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Writing Your Story

Lesson 8 of 26

What's the Worst That Can Happen?


Writing Your Story

Lesson 8 of 26

What's the Worst That Can Happen?


Lesson Info

What's the Worst That Can Happen?

So what's the worst thing that can happen? I won't get invited to Thanksgiving. Well, maybe the turkey at your mother's house is a little tough anyway. But maybe you really do wanna get invited to Thanksgiving. My mother will know I've had sex. (audience laughing) People will find out I'm self-conscious about my body. Like every single other person on the planet. My children will discover I'm not perfect. I think they know. (audience laughing) They tell me regularly. So I wanna ask you all, what are your fears? What are you afraid will happen if you write your story? Tracy. Um, I think I'm afraid that people that have shared the same history with me that writing about how I react to it, and my sense of it will only hurt them worse. Uh huh. Um, and you know, I can't tell you what to do in your life. I can only tell you what's been true for mine. But there would be a school of thought that that's called enabling. That we are buying into an unhealthy system of secret keeping. And that...

the only person we have any control of, can you tell that I've been to a few meetings? Is ourselves. So we model the behavior, they come along, or they don't. But we say this is what a healthy person does. You wanna come over to my side of the world? I know, my children grew up with me writing some pretty strong things. And sometimes about our family, although I stopped when they got to their teenage years for a while, that's when I became a fiction writer. (audience laughing) What I always felt was that, that, in doing that, I was giving them the model of giving them permission to do the same in their own lives. And I can certainly never give them a hard time for, if they choose, y'know, one of my sons was a Hip Hop artist for a while, and he made this great Hip Hop song all about his parent's divorce. Well, am I gonna say "Oh wait a second, "that hurt my feelings." I don't think I can do that. I don't, he gets to live an honest life. And if it makes me a little uncomfortable, so be it. Other fears, yes, John, back in the back there. People will say "Nobody want to hear your story. "It's too sad". It's too sad. Um, I'm just ask this room, do you wanna hear a sad story? Yeah, yeah, we've had sad stories. There are people, I will tell you. There are people who are not gonna wanna hear that story. You can't please 'em all. There are definitely people who did not want to read The Best of Us, my book about losing my husband. And I don't know what the book is that pleases everybody. That book helps the people who want to go there. And your book will do the same. Yeah, another one. Yes, Jasmine, you. I think for me, it's more personal, if I'm honest about what happened in my life, I will find out that I was wrong. That I made the wrong choices. Well, you can't forgive yourself? That's part of it. Will all the people who've never made a wrong choice in their life, now leave the room? (audience laughing) Or I left a marriage and I destroyed my family, and I made the wrong choice. Your life isn't over. What a brave thing to say, "I left my marriage and I", first of all, your family, they're not dead right? So you haven't destroyed them. It's a work-in-progress, our family. Until the moment of our death, and even then, I think, it carries on. And I don't want to speak just lightly about something that's clearly a huge story deserving of more time. But the first step to healing and repair is to acknowledge that there's a problem. That's what I'd say to that one. Here's what I can, and cannot promise you. I cannot promise you that you're going to get an agent, sell a book, even if you do get a book published that more than 10 people will buy it. That's another whole sad story. Opera may not call you, probably won't. But here's what I can guarantee will happen. Even if nobody reads your memoir, and actually, somebody should, and somebody will, and we'll talk about that. But even if it stays in your drawer forever, you have told the truth. You will be a different person for it. You paid dearly for living your story. This is the thing that you get back. And it came at great cost, no doubt. There are so many aspects of our life on this planet, in which our freedoms are limited. I cannot jump on a plane right now to New Zealand, or Bali. I can't, if I had a job, I don't have a job actually. But if I had a job, I couldn't just quit it. And take up ukulele playing. But there's one place where the only limitation on me is my own courage, and dedication, and willingness to be an authentic human being, and that's in my writing. And you deserve the right to name what has happened to you. And share it, if only with your own self. And probably a few other people too. We'll get to that.

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.