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Writing Your Story

Lesson 14 of 26

The Paragraph


Writing Your Story

Lesson 14 of 26

The Paragraph


Lesson Info

The Paragraph

Now I've already said how I believe in economy of words and really think hard before you add another word to your piece of writing, but an indentation is free. (laughs) It costs you nothing and it shouldn't be random and arbitrary. It's not one of those things where you've written six sentences it's about time you indent. Indent means something and what it means is, you're moving forward in your story. Old, bad, fuddy-duddy English teachers used to talk about the topic sentence of the paragraph and say they'd things like first say what your paragraph is going to be about, then say it, then say what you've just said. Forget all that. Those English teachers are dead now and I'm not missing them. But the paragraph is a real tool. The indentation is a real tool that tells me that the story is progressing. I always think, I'm going to act this one out. I always think of a story that I tell or an essay that I write as a road trip and because I started out my life and was, for many years, liv...

ing on the East Coast and now I live in California. I picture starting out in Maine on this road trip and ending up in California and I would actually say to a student of mine or just to myself writing. Okay, now I'm in Maine, now I'm in about Vermont and now I'm in New York and now I'm in Ohio and now I'm probably right around the Rocky Mountains. That's kind of like the conflict, tension part of my story and then my landing place is California. Every one of those indents is like a stop on your road trip. Look at that. Does that inspire you to read this paragraph? No. We need a little help here. Especially now. Especially in these days when our attention spans have all been diminished by the Internet and so much else going on in the world. We need to break it down and incidentally something that will help you a lot in your own writing is a little test. Name. Give names to your paragraphs. I don't mean that ultimately for your reader, you show your readers these names, but name them for yourself and if you're doing a good job with your story telling, if you've created a nice road trip with a steady forward motion, just reading the list of the names will sound like a story. And maybe you get, maybe you stay for about three paragraphs on one, in one state where you kind of linger where there are a lot of diners with good pie there or whatever, but still we will feel there are distinct subjects for each of those paragraphs.

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.