Review: CreativeLive class - "How to Write a Full-Length Memoir" with Joyce Maynard

I received a free class from CreativeLive in exchange for an honest review. I have taken other self-paced online classes and even have taught a lit-based online course. I enjoy the format of being able to watch and rewatch lessons and to piecemeal my learning where and when it is relevant.

I chose Joyce Maynard’s How to Write a Full-Length Memoir for a number of reasons. I had read her At Home in the World about her love affair with J.D. Salinger and early career and first marriage. I thought it was an excellent memoir, honest and elegant and unapologetic. I have also written a couple of memoir drafts and struggled to make the chapters cohesive. I’m so tremendously glad I chose this class. It was truly more than I expected. The class itself is actually exhaustive learning—I had to take a few days to go through the lessons as they are full of vulnerable stories and practical methods that I’d never used before.

The initial high-level advice about memoir writing Maynard offers isn’t very revolutionary. You can find much of the same advice in Susan Shapiro’s book The Byline Bible on personal essays. I agree with much of the advice, such as not writing to burn someone and not writing about every detail that happens to a person in a season. I just didn’t find it groundbreaking.

The setup works for the digital student but the “audience” setup for the class seemed a little clinical. I wasn’t sure if this was an episode of “The Doctors” with a studio audience watching Dr. Joyce do surgery on their sentences. But once she put the students in the chair next to her, it felt much more intimate. I LOVED the session - Lesson #14 “When you aren’t used to being centre of attention” - with sports journalist Tom Callahan. As a writer, Callahan was working with fascinating material. As a student of memoir, though, Callahan benefited from Maynard helping him find his central theme and throughway for shaping his book.

Sign Up at CreativeLive

Other wonderful high points for me:

  • Very generous analysis of one critical scene in At Home in the World - super gripping and a good scaffolding of how the scene works

  • Lovely and generous live critiques of her students’ work - first sentences shown on a projected screen. Maynard does a great job procuring from the students why the information is important, what the material means, how they can stretch themselves as writers.

  • Helping the students to identify a theme that runs throughout their stories is very actionable and is certainly something I took away from this class as I could see how one susses it out from an ordinary paragraph full of sequential events and other information.

  • The way Maynard shows how she categorized themes for her memoir The Best of Us was an excellent tactical show-and-tell.

The pricepoint for the class, roughly $150, seems more than fair given the material, the rare and intimate looks Maynard offers on her own writing and the coaching she does for several writers in various stages of memoir writing. The course contains 25 live lessons — that’s just over $5/lesson with a master teacher. The added benefit of being able to rewatch the videos makes CreativeLive such an excellent venue and I am considering purchasing Maynard’s Personal Essay course next.

If you’re interested in becoming a CreativeLive affiliate, as well, you can!

You can also take $5 off your first class using the code JOINUS.

On seeing the typeset cover of your book proposal

Seeing your name in typeset is sort of worth all the rejections you've experienced in this nerdy thing that you do. What's more, when your kid reads the cover page of the proposal with recognition: "Lee. Fam-I-Lee?" it's among the most affirming moments in life.


Re: that book that I'm not really talking about

I am still in the phase where Nothing is Happening with my book. And by that I mean, we aren't ready to shop it for a publisher yet because we are still fine-tuning my proposal, which has gone through at least a dozen revisions. This is not a bad thing. In fact, I would choose the agency all over again, if given the chance to choose the agency all over again. My agent Heidi is incredibly thorough and dedicated to my project. She understands my heart for this book about the family we don't choose, but whom we choose to love, and the God who still chooses to love us. She understands the dilemmas I have as a writer shaping this book about my own life. She has read the manuscript a bazillion times, not because she's making a huge fortune by doing so. In fact, she hasn't yet made a dime off this work. That sort of blows my mind that someone who isn't yet paid cares so much about the quality of this whole package deal.

Let me tell you about the revisions, though. They pull all my guts out and stuff them in the dryer on a superfast spin cycle. Then they pack them back into my body bag and sew me up with twine. These revisions are a special operation. I usually love editing: other people's writing and even my own. This task of revising, though, holds some serious gravity. I've got a revising complex because these are words for a publisher to read and flirt with and fall into like with and maybe fall in love with, ultimately. For example, this one sentence that serves a sort of preamble to the proposal? I have stared at it for hours. This is not usually my m.o. Inspiration will usually strike me any old time, like while I am brushing my teeth or reading a book or while I am driving my kids home from school and listening to an old Hall & Oates song and then BAM! That's it! I'll just say, "I can't go for that (no can do)!" This one proposal sentence, though, just paralyzes me.

I am sincerely glad to be going through this exercise, though. I am learning to market my writing which is something somewhat new for me. I am also learning to appreciate this process that makes a believer out of oneself in one's own work. I used to think that all was an automatic residual: that one's confidence in one's work, if one had spent considerable time on it, was pretty much assured. So! Utterly! Untrue. I can work forever on my manuscript but if I'm not able to identify the key reasons why it is valuable, and will prove valuable to a readerly audience--then what? Big fat nothing is what.

So I push on, believing that we are closer, believing there is value in the process and in the product.


And just for ol' time's sake, here's my toss into the #ThrowbackThursday ring.

Baby Girl's first Red Sox game - Sept. 2008

go sawx