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Writing Your Story

Lesson 13 of 26

Six Common Mistakes Writers Make


Writing Your Story

Lesson 13 of 26

Six Common Mistakes Writers Make


Lesson Info

Six Common Mistakes Writers Make

We're going to blast through six common and easily fixable mistakes. These will not take care of all your issues as a writer but don't commit any of these crimes. Because if you do, if you are one of those people and I'm sure they are many of you in this room and home. Who eventually want to eventually or right away, send a manuscript off to an agent, a publisher. If you have any of these mistakes in your writing. Red Flag, red flag, red flag. Here we go, and they are so easy to fix. The deadliest verb in he english language, well maybe the agent will let some of this go by but not some of the other ones. To be, it's such a useful, important verb but it gets so overused in your writing. Vanessa was worried that her daughter had been taking drugs because she used to be an addict. Was worried, had been taking, used to be. One sentence, three different forms of the to be verb. A producer also said used to be an addict? Hmm. Anyway, that's another issue. As a recovering addict, Vanessa wor...

ried about her daughter's drug use. No, no to be verb whatsoever. I was happy that he was going to be back. I was happy he was going to be back. Three uses of to be in one sentence. I felt happy about his return. Very often, you will find yourselves creating a kind of muscle in your sentence, when you take out to be. Because you will be giving active verbs instead of state of being. The least dramatic verb tense. It's called the imperfect tense. They don't actually teach the names of tenses so much anymore. Unless you're studying a foreign language. It's the ongoing past. "He would accuse me of sneaking around with his best friend." He would accuse me, you know how I've been talking about you know, could you draw a picture? Could you make a movie of He would accuse me? It's an ongoing action, it happens many times, it's not dramatic. He accused me of sneaking around. Maybe it happened 20 times, but tell me about one. "She would run up thousands of dollars on her charge card." She ran up thousands of dollars on her charge card. "I would finish off two bottles of wine every night." Easy. I finished off two bottles of wine every night. We did have a question from CJ that was going back to sentence rhythm-- Yes, okay. And-- Maybe I get to repeat Goodnight Moon again. (laughter) And everybody will be asleep. And the idea was, the person has a musical sense, or feel like she's writing a lot of rhythm. Can there be too much rhythm? No, I don't think so, I don't think so. I think that's her style. No. Great. I mean, I don't want you to just fall in love with rhythm for no point, it's rhythm in the service of story. It's, all of it is in the service of story. Story first. Awesome. Let's keep going-- The passive voice. This is a phrase that gets said so much, and by the most well intentioned people, after somebody dies, of course. "She will be missed." I see it always in obituaries, and I wanna say, I want to acknowledge who's doing the missing. I don't want it to be out there floating. I will miss her. Feel the difference between those two sentences? "A trip to Paris was taken." (laughter) We traveled to Paris. Adverbs and Exclamation Points. If you go back now, as a graduate of this class, and start looking at all the writers you love, count the adverbs in their work, they barely exist, they barely exist. You might here a suddenly or a finally now and then, but words that actually describe how somebody does something are, they're basically the cheap and easy way to get a point across that you should be getting across in your storytelling and your description. She wept mournfully. She wept. He danced gracefully. He danced. Or describe, if he's not a particularly graceful dancer, describe what his dancing looked like. Don't rely on the adverb, the LY word to do all your work for you. They read voraciously. They read. Exclamation point. Cheapest trick in the book (laughter). I want to be a really powerful writer, I want to say how much I, how strongly this affected me. How deeply I was wounded. I think I'll put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. The felt great! (laughter) They felt great. (laughter) Okay, enough said on that one. Oh, it's and its. I know nobody in this room would make this mistake, but some people do. Very, very simple. It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood. A contraction, it is. The cat licked its paw. Possessives. Jane's, Mary's, Jasmine's, all have apostrophe S, but if it's it, it does not. Very simple. (laughter) This is a moment when I honor my mother who would roll over in her grave is she knew what had happened to lie and lay. And you can, you hear it on television, on the newscasters, you read it in books, writers that I have respected make this mistake. My children, who I love dearly. Lie and lay. Okay, we have a quiz. What do you do in a hammock? Lie. [Female Audience Member] Lay. Lie. What do you call it when a person tells an untruth? Lie-- That was an easy one. The thing to remember is, lay is what is called a transitive verb. You have to lay something. You can't just lay. Except as a past tense of lie. Okay. What does a person say if she set a baby into her crib today? Lay. What does a person say if she set a baby into her crib yesterday? Laid. What does a chicken do with eggs? Lay. Lay. What does a person say if he wants to explain he had sex? We all know that one-- [ Audience Member] He got laid. Okay. Lay in the hammock, lay on the beach, that's the one. You didn't lay on the beach. Unless it was yesterday. She, I'm gonna lie on the beach. Yesterday I lay on the beach. He had lain on the beach.

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.