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How to Write a Personal Essay

with Joyce Maynard

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  •   Trailer

  •   01 Class Introduction

    15:43
  •   03 What Do You Want to Write About?

    08:54

Class duration: 5h 28m

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About The Class

Turn Your Story into a Gripping Essay That Everyone Wants to Read

Bundle this class with How To Write a Full-Length Memoir and save!

How many times have you read the Modern Love column in The New York Times and thought, “Wow, I wish I could write an essay like that!” If you feel you’ve got an incredible story to tell but don’t know how to transform it into a powerful piece that can win a prized spot in the Times or another major publication, this is the class for you.

Celebrated essayist and memoirist Joyce Maynard will take you on a guided journey through the process of writing a kick-ass personal essay that will get you noticed and published.

Maynard will go through the steps of figuring out your big theme, creating a strong outline, identifying the beats of your narrative and writing a compelling column. By the end of this course, you’ll not only have an amazing essay, you’ll have a whole new skill set that will make your writing the best it’s ever been.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify a single big idea and weave it through your narrative.
  • Focus on a small event or moment to make your abstract theme concrete.
  • Build an outline so you can structure your story and identify the beats.
  • Figure out the stakes, conflict, discovery, transformation and redemption.
  • Create interesting characters and understand their motives.
  • Wander off course but not too far—and only for a good reason.
  • Add cinematic elements to your story, including a climactic turning point.
  • Write a concluding scene that emphasizes your final discovery.


Lesson Plan

  1. 01

    Class Introduction

    15:43
  2. 02

    A Short Story About a Big Idea

    04:09
  3. 03

    What Do You Want to Write About?

    08:54
  4. 04

    Look What You Can Do with 806 Words

    16:09
  5. 05

    Stories of Change

    05:26
  6. 06

    Big Ideas to Small Stories

    06:34
  7. 07

    When You Have Too Many Stories

    27:42
  8. 08

    Writing About Loss & Exploring Secrets

    09:00
  9. 09

    1 Story 5 Ways

    04:49
  10. 10

    Deconstructing an Example Essay

    11:55
  11. 11

    The Importance of Language

    29:07
  12. 12

    My Favorite Writing Tool

    04:54
  13. 13

    Choose Your Words Carefully

    17:14
  14. 14

    What's Wrong With Being Shameless?

    12:51
  15. 15

    Handling Two Stories At One Time

    29:06
  16. 16

    The Opening and Landing Place

    12:51
  17. 17

    Finding the Through Story

    31:38
  18. 18

    Picking the Story You Should Tell

    28:21
  19. 19

    How I Write a Personal Essay

    13:10
  20. 20

    'Letting It Fly' - Workshopping Joyce's Personal Essay

    16:58
  21. 21

    The Privacy Question

    22:10

Meet Your Expert

Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Times cover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1972, when she was a freshman at Yale. ... read more

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Bonus Material

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  • pdf How to Write a Personal Essay - Essays and Articles

100% of students recommend this class.
See what some of them have to say.

  • Creativelive Student

    June 2019

    Wonderful high points from this class for me: - Very generous analysis of one critical scene in At Home in the World - super gripping and a good scaffolding of how the scene works - Lovely and generous live critiques of her students’ work - first sentences shown on a projected screen. Maynard does a great job procuring from the students why the information is important, what the material means, how they can stretch themselves as writers. - Helping the students to identify a theme that runs throughout their stories is very actionable and is certainly something I took away from this class as I could see how one susses it out from an ordinary paragraph full of sequential events and other information. - The way Maynard shows how she categorized themes for her memoir The Best of Us was an excellent tactical show-and-tell. The pricepoint for the class, roughly $150, seems more than fair given the material, the rare and intimate looks Maynard offers on her own writing and the coaching she does for several writers in various stages of memoir writing. The course contains 25 live lessons — that’s just over $5/lesson with a master teacher. The added benefit of being able to rewatch the videos makes CreativeLive such an excellent venue and I am considering purchasing Maynard’s Personal Essay course next.

  • Kati Nagy

    August 2018

    This was an excellent course on so many levels. Joyce's way of imparting her knowledge with such verve and humor really captivated all of us. Ii was so thrilled to work with her one-on-one and the way she helped me develop my story via her whiteboard really helped me see how I can get started on it. She is truly inspiring and I loved her insights and guidelines.

  • Deb Boone

    Deb Boone

    August 2018

    Joyce does a great job of helping you understand how to narrow your story down to key moments and to think about meaningful details to include (and which to leave out). She also shares examples from her own body of work and that of writers she admires, so you get a chance to see what a polished final essay can look like.

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