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How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 23 of 25

You're Not Always the Hero


How to Write a Full-Length Memoir

Lesson 23 of 25

You're Not Always the Hero


Lesson Info

You're Not Always the Hero

I tell a story in this book of how during Jim's illness I shoplifted, I shoplifted a hairbrush. I think I mentioned it on the board. We had to go to CVS every single day to pick up drugs, sometimes several times a day and often we had to wait a long time for these drugs 'cause they were heavy duty painkillers and if you tried to fill the prescription too early you got in trouble and sometimes they didn't have enough of the pills and you had to go to three CVSes and we'd been kept waiting about an hour and Jim could barely stand up and I was going to get the drugs and also a hairbrush, and at some point, the drugs, after about an hour of waiting the drugs were finally ready and I had the hairbrush in my hand and I just decided I was not gonna pay for that damn hairbrush and I walked out. And you know, it's a small thing and I think somebody said to me, oh, you know what, I think you should take out that hairbrush part. More people reading this book have mentioned me stealing the hairbru...

sh and have told me the things that they did. And once again, it's the human part. And I don't think it says that I am a future felon, I think it is another way of showing and giving a picture of what despair looks like, without saying I was in despair. I was frustrated, I was angry, I was rageful, I felt I had been robbed so I was gonna do a little felony of my own. Don't blink. So there came a point, we fought really hard, we held on to the idea that my husband was going to live longer than most people do who have the kind of symptoms that he did and the kind of pain that he did. And he was right on board with it, he was going to fight this right to the end. But there came a point where we all acknowledged that we had lost and that he was going to die. And he was in terrible pain and at that point, I actually wanted him to die. I will say that sentence. I wanted him to die. I could not bear to see him in the kind of pain that he was in, hanging on. And one day during this period, we had gone on hospice; now I didn't want a whole lot of hospice but there was a hospice worker who would come over once a day and she came over and she took me outside and she said I just want to tell you a story. And she said you know, I worked with a person one time whose brother came to see him and take care of him during the last days and he was definitely terminal and he was going to die very soon and he was in a lot of pain and his brother said to me one day what happens if you give him more morphine than the normal dose? And I told his brother well, he will probably die if you do that and the brother said and would there be any pain involved in more morphine than the normal dose? And the nurse told me what she told the brother which was, actually no pain whatsoever. I knew exactly why she told me that story. It was apropos of absolutely nothing except it was right on target with where I was in my life as the person taking care of Jim and knowing Jim very well at that moment. And that day I began to save up morphine. And two days later I gave Jim a whole lot of morphine. All the morphine I had. And the next morning... Jim was a runner, Jim had a really strong heart both physically and metaphorically. And the next morning, Jim was alive. Jim had not died of all the morphine and I had no morphine left to give him and he needed more morphine. So I had no choice but to call up hospice and tell them I need more morphine and they said but you had all that morphine. They keep very close tabs on how much morphine you have. And I should've just said oh I spilled the morphine but I didn't, I said well he was in a whole lot of pain, I gave him a lot of morphine. They said I'm sorry, we're gonna have to report you to the police. And after that, I didn't get to have any extra morphine. They came every three hours, through the day and through the night to deliver one dose of morphine at a time. Did that story belong in this book? Yes. Do not blink. Do not blink. If everybody is scrupulous about telling the truth, am I a terrible person, am I a murderer? I'm a human being, that's what all of our stories are.

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 :)