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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Why Writers Need More Self-Compassion and How to Cultivate It

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...

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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 a Daily Writing Practice Can Lead Us Back to Our True Self

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 deeper and more subtle way. This isn’t spiritual mumbo jumbo. We actually become more human.

Both...

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Yoga and My Quest for True Self

A consistent yoga practice can be powerful. It’s like standing in front of a mirror and staring at your reflection. This can be frightening for anybody, but for a middle-aged man it is especially so.

First, you see things that surprise or shock you. Is my belly really that lumpy? Is my hair that gray? With time, these judgments soften some. But then it can be easy to swing too far in the opposite direction. “On second thought, I don’t look too bad for 52. My stomach may not be a six-pack, but look at those arms! They’re coming along! All those chaturangas I’ve been doing have yielded some nice deltoids. I don’t look half-bad. I can add some sit-ups, but otherwise, Brad, you’re looking good!”

But if you stand at the mirror longer still, your feel-good thoughts fade, too. If you’re lucky, you land, finally, in self-acceptance. You accept the good with the bad and the handsome with the ugly. But more likely, you will overshoot...

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Short Memoir: On Finding Your Author Voice

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...

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Short Memoir: A Middle-Age Man Grows Up to Be a Yoga Teacher

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In February 2017, a few weeks after my 51st birthday and on the twisting road to becoming a middle-aged yoga instructor, I skulked through the orange-themed lobby at a Boulder, Colorado, CorePower Yoga studio. Past the racks of Lululemon yoga pants and T-shirts that read...
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How to Cultivate a Bigger View in Writing and Life

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...

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Yoga of Writing

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...

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