Writing Narrative Nonfiction: Observation

July 30, 2009
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: Writing Narrative Nonfiction
Observation 


by Lisa Dale Norton

". . . by paying attention I find clarity."
—NORTON

I am struck again by the most basic of writerly skills. I have packed in to the old family cabin for the summer to work on a book, and the watchword is: Observe. Starting from scratch on a project I find that when I feel empty, or can not sort out the complex of ideas plaguing me, by paying attention I find clarity.

"What do we see, hear, feel, smell and taste?"
NORTON

The sun slants low on the horizon. Barbecue grills fire around the neighborhood. The smell of steaks drifts in the window. Mourning doves coo. Puffy clouds ride the blue sky. Outside this window I see maple trees, split rail fence, neighbors crowding the golf carts they ride around the Lake.

It all starts here with the most fundamental of narrative nonfiction tasks. What do we see, hear, feel, smell and taste? Spend a few minutes paying attention and recording the world. Describe what is right in front of you. See where it takes you.

"We can not tell rich stories of our lives, our adventures and insights, if we can not observe the details. . ."
NORTON

We can not tell rich stories of our lives, our adventures and insights, if we can not observe the details, so practice each day. Just a few lines.

If we can return to this basic, we can remember the core of what makes writing narrative nonfiction joyous: the sheer act of translating into words the act of perception.

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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