Nancy Slonim Aronie on Writing in Motion and Chasing the Truth

StoryFlow is a series featuring original conversations with Kripalu presenter Lisa Weinert and visionary doctors, writers, yogis, and spiritual leaders about the role of storytelling in their healing and caregiving processes.

Nancy Slonim Aronie is a force of nature. Her teachings inspire writers to speak their truth, to be more present in their lives, and to connect with others. Her approach centers around keeping a sense of safety and positivity at the center of the process.

Nancy writes, “If you feel safe, you can do anything. You can take the risk of saying this is who I am, this is what terrifies me, this is what moves me, this is what makes me laugh. When you take that risk, you dig deep. You will access your innocence, your truth and your vulnerability and then you cannot miss.”

Part of Nancy’s brilliance as a teacher is that she keeps her own vulnerability at the center of the process. Nancy is part of the heart and soul of our annual Narrative Medicine program at Kripalu; along with Judith Hannan, she leads the daily writing workshops that so often evoke unexpected revelations.

Nancy has also been a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered; a Visiting Writer at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut; and a columnist for McCall’s magazine. She was the recipient of the Eye of the Beholder Artist in Residence award at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Teacher of the Year award for all three years she taught at Harvard University.

Lisa How has storytelling worked as medicine in your life?

Nancy Storytelling gives me so much truth and helps me out of denial. It also keeps me vulnerable. It took so long for me to let go and realize that a) I’m not in control and b) I can’t fix everything. Every time I tell my stories when I’m teaching, I cry. It’s very real. Storytelling also gives me clarity. When I speak, that’s fear, but when I write, I get insights.

What comes first, the talking or the writing?

Sometimes I write by talking in my head. I used to run in the woods and I would talk the story in my head while I ran; by the time I got to the typewriter, I had the story in my head. The writing came easily because I had already written it in my head.

In your book on writing as a way to heal, Writing from the Heart, you celebrate a lot of writers who write in motion. For example, Nabokov wrote Lolita while on a road trip.

Exactly. John Updike wrote all day and his wife brought him a sandwich for lunch. I used to tell my husband, Joel, that’s why I’m not writing, because you’re not bringing me a sandwich. When we heard me saying that out loud, we laughed so hard.

There are a million excuses for not doing the work. It’s true that there are some people who have five kids or three jobs—there’s no time in the day. However, my excuses were lame. What got me going was starting to run at the age of about 32. I ran each morning, and it was the most liberating and freeing thing. I became the disciple of my own soul. I hadn’t ever done anything hard or pushing myself. I didn’t know about the joy of pushing myself.

You write about writing as your feminist awakening. Tell us more about that.

I had a meek mother growing up. The famous women in my life were Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds, tiny women who giggled and manipulated to get what they wanted. But by sixth grade, I was already six feet tall. I didn’t feel sexy and I didn’t feel beautiful, and I had accepted that girls don’t write. But I also knew that I had a power because I could make my father laugh. That was all the power I needed! I could dispel anyone’s anger or attitude by making them laugh. I always had my voice, and I learned to trust it.

In this video, Nancy takes us through her original approach to writing, creativity, and discipline.

Find out about upcoming programs with Nancy Slonim Aronie and Lisa Weinert at Kripalu.

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Lisa Weinert, RYT-200, is passionate about powerful voices and the potential for storytelling to heal and transform lives. She offers book coaching programs and online courses and teaches at Wesleyan University.

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