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Writing Your Story

Lesson 7 of 26

The Honesty Question


Writing Your Story

Lesson 7 of 26

The Honesty Question


Lesson Info

The Honesty Question

We've covered a lot of ground so far, and we're just beginning. All of the things that I've been talking about are the nuts and bolts and I believe deeply in the nuts and bolts of good writing. You won't acquire them overnight and you'll throw away a lot of things and you'll have a lot of failures. But, you will get those things. Those things can be learned. Just like playing a sport well, or playing an instrument, or learning how to perform a surgery, they can be learned. There's another, however, at the core of writing good memoir. It's something that you will not learn in any list of tips. I want to speak to that for a moment and it won't be the last time I speak to that, and that is the honesty question. It is about courage and ultimately, you're gonna have to locate your courage for yourself but I'll talk to you a little bit, at least from my own personal experience as somebody who has been doing that for a while and not without cost. I'm a pretty good one to stand up here and urg...

e you to put away your shame because I have had that experience and I have been criticized greatly for it. I have been called shameless, in fact. I have decided that it was not my job to take care of all the other characters in my life who didn't always take such great care of me. I'm gonna tell you a little sentence that I carry with me and pass on whenever I can: Write as if you are an orphan. Easy for me to say! I am an orphan! Being an orphan wasn't so easy but I don't have to worry anymore about what my parents will think, although it matters greatly to me that their memories be okay, that I be fair with them, and that I write ethically and compassionately, that I locate forgiveness. I don't believe in writing out of revenge, to stick it to any character and I hope that there's no character I've ever written about for whom I haven't attempted to locate compassion. But, ultimately, it is not your job to protect anybody in your life, whether somebody who hurt you badly, somebody you never speak to, or somebody that you see every year at Christmas and maybe lots of other times, too. It is not your job to worry about what they're going to think. That's the caretaking question and whether or not you are an orphan, the moment that you sit down at your laptop or your yellow legal pad or wherever it is you write, do so with utter freedom. If you have to make some changes, the moment to do it is not while you're doing this writing thing. We've already gotten an idea of just how many things you've got to be thinking about and working on. Let's not add "What's my mother gonna think?" to that list. This business of writing memoir is not about telling the world your dirty laundry. This is not let me just dump on you every horrible thing that ever happened. It is, first of all, for yourself, making sense of all the things that happened. They've happened. You can't undo them. You might give anything, anything you could, to make the story different but the story has happened. The story is what it is. Let it, at least, have some meaning, have some purpose. That's what you spoke of, John. You will not get your daughter back but you have spent the last 10 years trying to locate meaning and purpose out of the tragedy and that's the best and most healing thing that I can imagine a person who undergoes a tragedy, or a very hard experience, undertaking. I want to say that, as a person who has done this, it is a very good feeling to have told the truth. It is a very good feeling to know I will not go to my grave holding onto a secret.

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.