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Your Life as Story: When “Selfish” is Good for the Memoirist

Pub Date: Jun 1, 2013 | Columnist: Lisa Dale Norton

 

 

 

Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life as Story: Writing Non Fiction
When “Selfish” is Good for the Memoirist
(Part two of a column begun May 2010)

Rerun in June 2013 by popular demand

". . . you must stop worrying about offending other people with your memoir writing."
—NORTON

Last month I spoke here about the need for selfishness in a memoirist, the need to keep your own counsel, to believe that what you have to say is important, and to stop showing your work to random readers before it is time.

I want to build on that notion of selfishness in the narrative nonfiction writer by adding that you must stop worrying about offending other people with your memoir writing. Okay, so maybe you can’t stop worrying, but you can decide to push through the concern and learn to use the craft of writing like a pro. In so doing you will learn ways to stay true to the course of your truth, AND to treat the characters in your stories with the dignity and compassion they deserve.

The act of cutting corners to avoid stepping on other peoples’ toes is a fast way to throttle authentic writing and original voice: If you spend the bulk of your creative energy worrying about your brother and mother and father and cousins, aunts, uncles, step-relations, and the floppy dog down the street you will never say anything that is juicy and private and bold and sassy and true-true-true for you.

"I know, I know, you don’t want to hurt anyone, but you have to be willing to write some writhing first drafts. . ."
NORTON

I know, I know, you don’t want to hurt anyone, but you have to be willing to write some writhing first drafts, punching out the facts and emotions as you remember them, to see what might be in there worth gleaning—and it’s pretty hard to do that if you are worrying about everyone else and not yourself.

So, learning to be selfish—believing in the worth of yourself—is your first assignment.

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