before that, a columnist, a sports columnist in Cincinnati. Originally Cincinnati. And writes about golf for Golf Digest, I believe? Right. You name a major sports event in the last half century and Tom was probably there. You just didn't see Secretariat cross the finish line, you intimately knew Secretariat. You continued to pay visits to Secretariat. If I had looked down at my notebook too much, Secretariat would grab it out of my hand and toss it over his shoulder into the yields bucket. So Tom has a lot of stories. Tom has no story problem any more...

than Samantha did. And Tom is very good at telling them. Tell me a story Tom. I've heard a million of your stories. I'll tell you this story just cause its short and easy to tell. But in 1972 when you were the conscience of american youth, the World Series started in Cincinnati. And, Jackie Robinson was there. He was walking around the field before the game. He was 57. He looked 77. Full head of white hair, virtually blind from diabetes. And of course, all the black players on the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland A's, they just wanted to touch him. They hovered over him, except for one guy. The second baseman for the Red's. Great little player named Joe Morgan. He kept playing catch off on the sidelines. And now, the voice comes over the PA, all the non-uniformed persons have to get off the field. And, I'm watching Morgan, and Morgan goes up behind Jackie, and he leans in, and he doesn't say "This is Joe Morgan." He just says, "Thank you." And, Robinson didn't turn around, he just said "You're welcome." And, I followed Robinson up into the Red's Dugout and up the ramp into the Clubhouse. Where Jim Murray, columnist for the LA Times, was waiting. And Jim walked up to Jackie and said, "Jackie, it's Jim Murray." And Robinson said, "Ah, Jim. Ah, Jim," said "I wish I could see you." And Murray said "No, Jackie. I wish we could see you again." I don't remember anything that happened in that game, but I remember that scene very well. That's what this, that's all this book is, sweet little- [Joyce] Tom is writing a book called- Sweet little, hopefully you know, funny, sad soft stories that require me to be there. Number one, so I can't avoid being a character. And also, require eyes, to see things. My only accomplishment as a sports writer, through all these years, is I was Red Smith's last best friend. In the old days, sports writers traveled like race horses. One and One A. Everyone wandered around in twos. And I was Red's last guy. And we would go to, say, the farms in Lexington before the derby weekend. And then he'd write he column and I'd write mine. And, I'd read his, and his invariably had more information. We saw the same things, but his eyes were better than mine. And of course, even though he was telling them more, it was less cluttered. [Joyce] And we're not speaking of vision, obviously eyesight Yeah, fresh, you know just a kind of, know what's interesting, you know. And that's- Which is the skill of a good writer, a great writer. I guess. I think the main skill of a writer is empathy. But yeah, it's one of the skills. So I wanted to indulge Tom for a few minutes, in what he does so brilliantly well. And if, for the sports fans out there, I'm sure you would be very happy, if I just walked away right now, and you could spend the next five hours, asking him about Muhammad Ali, who he knew. Mickey Mantle, who he knew. Johnny Unitas, who he knew. Joe Montana, who he knew. The list is very long, Arnold Palmer, he just recently published a biography and, he was an old friend. Kareem, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy. So, it's a wasted life. (laughter) That is NOT what we're going to do, and I'm not going to, this man is a world class rock hunter. He's your dream of who you meet at a bar, to just, you know, say "Did you ever know about...?" Yes, he did. He's been at the World Series, he's been at the Superbowl. Okay, that's, and now he's writing this book, and he thinks, until he met me, he thought that he could just publish a group of his very entertaining stories. Which would look like, you saw this drawing earlier. Good story, good story, good story, great story, good story, great story, even greater story. A whole lotta stories. Who am I interested in, in Tom's book? Who is the most important character? I love Muhammad Ali, I'm fascinated by Muhammad Ali. It's not Muhammad Ali. It's not little details about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It is you. It is the quiet person, sitting on the sidelines, watching the big stars. That's your through-line. The only person who was at, you know, there were coaches who were at every one of those NFL games, or every one of those Superbowls. You were the only one who was at ALL of those games. You are the common element. It's not even one sport, it's a whole lotta sports. You have been a witness, more than probably most people alive, to a stretch of time of sporting events, is that not true? Yeah, because I gravitated towards the old guys, because they were fun at dinner. (laughter) And, there, so I was a young columnist, I was a columnist at 25 years old. And so, they're all gone. And I'll tell you something- You're the last man standing. And it took a lot of the fun, I don't miss the Superbowl. Now, I went to 40 of them, I went to 41 (unintelligible). But I don't miss them because my buddies are gone. My buddies are gone. And a lot of things I'm going to be writing about, I guess, in this last book, my last book. I'm the only one left from the Secretariat Trail. You know, Arthur Ash was a great friend of mine. He was a sweetheart of a guy, and we were crossword puzzle friends. And, we did the New York Times Crossword Puzzle at Whimbleton every year. And, when he got AIDS, and he finally decided to call a press conference, because USA Today was gonna write it, and he wanted to beat them to the punch. And, some of us knew. And, Frank Deford, who was a great writer, died a couple years ago, Sports Illustrated guy, lovely guy. He wrote the speech for Ash. We sat in a room, with Ash, to write his speech. Deford did most of the work. And, so now, I go into this, you know, sad press conference. He had a bad blood transfusion, that's why he got it. And, so, when he finishes, and was breaking up, and everything, there was his little girl, Camera, 6. And he grabbed me, and he kinda pulled me in. And he said "Callahan, I want to be buried, six down, and four across." (laughter) And I almost cried. And i didn't put it in the story. I wrote an Obit, for the Washington Post, and I left it out. It was too personal. You know, that's what she's arguing for, more personal. Okay, so you have a room full of people, who are all very interested in these games and these heroes. But, what are you most interested in? Tom. It is Tom. I find that hard to believe. It is the, nothing like me! I'm very happy being in the spotlight, you are the reluctant memoirs. You are the one that I have to drag out there, always! I wanna hear the stories, but I want to hear the stories told differently, from how you've always told them. This is your, I actually, my guess about you is that you're really rather an introverted and shy person, who defaults to the short stories, because that is really a territory you know really well. Sports writers get together, and my poor wife, and one of my great sports writers friends was a guy named Bill Mack. And, Mack and his wife, and my wife and I, we're at dinner. And it starts, your story reminds me of my story, reminds you of your story, reminds me of my story. Endlessly, and these poor women have heard all of them a thousand times. And finally, Mary Mack, she screams, well not scream, almost a scream, "I'm bored!" (laughter) And, David Brinkley was sitting at the next table, good restaurant, David Brinkley, dropped his soup, dropped his spoon into his soup. (laughter) And, I said "Mary you could not be more right. Let's start over, and get four of us into this conversation. Let's find something we can all talk about." She got one word out, and then I screamed "I'm bored!" (laughter) You know how to do the funny anecdote, you are a master of the, I want something more for you. You just said something so important, this is your last book. Whether or not that's true, I want, actually, I like to write every book as if it's going to be my last book. [Tom Callahan] If I wrote as well as you, I wouldn't- [Joyce] Oh stop, stop, stop, stop. We have too little time and too much to attend to here. What's the through-line here? What does it feel like to be, you were an athlete- [Tom Callahan] I made most of the teams, and- Yeah, you were a so-so athlete, who has rubbed shoulders with all the greats. What have you learned? What is the thing that has changed over time? What do you know now that you did not when you were 30, and 40, and 50, and 60? That's what I want to find in this book. I'm asking you now. Well, there are things, you know, I knew Tiger Woods' father pretty well, because we had the service together. I was a very unheroic marine, his father actually went to Vietnam twice. And so I was around Tiger, he still associates me with his father. And, I liked him at first, he was a great kid. And then, I disliked him intensely, because he wasn't a great kid. And now, he's kind of, you know, usually in sports, the athletes, they're just learning how to hello, when it's time to say goodbye. And Tiger was in that spot, but now, he's kind of hit a little renaissance, he's one of the good players again. You notice what he does? You are incorrigible! You push, you bring up the name, and then you, no, no, no. No, there's no doubt that I've learned, my judgment is better. I've got pretty good judgment normally, you know. It's kind of vain to say that. Okay, are we in that memoir where we learned about how a man got better judgment? (laughter) I don't think so. I'm looking for the profound truth, and I know that you are a quester. You are a man that believes in God for instance. You are a man that occasionally goes to church. You are a man for whom Mass means something. I want to know what you take away from having walked among these gods. Having been at these events that people spent, I mean, I've been to one Championship Game ever in my life, I did it to honor my husband Jim. I went to the Warriors-Cavaliers final seventh game of the playoffs. My son bought us tickets. I was there. Of course you were. And I saw people weeping as they were leaving. It was 5 days after my husband had died, and they're weeping because the Warriors lost. What have you, what do you know? I mean, this is a huge question to ask in the four minutes remaining, to us, Tom. But I want you, I want you to bring to that page, the story of the wisdom of a man in his, when you're in your 70's, you're in your 8th decade of life. So I just wanted to make sure, you're in your 8th decade of life. Who has watched more games then almost anybody, who is living today. Yeah, it's true, I know, I have memories that are heartbreaking. Memories that are sweet. But that's the stories, but what's in you? What is in you, that those, how have those games shaped you? How has the knowledge of, I'll give you a little, I'm gonna give you some help. Because I know you always feel more comfortable, when there's a big name athlete in the story, that you can put the focus on. Who is the athlete, and I'm guessing that there's nobody who's, of course, athletes do not last into their 70's, as athletes. But who would exemplify a person that has been, as a former player, in your life for the longest? I think I know the answer. Well, the most compelling figure, in my time in sports, was Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali? Yeah. He always greeted me the same way. He always said, "How's Angie? I like her better than you." (laughter) Very funny, very funny, don't laugh at him, you're encouraging him! (laughter) Don't do that! No, okay, I want to tell time in your life, by the games, by the players, by the stadiums. But also by, your, I know you don't want to talk about, you know, everything in your life. But, you had a marriage that was, your high school sweetheart. Married at age 20. It didn't last, I mean it lasted a long time, they're still friends. But, the marriage in some ways, was a casualty of you being on the road, you being gone a whole lot. I want to tell time, somebodies got a question? [Audience Member] You said "I was a very unheroic marine." What's all that about? (laughter) Okay, yes, exactly, I want the parts that are off the field, combined with the field. I want to know who the guy is, who has been watching all these years, of course. I want to, I asked you, I started to ask this question about who's the athlete that you have known the longest. I was guessing it was Bob Cousy. It could be Cousy. It's probably Bob Cousy, who is now in his 90's, who was a great Bostons Celtic, you know, long, long ago. And who called Tom up this Fourth of July, to shoot the breeze at the age of 90, because almost nobody is around still... We hadn't talked in decades. I picked up the phone, and it was Cousy. Hadn't talked in decades. And actually, I think that might be a great way to begin this book. And what that is, is the intersection of the big famous guy, that we all care about, as long as he's winning the championships, and bringing home the trophies, and then, he's done, he's gone, we forget his name. There are probably not too many people in this room who know the name of Bob Cousy, anymore. And, he's sitting alone at home, and he calls up Tom, who wrote about him, and wrote about his team decades ago, and knew all the people who have now died. We were great arch-rivals, and we're pals. And this is a scene, 4th of July, 90 year old man hasn't talked to him in decades, and said, what did he say, what did he say? He said "I ran into a guy who had your number on him and I thought, I'd give you a call." (laughter) [Joyce] Great! I want, I want to see these guys, not just off the court or off the field, or off the golf course, in these sort of little tidbits, of you know, information that their fans want to know. But I want to see you going through life, seeing the ones who are, like you know, Tiger Woods you know to be a real jerk! And the one's you knew to be really beautiful people. And, I want to follow, to tell time, through the sports, through the ups and downs of the sports, but ultimately it's you that follows through them. You are the through-line. They go, you've, Arthur Ashe is dead, Joe Montana is retired, Johnny Unitas is dead. You are alive, you are last man standing. Secretariat is dead, Muhammad Ali is dead. And I don't feel that well myself. (laughter) I want, I want you, I want to see motion and change and discovery, and not, now that reminds me of another great story. Okay, yeah, I get it. [Joyce] I'm not done with you. I mean, I'm done with you for the purposes of this class. (laughter) [Joyce] Sadly, because there is another person that I really need to talk to, I want to talk. But I'm gonna be on your case, all through this book. And I expect you to, the dedication of this book to say, "Dedicated to Joyce Maynard, the greatest athlete I have ever known." (laughter) Thanks. That will stick it to those cheerleaders that got on the team when I didn't. Okay, thanks hon. Thank you, really. (applause) I want you to rest assured, tell me the name of the book, what the book is going to be called Tom? [Tom] Gods at Play. Gods at Play. That's a fabulous title, his first title wasn't so good, but I made him change it. And I want you to know, that when you do read Gods at Play, and it will be, this book is gonna be written. And it's gonna come out, and when it does, I'm going to be on his case to make sure that he gives us more than just the funny stories. Even though the stories, funny or heartbreaking stories, the stories are great, but you are going to be even greater than that.

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 :)