“…I feel so fully alive when I’m really into a story. I feel like all my faculties are engaged, and this is where I’m meant to be. It’s probably what a racehorse feels like when it runs. This is what it’s meant to do, what its body is meant to do. This is what my mind is meant to do.”
Laura Hillenbrand, NY Times Interview
What a gift! My wonderful sister Steph emailed me “The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand” — a story in The New York Times about the author of two fabulous nonfiction books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Both books became instant bestsellers — especially Unbroken. But writing this saga of Louis Zamperini’s survival and courage took Laura many years of painstaking work in the face of tremendous handicaps.
Consider this: You’re a nonfiction writer, but you can’t go a library to do research. You can’t interview people face to face. You often find reading impossible. And you can’t promote your books because you rarely leave your home. Laura struggles with all these limitations as a result of chronic fatigue, and yet she’s managed to turn every handicap she faces into an asset and use it to make her writing stronger. Now that’s writing dangerously! Here are a few examples to inspire us all:
Bringing color to her stories: Due to Laura’s illness, she is largely homebound. So instead of using libraries to write Seabiscuit and Unbroken, she relied on other sources. She used Ebay, for example, to buy copies of newspapers from the ’30s and ’40s, which allowed her to immerse herself in the times and add color to her stories. Reading these living documents instead of microfilm spurred her creativity.
Bringing characters to life: Unable to travel, Laura never actually met World War II veteran Louis Zamperini while she was writing Unbroken. And yet, she came to know him intimately through phone interviews. Not working face-to-face proved to be an advantage: Laura was able to freely imagine Louis as a young man even though he was 86 when he first began telling her his story. She logged hundreds of hours of interviews and then mined them for gold.
Bringing richness to her writing: Because of her symptoms, Laura endures long periods when she can’t read, so she’s turned to audiobooks. Over the years listened to hundreds of them, including classics by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Tolstoy, which she believes has actually improved her writing: “It has taught me a lot more about the importance of the rhythm of language. Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it’s read aloud.”
What a remarkable and inspiring story of resilience Laura’s dedication offers us! Think about all the obstacles she’s faced in pursuing her writing career, and yet, with ingenuity and perseverance, she’s surmounted them all to become an admired and beloved writer. What obstacles, what handicaps, are holding us back? Let’s turn them into gold as Laura has — and write on!