Narrative Non Fiction: Writing from the Scary Place

October 29, 2009
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Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: Writing Narrative Non Fiction

By Lisa Dale Norton

November 1, 2009

". . .if you are unwilling to explore the tough stuff, it’s unlikely you will create a story that will grip readers. . ."
—NORTON

Writing From the Scary Place

I had a conversation with a client recently that reminded me of a key aspect of writing memoir, the most personal form of narrative non fiction. If you are not feeling uncomfortable with the material you are writing, the images and personal revelations you are bringing to the page, then you are not going deep enough. You are skimming the surface, summarizing. Staying safe. And I can guarantee you that if you are unwilling to explore the tough stuff, it’s unlikely you will create a story that will grip readers and keep them riveted to your tale. Readers worship at the altar of memoir to witness the truth of another person’s life, to learn the nuances of all that has been lived, to understand the realities of how wisdom is won. Getting to this kind of truth means taking risks. It means writing from the scary place.

When I go to my writing desk these days, I feel the alchemy of dread and yearning vortexing around me, a desire to relive past moments, and a repulsion at the thought of having to do so.

". . .being willing to paint the details and seek the insights is the only way to  unearth the essence of my experience. . ."
NORTON

And yet, I know that being willing to paint the details and seek the insights is the only way to  unearth the essence of my experience. Sometimes during this process I have to stop writing, put my head in my hands and remind myself to breathe. And then I go on. This is what we do as memoirists. We find beauty in pain, laughter in embarrassment. We mine memory for everything authentic it can teach.

Going to the scary place requires courage

"Staying in the scary place long enough to write a piece of memoir requires fearlessness. . ,"
NORTON

 

 

 

 Staying in the scary place long enough to write a piece of memoir requires fearlessness, and faith, the dogged belief that emerging from the other end of the story you will greet a day wholly unlike this day. You will see your life with kinder heart, with wiser eyes.

Travel well on your journey to the scary place and and know that you are not alone. Clustered about you are writers hundred-fold, reporting from the quiet of their lives—in coffee shops, at stark desks, on porches splashed with sunshine, hands racing to keep pace with the words, spilling to the page.

 

About Lisa Dale Norton Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

 

 

 

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This post was written by Lisa Dale Norton