The Book I Recommend Most Often as a Writing Coach

The Book I Recommend Most Often as a Writing Coach

Bravign the Handler (book) by Jessica Handler

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Few books have influenced my writing journey more than Jessica Handler’s Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss. Reading it in graduate school ignited a shift away from academic writing (and academia in general) and toward creative nonfiction, particularly that which addressed topics of personal significance and struggle.

Braving the Fire continues to be the single most recommended book I suggest to clients when working with them as a writing coach. I’ve probably recommended it at some point to 90% of my clients and regularly suggest it to writers whose subject matter does not explicitly involve personal grief and loss, since even the driest academic writing incorporates so much of ourselves and our vulnerabilities that grief (if only over our own inadequacies as writers) frequently comes into play regardless.

In my epic (or freakish, to use my husband’s words) #220for2020 reading quest, I’ve circled back to this beloved book. This time around, I’ve become newly aware of just how well Handler melds the deep threads of grief work with some of the best practical writing advice out there. That is not an easy chasm to bridge! I’m happy to say that my conviction this book is for virtually any writer of any genre has only been strengthened, folks! 

This time around, my favorite quotes from Braving the Fire have been:

“Writing about truly painful subjects, like death, illness, divorce, war–anything that deeply changes your life–is as brave as holding a hand over a flame that’s already burned you once.”

Jessica Handler, Braving the Fire

“Loss transforms the stories that we expected of our lives. We are no longer who we used to be, and our lives no longer work entirely as planned.”

Jessica Handler, Braving the Fire

“Almost all memoirs are ultimately about identity: who we once were, and who we have become. . . . Grief is a fire that’s burned you once, maybe even more than once. In order to write about it, though, you have to hold your hand over that fire again.”

Jessica Handler, Braving the Fire

“A well-made ending is a new beginning. In a memoir of grief and loss, it’s that place on the page when the you, as the author–and when the reader–is satisfied that the protagonist telling the story can make it from here. A good ending fulfills an implicit promise made in the beginning, whether it’s to tell how the survival occurred, or how [you] have grown as a result of the loss.”

Jessica Handler, Braving the Fire

“A writer who doesn’t read greedily is a bit like a chef who limits his taste and only eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Explore what other writers create that captures your imagination, and identify why their stories appeal to you.”

Jessica Handler, Braving the Fire

Are there any books that have helped boost your mood? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!