Writing Narrative Non Fiction: Going to the River

September 29, 2010
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Lisa Dale Norton

 

Lisa Dale Norton

 

Your Life as Story: Writing Narrative Non Fiction
Going to the River

Lisa Dale Norton

October, 2010

"Outsiders think we writers live some magical life where we sit around and drink lattes all day . . ."
—NORTON

I walked the Cedar River again the other day. It’s late in the season for walking in the water, but rivers in the Sandhills are spring fed and run temperate year round. So, even if the air cooled quickly as the sun sank, the water warmed me.

I drove down to the old river bridge as I always do when I am writing: to seek sustenance. Writing narrative nonfiction that rises out of life experience can be exhausting. Outsiders think we writers live some magical life where we sit around and drink lattes all day schmoozing with . . . well, with whom I don’t know. Important people, I suppose. We sleep late and drink too much and are overly emotional, and for some of us varying degrees of that stereotype are true, but those books and articles we write don’t—poof!—appear out of air as if conjured by the touch of a wand. Regularly we come to our computers or notebooks and write, and that work is hard, especially if you are mining your memory for details of description and metaphorical nuance. Spending long hours looking at the images in your head and practicing the art of translating them onto the page isn’t some task where you zone out with headphones.

"It’s the serious business of paying attention to the subtle cues of mental presentation, emotional response, physical reaction. . . "
NORTON

It’s the serious business of paying attention to the subtle cues of mental presentation, emotional response, physical reaction and then the astute handling of all those with compassion and craft-oriented efficiency.

And it can all just wear a girl out.

I go to the river to watch the water move. No resistance. To remind myself of how life and art must flow. I go to the river to be surprised by great blue herons, deer, song birds, snakes, coons, wild turkeys, and of course my talismans hawks. And always I am filled in ways that take me to my knees.

"Do you go to the river to find solace when you work? What serves as your river?"
NORTON

Do you go to the river to find solace when you work? What serves as your river? If you are feeling at a loss today about your story, I urge you into the natural world, even if it is just your backyard or a neighborhood spot of green. Go. Be quiet. Watch. When you come back to the page, the words will rise from this fertile place.

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