Writing Your Story


Writing Your Story


Lesson Info

The Container

You know, I love everything that we get to talk about today, but this might be my favorite (audience laughs) segment. My favorites change a lot (laughs), but this is definitely one of my many favorites. So, many of you have a big story to tell, and many of you have been holding on to it a long time, and when that happens, you sort of, it spills out all over the place. So what do you need when you have something spilling out all over the place? A container. Something to put it in. Exactly, a container. And I wanna add that this particular concept is valuable whether we're talking about a 350-page memoir, or a 1700-word personal essay. But I'm gonna give you a strong recommendation that before you launch into writing your 350-word, page, memoir, you write some short personal essays. Work on that form first. A lot of people, and a lot of students of mine and people in this audience and probably at home, speak to me about having collections of essays, and they want to publish a colle...

ction of essays, and I always wanna say to them "Whoa, hold on a minute. "Before you talk about a collection of essays, "let's talk about, and before you talk about "linking up the essays in your collection of essays, "let's talk about one essay." So we're gonna begin there. We're going to look at how you might take your big life experience and contain it in a smaller story. And I wanna begin by explaining to you the concept of a container. You have a big idea. A big story. And you find a small story that illuminates it. A story that allows you to explore the big idea, but with a small, particular scene, and something that's manageable in perhaps limited space, which is why I wanna talk about a short personal essay first, and it's also a great way to build your chops for the longer book. So, what is a container? Here are some examples. "Big Ideas, Small Containers" The big idea: I miss my mother. The container, this is an essay that I published one time. As I've already mentioned to you, I've written about my mother and my mother's death in many, many different ways. This particular essay, after her death I had 30 jars of my mother's homemade chutney. They dwindled down to one. That's my idea of a high-drama, high-tension event. Only one chutney left. But I hope that I wrote it in such a way that it did feel like high-drama, and you don't even know what happened with that final jar of chutney, but it wasn't good. Okay. The idea: my five year old daughter died. This was my friend Ann Hood. The container: how do you begin to talk about the death of a five year old? By telling about "We both loved the Beatles. "After she died, I couldn't listen to them any more." And that's in Modern Love, you can find it online, by Ann Hood. The idea: just when I figured out what it meant to be part of a couple, my husband died. This is me again. Big, global idea. Big abstract concept. What it meant to be a part of a couple. The container: the summer we spent riding a motorcycle together on the back roads of New Hampshire. And that was a New York Times travel article that I published last summer. The idea: it's not easy, this is me, too, this was me many years ago. It's not easy finding a good man when you're single in your forties, many years ago. The container: I set out to have a date (audience laughs) with Steve Martin. And that was actually one of those NPR, little, all-things-considered essays. I kept on hoping that Steve Martin was gonna hear it, but he never did. Then I decided that I didn't want him anyway. Okay. (audience laughs)

Class Description

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.