Lisa Dale Norton

Guilty Pleasures for the Memoirist

by Lisa Dale Norton 

May, 2015

“Here are a baker’s dozen of guilty pleasures for writing-weary memoirists . . .”
—Lisa Dale Norton

Writing memoir is hard work. You spend hours gazing into your past, mining memories for emotions and details, and coming to insights that can be hard to accept–and then you have to translate it all into a story readers can’t put down. Whew!

It’s easy to get worn out, and to feel oddly lodged in some distant time. The world outside your windows looks foreign. The message on your phone rocks you with surprise–What is this daily concern? Just the other day I left my office after a particularly thorny session of writing and was stunned to find myself surrounded by 2015 model cars, so convincing was the research I’d been doing into the 1940s, and so swaddling the memories of the 1960s I’d been working on that day.


To rejoin the world pulsing around you, you need to awaken your senses–tastes, smells, sounds, and the sensations of the body. Here are a baker’s dozen of guilty pleasures for writing-weary memoirists:

Smelling your world:
1. What smells fill your morning routine? Do you pay attention? Discover one aroma that routinely punctuates your morning. Name it.
2. Smell the spring flowers. (Don’t just look at them, get down there and smell!) Put your nose in a blooming bush along a familiar walking route.
3. Visit a specialty tea shop. Ask to smell three different blends. Don’t drink. Just smell.

Tasting your world:
4. Eat something spicy and describe what spicy feels like to your mouth. Write it down.
5. Eat something crunchy. What does crunchy taste like?
6. Eat your favorite food. Do not listen to the news, your kids, or watch a YouTube video. Just taste the pleasure.

Hearing your world:
7. Tune into the innocent voices of small children at play. No judgment.
8. For just one minute–60 whole seconds–listen to the myriad songs and chirpings of the spring time birds.
9. Play music and pay attention to the notes or lyrics instead of letting it drop into background noise.

Feeling your world:
10. Sprint during your jog, or speed up the pace of your walk. Move fast enough and long enough to feel the perfect rhythm of your lungs.
11. Imagine your water heater has died. Wash your hair in cold water. That will wake up your scalp, and your brain!
12. In the midst of that next hug, witness the feel of arms around you and the emotion communicated by your loved one’s touch. Pause. Breathe.
13. Tonight when you slide into bed, take a breath to notice the weight of the blankets. Register the feel of comfort.

Lisa Dale Norton

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