I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I am looking at, what I see, and what it means - Joan Didion

What Would Joan Do? is an eight-week online writing course that combines an analysis of trauma studies, expressive writing pedagogy, and Joan Didion’s memoirs. This course seeks to provide students with a space to learn about contemporary understandings of trauma and the successful ways Didion explores the universal nature of the trauma experience through writing. Moreover, this course asks students to consider how public-facing writing on trauma is a valuable tool in our current moment and how they might interject into this conversation through an understanding of Didion. The creation of this course investigates the ways written disclosure is a multifaceted tool, one that is limited when defined to a singular, therapeutic understanding. It is within the writing classroom that the impact of written communication is reevaluated and reimagined. Thus, an open forum teaching space seems the most logical place to suggest expanding our understanding of the trauma memoirs’ purpose and impact.

This course is divided into four two-week modules: What is ‘trauma’?; Who is Joan?; How does Joan do it?; and How can you do it?. Each week of the course contains suggested reading assignments, a brief written lecture, and suggested weekly and bi-weekly writing assignments that can be posted on the public forum. Students are encouraged to engage with other participants of the course on the public form and are asked to adhere to the following ‘classroom conduct’ policies:

  • Participants will assist in creating a safe and inclusive space for all who choose to share their writing publicly;
  • Participants will offer constructive feedback on writing and writing alone;
  • Participants will maintain an open mind to others’ ideas and perspectives.


Before we begin, we must first discuss a few other necessary disclaimers:


  • It is important to note that this course examines how trauma memoirs can be understood as something more extensive than a personal means of therapy. In this same vein, writing done in relation to this course is not intended to serve as therapy. 
  • While participants are encouraged to submit completed weekly writing assignments to the online community forums, this is not a requirement. The online format of this course affords participants a certain level of privacy and agency in that they can choose how transparent they would like to be with their information and writing. To address the inevitable concerns that accompany online writing and community engagement – whether these concerns are rooted in receiving negative responses to a submitted work or no responses at all – What Would Joan Do? has created a few mitigating policies to ensure a safe and positive online community space is maintained.
    • The creator of this site – who has researched and created the course design and weekly lecture materials will act as the ‘instructor’ for this course through not only the monitoring of submissions for weekly assignments but also offering feedback to every individual who chooses to submit to the online community forum. Moreover, the creator of this site also reserves the right to monitor and remove, as needed, peer comments on submissions to the online community forums. Finally, it is also important to note that What Would Joan Do? is not a course intended to be evaluative but instead an online, communal learning space.
    • Participants can choose to stay anonymous in their posting on the communal writing forums.

    • While this course does not ask students to write about their own trauma, its focus on trauma might inspire writing focused on this topic. Should students experience any negative or confusing feelings as a result of engaging with work focused on trauma or writing about their own trauma, below are a list of online, readily available resources for participants should they need support:

“Time,” Didion said, “is the school in which we learn.” Time is of the essence – what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!

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