Fearless Memoir

How to overcome fear, unworthiness, and self-doubt and finally write a memoir. By Brad Wetzler, award-winning author, editor, and book writing coach.

Short Memoir: Looking Back on Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," Part II

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...

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Short Memoir: Looking Back on Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air"

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...

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Short Memoir: How Travel, Journaling, and Yoga Bring Us Home to True Love

Working in memoir requires a writer to stand in the fire of truth. This means holding ourselves accountable to seeing what’s true about our lives. Part of my process as a book writing coach is to point clients to ways they can write with a more open heart. Writing well about our life requires us to open our hearts. When one’s heart is open, we bring full awareness and presence to all situations and people. We are capable of writing patiently and honestly about the heartbreak and the ecstasy, as well as the ordinary. We can face the whole catastrophe of being alive, as Zorba might say. And we can do so from a place of wonder and generosity instead of from blame and shame.

Here’s an amazing thing about the human heart: you don’t need a field guide to learn how to open it. Yes, meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practice can help us slow down and develop distance, open space, between what happens to us and how we respond to...

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How Travel Changes Us

In 2011, I spent three months on walkabout in Israel and Palestine. At the time I was struggling with life. I wanted to see if I could believe in a higher power again as I did in my youth. I walked miles and miles in Jesus’ footsteps. Soaking in the Jordan River, I realized that I couldn’t believe again. But I discovered something huge: that no messiah can heal us or fix us. Not pills. Not religious dogma.Not travel. I came home changed. I recommitted to a daily yoga practice that I’d abandoned. On the yoga mat during the next years, I found what I couldn’t find on the road. Myself. Looking back on that pilgrimage, I see that sometimes we have to go external in order to go internal. I mean, it was necessary for me to go on that trip. I didn’t find what I was hoping to find. But I found something different, surprising, and, ultimately, that trip inspired me to do the hard work I needed to do to find myself again after years of self-abandonment....

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Short Memoir: How Yoga Brings Us Closer to Ourselves and a Higher Power

For years, I've sought a connection with the divine. The problem has been that, as much as I desire to believe in something greater than myself, I have a rational side to my mind that requires empirical proof. I was a journalist for years, after all. I excelled at fact-finding and writing from a logical, fact-based perspective. So, as soon as I decide I can believe in a Higher Power, I deconstruct my faith, and I find myself afflicted by doubt again. It's never-ending, torturous even. 

Building on altar was a watershed moment in my spiritual life. It was sweet if chaotic arrangement of statuettes, prayer flags, framed photographs picturing Indian gurus, incense holders, candles, and the precious collar that belonged to my deceased dog Blue.  As I stepped away from it and viewed it from a distance, I saw it as a signal to myself that I had entered a new phase in my spiritual life. By representing my inner life with statues on my...

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Short Memoir: How Dogs Show Us How to Love Unconditionally

When I used to travel a lot as a magazine writer, I tried to work fast so that I could explore more of the countries I visited. I gravitated toward holy sites. Temples, churches, ashrams, ancient ruins, active charnel grounds. I wasn’t a believer, so I wasn’t even sure what “holy” meant. But those sites, with their dim light, pungent incense, burning candles gave me a holy feeling, as if I was connected to something greater than myself. And then, several years ago, while on walkabout in Israel and Palestine, aka The Holy Land, I learned something important. The holy feelings that I’d been seeking weren’t coming from the places I visited. They were within. And these feelings? Well, they were the tip of the iceberg.

I still love to travel. I’m excited to be going back to India this fall. But these days, my vessel of discovery is yoga. I practice because I want to wake up. Way more than a physical activity, yoga shows us life as it really...

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How to Write an Irresistible Book Proposal

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 OverviewThe Outline, and a Sample Chapter.

The Overview

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...

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Short Memoir: Reflections on a Mystical Experience in India

At the age of twelve I had a brush with mortality that changed me. On the first day of a weekend father-son canoe trip in the Ozarks, the canoe carrying my dad and I capsized, and we were both sent overboard into the cold, fast-moving water. In the chaotic next seconds, my lifejacket snagged on a submerged tree, and I was trapped there. Though my mouth remained above water, the rest of me felt the fury of thousands of gallons of water running through a narrow channel. The upriver current flung my torso violently into the log at the same time that the downriver current seemed to claw at my spindly limbs, enticing me to be free. I was terrified, and, for ten minutes, I believed I would die. Eventually, I was rescued, but the event terrified me. It shook my sense of safety in nature, and it instilled in me, at a very young age, a deep knowing of how temporary this life is. In the next years, I became a very spiritual kid, and I latched onto Christianity, the dominant faith of my Kansas...

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Short Memoir: How Dogs Show Us How to Love Unconditionally, Part 2

The morning after my dog Blue died, I woke before dawn, reached into the dark for my phone, and turned it over to a text from a friend: I’m so sorry, Brad. My heart aches for you.

A tear rolled down my cheek, but I didn’t want to wake Kristen. I leaned over, kissed her on the forehead, and crawled out of bed. I put on pants and a sweatshirt. I went downstairs and sat on the couch.

The memories of Blue’s death—the violent vomiting, the scared look in his eyes, the surreal drive to the emergency vet, and my last tearful half-hour with the dog of my dreams—all felt too fresh, too raw, for my foggy, pre-coffee state of mind.

Of course, I had been aware that Blue was aging, but I was certain I would have six months, or more, with him. If only there could have always been six more months with him. His death coming so suddenly wasn’t even a possibility in my mind. Worse, I couldn’t keep myself from wondering that morning if his death was somehow...

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How to Turn Your Writing into a Spiritual Practice

I once wrote a feature story for The New York Times Magazine about “the real Indiana Jones.” His name was Gene Savoy, and I met him at a seaside bar on Oahu’s North Shore. I was riveted by his tales about his swashbuckling days searching Peru’s jungles for forgotten ruins of ancient civilizations. All of his stories were memorable, but one in particular lodged in my mind, and only recently did I grok what he meant. The story was about the time he and his support team became hopelessly lost in remote jungle, and he became convinced they would all die.

 

The Solution: Paying Attention to the Present Moment

“The jungle was impenetrable. During the day, we’d hack our way a few hundred yards, and at night, the jungle would grow back in. One morning, as I was drinking coffee and looking over my maps, I heard a loud ringing sound, like a bell. Curious, I got up and went to where I heard the ringing. I found a team member hacking at...

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