How I Coached Jon Krakauer to Write the Story that Only He Could Tell
Last week, I posted Part I of the story of my involvement with "Into Thin Air." That post told the behind-the-scenes story of the days during and immediately after the storm that killed climbers during the 1996 season. Today, I'm posting a short blog essay about the process of coaching Jon Krakauer to tell the story about what happened on Everest. To this day, Krakauer is a dogged journalist and talented writer. Editing him was a highlight of my seven years working as an editor at Outside. I know Jon wishes he'd never gone to Everest. I understand why. However, I'm grateful to Jon and Outside magazine for giving me the opportunity to have this experience.
Here's my latest blog essay:
I can still hear the buzzing and burping of the fax machine as it started to spit out Jon Krakauer’s first draft of “Into Thin Air.”
It was early June 1996, a few weeks after the infamous storm on Mount Everest...
Sending Jon Krakauer to Everest was my idea. After the news broke, I spent the better part of a day wondering if I’d put him in a frozen grave.
IT WAS THE WORST STORY IDEA idea an editor could come up with, let alone assign to a real human being. That’s how I felt on Saturday, May 11, 1996, the day I heard Jon Krakauer had disappeared while reporting for Outside on the growing phenomenon of commercially guided trips up Mount Everest a story I’d conceived and helped make happen by dealing with an endless stream of logistical headaches. None of that mattered when I heard Krakauer was missing in a deadly high-altitude blizzard. Had I sent him to his death?
Just 24 hours earlier, of course, I’d considered myself a genius. On the morning of May 10, Mark Bryant, Outside‘s editor, made an announcement at the daily editorial meeting in our Santa Fe office. “I have news from Jon Krakauer’s wife,” he quietly told some two dozen...
Seeing our planet–the entire misty blue sphere–from outer space changes one’s perspective. Astronauts who’ve experienced this say it’s like a mystical experience. It changed them.
This big shift in consciousness is called The Overview Effect. The term was coined by astronaut Frank White. He wrote that he was profoundly changed from seeing the earth as a fragile ball of life hanging in the void and nourished by a thin atmosphere. From space, the conflicts that divide people seemed unimportant. International borders are a fiction. White was overcome by feelings that we humans should unite and cooperate. We are all interconnected.
I heard similar stories from the cosmonauts I met years ago in Star City, Russia, while reporting a magazine feature story about Space Station Mir. The men and women who lived on that spacecraft were orbiting earth, so they didn’t see the full “pale blue dot.” But they, too, were changed. They spoke with...
I want to tell you about a book that, each time I open it, makes me a better writer. You probably haven’t heard of it, or of the author, Ted Solotaroff. It’s not a best-seller like Bird by Bird or a popular favorite like Stephen King’s On Writing. In fact, I’ve never seen another copy of this essay collection other than the coffee-stained, dog-eared one I own. But this book—just one essay in it, actually—is my savior. It’s my savior during dark nights of the soul, when I lurch, when I desire to say something meaningful and truthful, when I wish to say it in MY own unique and original voice.
I bought my copy of A Few Good Voices in My Head at a used bookstore in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood during my graduate school years. I don’t recall the shop’s name, but walking its aisles was a Saturday afternoon ritual, especially during the dead of a brutal Chicago winter when the snow flies...
Years ago, I committed to a daily yoga practice after two decades of casual three-days-per-week practice. Within months, I saw tangible results. I became more fit, more flexible, a little happier, a little less reactive, and even more connected to my spiritual self, which I’d abandoned years earlier. All good stuff. I kept at it. The boons continued. And there was another, less anticipated result: daily yoga lit a fire within me to learn more about this ancient practice that promoted health, healing, and deeper spiritual connection.
What happened next?
I was a journalist and the author of a book about nature. I did what a journalist/author would do. I read everything I could get my hands on about yoga. It soon struck me that there was no end to what I could learn about yoga. I kept at it. My bookshelf became a yoga library. But I realized that reading about yoga was woefully inadequate. I needed to learn about yoga in-person from a teacher or teachers. Next, I...
Writing a memoir or narrative nonfiction book requires a wide range of skills. You've got to be able to do it all: organize thoughts, structure chapters, report the facts, and, after all the big-picture stuff, you must also pay attention to the smallest of details such as grammar and punctuation. It's a big job, but it's very doable with focus, inspiration, hard work, and stamina.
That said, in book writing, one skill trumps all. If you want to draw an audience and make a splash in the world, you must tell great stories.
In today's blog post, I want to share a powerful tool that I use in my writing, which will help you write your very best memoir or nonfiction book. I call this tool The Magic Formula of Storytelling.
Here's what the Magic Formula looks like: V + C + S = A Great Story.
What in the world is that, you ask?
Let me break down the meaning behind all these letters and symbols.
V stands for vulnerability....
Do you seek to publish your nonfiction book with a traditional publisher? Then you’ll want to write a compelling book proposal.
To help you get started, I’m offering you this free guide to writing your book proposal.
I am an experienced book-proposal coach. I help people write powerful, irresistible book proposals. If you’d like my expert guidance through this process, please email me at [email protected] to set up your free 30-minute phone consult. I offer several book-proposal coaching packages on my website: bradwetzler.com/book-proposal-coaching
I hope you find this guide useful.
Understand The Parts of a Proposal
Most proposals range from 35 to 50 pages and have three parts: The Overview, The Outline, and a Sample Chapter.
Your overview must prove that you have a marketable, practical idea and that you are the right person to write about it and promote it. Provide as much ammunition about you and your book as you...
Writing is more like yoga than you might think.
Both disciplines require learning specific rules and vocabularies. Yoga has its 8 Limbs, one of which is asana, or the physical poses that most Westerners consider to be yoga. Each asana asks the yogi to hold the body in a specific and precise way. By focusing on the mechanics of the pose and sitting in the uncomfortableness, we see ourselves in a mirror. We learn things about ourselves.
Writing-crafting sentences out of symbols composed of curved and straight lines-is similar. When we write, we see ourselves in a mirror and learn things about ourselves. Things that we couldn’t see before we did the writing.
Both disciplines can lead to waking up from the trance that afflicts us all when we get consumed by the demands of work, home, and society. When we do yoga or write, we experience ourselves in a deeper and more subtle way. This isn’t spiritual mumbo jumbo. We actually become more human.
Both disciplines can be thought...
As a book writing coach, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to help my clients. Sometimes ideas come to me while watching Netflix.
I recently watched Bruce Springsteen on Broadway on Netflix. Springsteen’s playing is rousing. His storytelling, more so. But the show’s true gift is watching Springsteen unmask himself. He bashes myths about himself that he spent a lifetime creating. He even speaks about his struggles around mental illness. A fascinating moment happens ninety minutes into the two-hours-plus show when Springsteen talks about the magic that happens between members of a rock band. I suspect he’s talking more broadly about the magic that happens when we enter a relationship with another human or when we create art. Here’s a quote: When you join a band, “there is a communion of souls, and a quest, the quest has begun, and adventure is undertaken, and you ride shotgun. The principles of math get stood on their...