Braving the Fire by Jessica Handler

Loss can transform the stories that we expected of our lives.We’re not always just who we used to be, and our lives no longer follow the path we’d intended.  But  shaping what we know into narrative is one of the oldest ways we humans have made sense of our world.

I think that the best way to start writing about the tough stuff is to jump right in. Don’t worry about the order of events yet, or even giving too much thought right now to the “why” of things.  You’ll be surprised what your own writing can do. Try your hand at one – or all three – of these prompts, and see what your own story shows you.

1. What’s the most understanding thing anyone’s ever said to you about your loss? How did you react? How do you wish you had reacted? Write a scene that depicts these moments, remembering to use signal phrases like, “I wish,” or “If I had known,” in order to be accurate.

2. Write a page about your reasons for wanting to write the true story of your grief. You might want to start by giving yourself a prompt such as, “how am I different since ____.”

3. What are you not writing about? Write an honest letter to yourself,  and feel free to burn it or shred it after you’ve taken that feeling with you to your memoir-in-progress.

“Braving the Fire is the best book about memoir writing I’ve read. Jessica Handler provides a brilliant, empathic, and sturdy guide to help us begin, develop, and complete a work of art dealing with those difficult subjects we might fear exploring but which will become the wellspring of our most profound work.” 

- Louise DeSalvo, author of Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

Learn more about Braving the Fire from St. Martin’s Griffin.

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