Writing Your Story

In partnership with
Instructor Joyce Maynard,
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4.5 out of 5
22 Reviews
77% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 20000
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Join an acclaimed memoirist for 26 collaborative lessons on how to write personal true stories that your readers will never forget.
  • numbers Discover one acclaimed memoirist's strategies for writing personal stories.
  • numbers Sharpen your personal writing skills.

Course Overview

Each and every one of us has a story to tell. An inspiring story, a funny story, a tragic story. A story unlike any other story in the world. But sometimes, we just need a little help figuring out what to say—and the right way to say it.

Perhaps you quit your high-paying job to pursue your dream of owning and operating an antique store. Maybe a close family friend passed away and, in their memory, you fulfilled their dream of hiking up Mount Fuji. It could even be a story as simple as watching your struggling high school student bring home an “A” grade on an important test. But regardless of how compelling, how personal, your story might seem, it won’t resonate with readers unless you’re able to effectively translate it onto the page.

Every good story has foundational elements that anyone with a passion for storytelling can master. In the same way a budding cellist gets better with guidance and insights from a master of the craft, a writer looking to share their story with the world can reap unlimited rewards by spending time in the company of a seasoned author.

Joyce Maynard is just such an author. An expert in the art of personal writing, Maynard has written 17 books, including a controversial memoir about her relationship with the reclusive author J. D. Salinger that became a bestseller. In addition to writing, Maynard also hosts popular workshops for aspiring memoirists—an experience that’s captured and brought into the comfort of your living room with Writing Your Story.

In the 26 lessons of this writing workshop, best-selling author and writing instructor Joyce Maynard teaches you how to translate your life stories into pieces of memoir writing with the power to captivate readers. You’ll explore the process of identifying a personal story and the right way to tell it. You’ll develop (or strengthen) your ability to work with language, structure, dialogue, and description. You’ll also get inspirational insights into cultivating your own writing practice, handling criticism and rejection, and other challenges of the writing life.

“My job here is to give you permission to tell your story,” Maynard says with her characteristic (and contagious) passion for the craft. “To urge you to tell the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Build the Confidence You Need to Tell Your Truth

Sometimes, what can hold us back from sitting down to write a very personal story is fear. A fear of being judged by readers. A fear of confronting uncomfortable aspects of our past. Even the fear that there’s nothing really interesting about our lives.

But with its collegial studio setting and expert guidance, Writing Your Story helps you build the confidence you need to tell your truth through words. It’s a learning experience that reveals just how empowering it can be to take charge of feelings or events that fascinate (or even scare) you. Above all, it’s a safe, non-judgmental space to think about—and write about—your life.

And these lessons offer plenty for you to think about when it comes to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to capture an event or a theme or a person that simply must be shared with the world. In Writing Your Story, you’ll learn how to:

  • Make the difficult choice of what to take out of a personal story that feels too long;
  • Determine whether your personal story is better suited as an essay or a memoir;
  • Build out the dramatic, reader-friendly arc of sentences, paragraphs, and entire stories;
  • Diagram sentences to discover the components of what makes them unforgettable;
  • Foster a sense of community and collaboration with other writers out there; and much more.

Hone Your Stories with Helpful Tips and Tricks

Most writers build their practice and their work on a series of strategies and tools that they carry with them every time they sit down at their writing desk. Maynard’s lessons offer you tips and tricks that have worked for her throughout her storied career as a memoirist, journalist, and writing instructor.

Here are just three of the exciting, helpful perspectives she offers throughout this course:

  • Write like an Orphan. While you should never write a personal story out of revenge, you should always be honest and courageous about what you’re writing. Ultimately, Maynard notes, it’s not your job to worry about what your family will think about what you’ve written. Whenever you sit down to write about yourself, do so with utter freedom—as if none of your family members were alive. If you do have to make changes for reasons of propriety, make them later, while revising and editing. Not at the writing stage.
  • Create a Container. Maynard spends several lessons on the idea of a “container,” or the smaller story that still affords you the freedom to explore big ideas. For example, the big idea you want to write about is how much you miss your late mother. To make that big idea more unique and personal, you can fit it inside a smaller story—in this instance, the story of eating your mother’s last jar of homemade chutney. Fitting your story into the perfect container is also a great way to lend drama and tension to your tale.
  • Write like Every Word Costs Five Dollars. Strong writers are economic writers, meaning they don’t put down as many words as possible—they put down the right words. Sometimes, when you’re having trouble whittling down your work or you want to make sure you’re telling your story as well as you possibly can, think of every word costing you five dollars. Then see how much money you save by taking out weak verbs, stale adjectives, and other unnecessary information. A memorable personal story is always razor-sharp.

Start Writing the Story Only You Can Write

For over 20 years, Maynard has hosted workshops for aspiring writers of memoir, as well as guest lectured in writing at colleges and MFA programs across the United States. Clearly at home in a workshop setting, she’s equal parts coach and fan. She doesn’t hold back from picking apart her students’ work in an effort to make it better, but she also recognizes that these are personal stories no one except you, the writer, can tell.

It doesn’t matter if you’re setting out to write a 300-page book or a 1,000-word essay—you need to have the courage to tell your story and to think of yourself as a writer. Writing Your Story will show you how to do both.

As Maynard says, “You will help yourself, you will heal yourself, and you will stand here and say, ‘Here I am, make of this what you will!’ Somebody will be listening. Somebody will be helped.”

When it’s time to tell your story, this is the perfect way to get started.

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26 lectures
 |  Average 12 minutes each
  • 1
    What Happens When We Keep Secrets?
    Many of us have a story about ourselves that we want to tell, but some of us are scared to tell the messy, complicated truths about a human life. In this introductory lesson, discover why it's the moments of discord and conflict-moments we often try to keep secret-that make for the most memorable personal memoirs. x
  • 2
    Name Your Obsessions
    What if you have no idea what to write about? One strategy for getting started that you'll learn about here is making a list of all your obsessions in life. Once you've done that, it's time to go a little deeper, and ask: Why are you obsessed with the things on your list? x
  • 3
    Stick to Your Story
    When sitting down to write the story of our life, we have a tendency to talk about other people (say, our fascinating grandmother) or to simply run through a resume of big events. In this lesson, learn the importance of sticking to your story-not someone else's-and taking your reader on an adventure. x
  • 4
    Identify Your Journey
    Here, Maynard teaches you how to move your personal story along by identifying the journey it will take. You used to be A, and now you are B. It's a simple formula, but when you plug in variables from your life, it indicates motion and change. It can also become the skeleton of the story you have to tell. x
  • 5
    Take Your Story Apart
    You've identified what you want to write about. Now what? It's time to take your story apart. Consider the importance of the point of view from which you plan to write. Are you looking back on earlier events? Are you writing as if you were living an event in the moment? x
  • 6
    The Landing Place
    Using powerful examples from essays by authors and columnists, discover why it's so important to determine where your reader lands at the beginning of your journey. What makes a unique point of entry for a personal essay? Is it always smart to begin at the very beginning? x
  • 7
    The Honesty Question
    Writing a good personal story is, first and foremost, about having courage. Here, learn why it's not your job to take care of all the other characters in your life and why every good memoirist writes as if they were an orphan-an idea that's at the core of exceptional memoir writing. x
  • 8
    What's the Worst That Can Happen?
    In this inspirational lesson, Maynard helps you come to terms with the anxieties that can plague a writer setting out to tell a personal story. Even if what you end up writing stays in a drawer forever, you'll have told the truth-and you'll be a different person for it. x
  • 9
    Descriptive versus Interpretive Language
    Turn now to some important tools that can help create drama, tension, color, and surprise in your writing. Here, the focus is on descriptive versus interpretive language. Discover why it's more important to use language that allows readers to make their own assessments of the pictures you paint with words. x
  • 10
    Diagramming the Sentence
    Diagramming your sentences isn't just about old fuddy-duddy grammar. It's about identifying whether or not you're accomplishing what you're trying to do in your writing. Maynard diagrams some student sentences to highlight how they do (and do not) tell a story in the most powerful, dramatic way possible. x
  • 11
    The Importance of Economy
    So many of us, when writing, want to check the word count to make sure we have the most words down possible. But good personal writing isn't about how many words you use-it's about using the right words. In this lesson, learn the benefits of writing as if every word you use costs you five dollars. x
  • 12
    Dialogue and Rhythm
    How do you create rhythm in your writing? What goes into powerful dialogue? Learn the answers to these questions in this lesson that tackles how to write dialogue that sounds like real life (but better) and how to employ-and improve-the rhythm of your writing by varying the length of your sentences. x
  • 13
    Six Common Mistakes Writers Make
    In this lesson, Maynard runs you through six common (and easily fixable) mistakes writers make. Among these red flags you'll learn to keep an eye out for: the glaring overuse of the verb to be" and an overdependence on adverbs and exclamation points to do all your work for you." x
  • 14
    The Paragraph
    Forget what you might have learned in school about topic sentences and five-paragraph essays. Here, come to see the paragraph as a real tool of your writing that can do so much more than you imagined. Learn how to write powerful paragraphs, when to start a new paragraph, and some good signs your paragraphs are moving your story forward. x
  • 15
    Building the Arc
    According to Maynard, every sentence is its own little story-which means there's drama in every single sentence you write. In this lesson, learn how to build around the powerful parts of an idea or scene or moment or even a word, so that the arc of your sentence guides the reader to a powerful ending. x
  • 16
    The Test of a Good Memoir
    At the end of the day, the most important part of a good memoir is that it's written in the voice of a narrator (you) the reader likes and trusts. That's the focus here, along with Maynard's answers to audience questions about overusing the word I," using repetition to emphasize something, and more." x
  • 17
    The Container
    You have a big story to tell and, once you start writing, it spills out all over the place. So what do you need? A container to put that story in. Come to see why short personal essays-which explore a big idea in a small, particular scene-make the perfect form for building your chops in hopes of writing a longer book. x
  • 18
    Two Containers from Scratch
    Which containers are right for which stories? In this second lesson on the importance of containers for your writing, Maynard invites some of the writers from her audience to help them craft the right containers for their personal stories-and the big idea that encapsulates them. x
  • 19
    Developing Your Container
    Here, continue exploring the concept of containers that allow you to explore global ideas. Central to this lesson is developing the container for a big story about a privileged family that looks good on the outside, but in reality is troubled by alcoholism and fighting parents. x
  • 20
    Dissecting a Good Container Essay
    Join Maynard as she dissects a container essay she wrote in 2016 for the Modern Love" column in The New York Times. In the piece, "What Luck Means Now," she uses a single day in Boston to explore the big global idea of her marriage and the possibility of losing her husband." x
  • 21
    The Writing Life
    What are the habits of a productive writing life? Discover some sources of inspiration from Maynard's own experiences. And while simple habits (like grinding coffee) aren't the magic bullet that will suddenly make your writing lyrical and successful, they can help you better navigate uncharted creative territory. x
  • 22
    Creating a Writing Practice
    Cultivating a daily writing practice is important, whether you end up writing 1,000 words or just 50. Here, learn ways to create the kind of practice that suits you-whether it's working to music to create a mood, getting enough exercise, practicing journal writing, or blocking out the internet. x
  • 23
    What Gets in Your Way?
    Writing about myself is narcissistic." "My family wasn't dysfunctional." "Everything's already been said before." "Nothing big ever happened to me." "I have no time." In this lesson, Maynard dispels these and other common thoughts that can get in your way when you sit down to write your personal story." x
  • 24
    The Not-Writing Process
    You've spent a lot of time in this course exploring the writing process-now, Maynard discusses the not-writing process. Why is it so important to take time to think before we write? What are the benefits of opening yourself up to feedback? Is there such a thing as writing way too soon? x
  • 25
    Criticism and Rejection
    Two of the biggest fears of any writer are criticism and rejection. Many times, they can freeze us, stop us from working, and make us feel like there's no point in pursuing our work. This lesson teaches you strategies to absorb and handle a part of writing (and publishing) that's common to everyone. x
  • 26
    What Happens When We Tell Our Truth?
    While you've covered a lot of ground in the preceding lessons, conclude this course with a spirited exploration of the hardest part of writing. It's not the craft-it's the leap of faith that requires you to believe in yourself, in your own value, and in the compassion of your readers. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 26 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the 7-page course companion booklet
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 26 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 7-page printed course companion booklet
  • Downloadable PDF of the course companion booklet
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 7-page printed course companion booklet
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Joyce Maynard

About Your Professor

Joyce Maynard
A native of New Hampshire, Joyce Maynard began publishing her stories in magazines when she was thirteen years old.  She first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Times cover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1972, when she was a freshman at Yale. Since then, she has been a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, a syndicated newspaper columnist whose “Domestic...
Learn More About This Professor


Writing Your Story is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 19.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Nope I am glad that The Great Courses is constantly exploring new avenues for life-long learning. The approach represented by this course, however, did not work out. It was an interesting experiment. Evidently it is a recording of an active on-line course which was then made available to those of us who missed the live event. While I cannot judge the effectiveness of the live event, it just does not work as a replay. There are 26 lectures, of which five are less than 5 minutes in length and another nine are between 5 and 10 minutes in length. Only three are the traditional length of at least 25 minutes. The instructor is Joyce Maynard, who has no academic credentials, although she did move in with J.D. Salinger for a while (evidently, an important part of this course). Since she has written a number of best-sellers, she shares with the students her reflections on writing; she does not have the academic chops to share the scholarship on the subject. I hope The Great Courses continues to explore new avenues for life-long learning. This course, however, is not an avenue; it is a dead end.
Date published: 2020-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I am very impressed with this course. I'm not even halfway through it but I've learned so much already. Joyce Maynard has an incredible amount to teach writers about how to write better and more effectively. I'm really enjoying learning from her. It's truly excellent. Highly recommend it. (And also I know she's a very good writer - I've loved reading some of her pieces in the past. I'll look for more now...)
Date published: 2020-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gifted teacher on the elements of craft I was pleasantly surprised by this non traditional writing workshop by Joyce Maynard. Her passionate devotion to the craft of writing keeps you tuned in . This course is a broad brush stroke about writing your personal essay. She keeps things simple to get you focused on the key factors that shape the personal essay from a truthful (and shameless) point of view. She shows you how to declutter your writing to make it sing using examples from her own writing and that of her students. Good teachers are expert at fanning the embers of creativity stored within to bring our personal (and universal) stories to life. Joyce Maynard has this gift. This is not the typical format of the Great Courses. This workshop was part of a larger course and has been edited down so sections are short. I watched the first 12 so I am halfway through this course and love it! I'd love to see more by this teacher.
Date published: 2020-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Supportive and Human Perspective The course is a great review of some of the essential parts of writing from your own perspective. Ms Maynard's (Non-Fiction) writings are about conveying her experience through some event(s). This is the approach taken in the course, how best to convey your experience through event(s) so that readers will become engaged in it (them). [She has had a lifetime of experience in this area, some for which she has faced much critique - but come out strong enough to know what is her voice and to continue using it quite well.] She clearly states that when writing about experience(s), we really can only write about our own. One can document events factually, but we can never document any experience except our own. She has been criticized for having only written about herself - and she does a fine job of justifying that in that she is writing about experience (not a historical representation of events, but rather a very personal - emotional - viewpoint on what transpired, for her). This is what she intends to teach (and does so successfully) with this course = how to convey your emotional point of view in a compelling way. The course succeeds in teaching us about Writing "Our Own" Story. Because we are documenting an emotional viewpoint, it's very easy to get lost in stream-of-consciousness writing (particularly when dealing with our own emotional stories). Ms Maynard teaches the tools as to how to frame, craft, and develop a story that maintains the skills of a writer, while allowing for the expression of a wholly human story. That is her intent, to share what she has learned from years of writing/publication (the cold, hard, tools of writing) along with the years of living (the challenging, painful experiences of life). She brings to the fore the fundamental points needed, in terms of focus, in order to create a well-developed work. She's examining the essence of good writing, while at the same time allowing for expression of the emotions driving you to explain what happened (from your perspective/in your words). What she is doing here, is providing an audience (who has a lifetime of experiences/emotions to present) with the tools needed to craft a focused work that expresses those emotions clearly to the reader (and the writer). The combination of supporting emotional expression, while providing author-tools allows for an audience to express their experiences clearly, where they may not have been able to do so otherwise. She does an excellent job of popularizing the emotional expression of experience by sharing the skills needed to do so well. With that, I give the course 4 stars. It could be further developed/expanded upon to become something more in-depth. She is a professional teacher/lecturer (and a fine one at that), so the course could be expanded to provide more (perhaps in phases = introductory chapters/elements, then advanced tools in later lectures). The courses workshop style format does quite well, and for the observer, seeing how the process of using the tools presented are used is very helpful for performing that work on their own writing as well. I give The Great Courses, however, 1 star for this (as a) product. It is not a "Course" per se, this is a PBS (funding marathon) seminar. Total running time (according to the DVD case = 5 hours 19 minutes). There are 26 "Lectures" on the 2 Disc set. 2 are over 30 minutes long (1 being 30:01) 2 are between 20 and 30 minutes long 5 are between 15 and 20 minutes long 3 are between 10 and 15 minutes long 9 are between 5 and 10 minutes long 5 are less than 5 minutes long While the course description does denote "an average of 12 minutes" on lectures. This is a case where statistics deceive (using average provides very little in terms of meaning). With The Great Courses, one comes to expect a level of academic excellence/depth/analysis close to a semester-lecture-series. If it has now become "caveat emptor" then the course description pages should not just list the course lectures but also the running time of each leacture. Even when purchased on-sale, Great Courses are a fair investment. Selling this at the same cost levels as a course that does engage a full semester of material marks a demerit to The Learning Company in my book. The brand must now be scrutinized, as product is being marketed as same which are not of same depth. The profiteering of The Learning Company here is an entirely seperate issue from the material in the course and truly does mean you will have to be wary in courses being sold as full content in the future. The course is very worthy, if you are seeking to express your story clearly, Ms Maynard will help you clarify how to do that. She's an excellent teacher, an energetic and clear presenter. She will help you improve your skills, and help you express your perspective (without discounting or demonizing "the other"). That makes it very much worthwhile. Her perspective, as one who has done so, it very much worthwhile and she comes from a place of complete support for expression of our experiences. (Personally I enjoyed the video presentation of the course, although content would probably be derived from audio - video many times works better for me.)
Date published: 2020-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Things everybody should hear to write their story The most important theme it taught is to eschew abstract names of feelings and emotions with concrete descriptions of physical reactions thereto in order to cause the reader to experience them. Three other features of value are the checklist of common grammatical errors which are very common, telling the truth rather than what you think will sell, and not to practice a common popular business world expedient known as "brainstorming." As she put the last admonition, "When you vomit all over the page and think you will find anything of value, all you will get is vomit."
Date published: 2020-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging Presentation Enjoyed the speaker engagement with studio participants as well as the overall presentation.
Date published: 2020-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Ms Maynard! The course is very good. I’m enjoying it very much but moving very slowly.. I had some difficulty accessing a lesson and wrote to Customer Service a few times before I got a response - it actually took SEVEN days for the response. I found the experience very frustrating, Joyce Maynard is down to earth and motivating. I would take additional courses if she were teaching them. The only thing that would give me pause is the service I received from The Great Courses.
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging. With confidence and personality, Professor Dorsey Armstrong tackles the idea of "writing about anything." She engages writers at any level with encouragement and scholarly content.
Date published: 2020-08-01
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