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Writing Your Story

Lesson 4 of 26

Identify Your Journey


Writing Your Story

Lesson 4 of 26

Identify Your Journey


Lesson Info

Identify Your Journey

I want you to begin to think about moving your story, identifying your journey. Here comes an exercise. This is one of the best things you can do to identify motion in your story. Write down on a piece of paper, I used to, but now I. And then fill in some examples from your own life. They don't have to be amazing. It could be I used to have long hair, but now I have short hair. I used to live in the East Bay but now I live in Marin. Let's look at a few. I used to go dancing on Friday nights, but now I watch TV. I used to be fat, but now I'm thin. I used to be thin, but now I'm fat. I used to drink, but now I'm sober. I used to be married, but now I have a dog. Every one of these is a very simple sentence, beat, beat, but every one of them indicates motion and change. And because of that, each of these is the bare bones, the skeleton, of a story that you have to tell. And if you keep a notebook of a whole bunch of these, it will inform your writing. And it's another way that you can go ...

back and identify a big journey that you can take us on. I want to ask audience members, and this could be people at home, too, tell us some I used to but now Is. Who's got one? I used to care what a boss thought of me, but now I'm my own boss. Whoa, I used to care what a boss thought of me, but now I'm my own boss. Something happened in the middle, something big. Yes. Yeah. And you want to tell us what that was? I eventually started my own company and sold it 15 years later for a lot of money. Okay, we love those stories. We love those stories. And of course, we've got characters right away. My ding, ding, ding, I know that the boss, who probably didn't treat you very well? Correct. Didn't value you. You paid dearly for having that person as your boss, but ultimately that boss was the catalyst for something great in your life. That boss is gonna be a character in your story. Who's got another one? I used to live in Alabama, but now I live in Oakland, California. Okay, and I can hear it in your voice, Leslie. Thank you. Alabama to Oakland, it's a kind of surprising journey. And everything that happened that got you out of Alabama and to Oakland, is the story, yeah. Another one, Diane. I used to wonder what I wanted to be when I grew up, but now I'm later in life earning my Masters Degree in Anthrozoology, I'm in grad school. And you better say what Antrhozoology is. It's the study of human/animal relations, so historically, religion, animal welfare. It's really multi-disciplinary, covers a lot of things. And I'm gonna suggest that in the case of this one, the thread, the through-line, might not be the girl who doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, but the girl who, I suspect, always loved animals. And that was always there, and then you found a way to make it not simply your life's passion, but your life's work. My dog, Piquard, kind of brought it all home. I adopted a pup. Yes, and we have to be careful with our, I'm gonna say, as somebody who loves her dog, also, that it can be really trouble to write about our beloved pet. They're too cute. They're too lovable. And there may be an absence of conflict in that story, and I want you to locate the conflict. So if you just tell about how great your dog is, how beautiful your garden is, how wonderful your husband is, you haven't yet found the story, probably. But the pup can be the landing place, the resolution, for all the bad things that came first, which may have included some men, some mothers, I don't know, some relatives. Anybody else have a I used to but now I? Yes, we've got one from home, from people watching. We have so many that are coming in from people online, so I wanted to give you all a shout out, as well. So Skaplan Tucson says. Skap? Skaplan Tucson, not sure. I used to run, but now I walk. When I wrote this the first time, I meant it literally, but now I realize that life's a metaphor, it's a life metaphor, as well. I used to run, but now I walk. I used to run, but now I walk. I don't know Skap, if you had an injury, or if you simply learned patience. But something pretty big happened, and that of course indicates, ding, ding, ding, ding story. Yes, let's have another one from in the... This is from Jeannie. Jeannie. Who says, I used to believe that love meant pain but now I believe love is kindness. Ah-hah, I'm going to guess that there are at least two partners in this story. (audience laughs) Yes, you've got it. And you know, you always knew that these things were true, but did you ever write them down before? Did you ever put them together and recognize what they mean for your life as a writer. Do we have one more? Sure, I'm curious about this one, from Jolene Handy. Jolene, that's my dog's name, that's why. Jolene says, I used to dye my hair, but now I don't. Ah-hah, and of course this could seem very superficial, this is just a hair story. Is this just a hair story? No. I think not. It's a story about accepting one's self. It's a story about aging, yes.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Everyone’s got a story to tell. Some are funny. Some are inspiring. Others are tragic. But no matter how compelling your story might seem, it won’t resonate with readers unless you’re able to effectively translate your concept onto the page.

Celebrated journalist, novelist and memoirist Joyce Maynard will give you the tools you need to transform your brilliant idea into an absorbing memoir that readers won’t be able to put down.

Maynard will begin by walking you through the process of identifying your story and how best to tell it. She’ll then help you develop your story through language, story structure, dramatic tension, dialogue, description and editing. Finally, she’ll address the challenges of the writing life, such as how to create a productive practice, design a comfortable writing space, deal with rejection and find an audience.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Understand the difference between telling what happened and exploring your journey.
  • Figure out what to include in your story and what to cut out.
  • Decide on a point of view, a point of entry and a structure.
  • Get over your fears of revealing embarrassing truths about yourself.
  • Stop worrying about being judged.
  • Deal with loneliness and find your tribe.
  • Develop the arc of a sentence, a paragraph and a story.
  • Listen to the sound and rhythm of your sentences.


Annie Y

Joyce Maynard will meet her writing students exactly where many of us find ourselves stranded: at that point in the road where our creative impulse and need for expression begins to lose breath but our sense of story and good writing habits may falter. Her teaching is a glorious, energetic, engaged alchemy of encouragement, permission for wild creativity, and feet-on-the-ground, pencil-to-paper, lessons for organizing and writing your own story. I left this incredible day empowered to tell mine, and totally unafraid to let go of what does not fit into the narrative. She gives concrete examples of good writing, shows you exactly why it's good, as well as hilarious bits of not-so-good writing. Yes, this is a memoir class, but the lessons are simply excellent rules for good writing. The syllabus is ambitious, but Ms. Maynard's practical magic is her gift to render all of this utterly do-able. I loved every minute, left inspired by the entire experience, and profoundly grateful for her wisdom and humor. Thank you!

Diane Shipley

This was a wonderful class, the best I’ve taken, even though I wasn’t there in person! Joyce is an inspiring teacher who makes you feel like your stories matter and guides you toward identifying which narratives to tell and how best to tell them — very few writing classes delve into the mechanics in this way and I really appreciated it. I also appreciated some of her more unusual advice — like that it’s important to think about what you want to write, sometimes for a long time, before you start. By going through students’ stories and providing lots of examples of the principles she teaches, you can see how to adapt the lessons to your own work, and I’ve already started doing so. I also found Joyce very compassionate about issues around privacy and shame and everything that comes up when people share personal stories, and very generous in sharing her own experiences so it’s clear she knows what she’s talking about. I recommend this class wholeheartedly.


Thank you so much for your brilliant course, Joyce Maynard. I am blown away by how much I've learned from you, and how warmly and joyfully you've imparted your wisdom, your skills as a writer and your own beautiful humanity. I am so grateful for this experience. You are not only a gifted storyteller, but a truly gifted teacher, and a delightful, inspiring human being. I hope to learn from you in person in Lake Atitlan at some point in the future.