How to Tell a Story (Advice from Nora Ephron)

In 2010, I went to see Nora Ephron read from her book I Remember Nothing. Nora Ephron's work has shaped so much of my understanding of womanhood, love, career, and badassery, and she was just as authentic in real life as I had imagined she would be. In that talk, she said something that I think of often: "If you're not going to cook a really good meal just for yourself, who are you going to cook a really good meal for?" In other words--put yourself first. 

Her son just released a documentary called Everything Is Copy, which examined Nora Ephron's life and work, and also her death, which was surprising to nearly everyone who knew her. When I found out that she had died back in 2012, I remember feeling deeply that there were so many stories she had left to tell. In the documentary, there were a few more--and some lessons that I know you'll appreciate as much as I do. 


Own the story. "Everything is copy," is something Ephron's screenwriter mother used to say to her four girls. Whether something horrifying or cringeworthy or awesome happens to you, if you turn it into copy it's your story to tell. Ephron took the shame and heartache and anger that came out of uncovering her husband's infidelity when she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and turned it into the novel, then the movie, Heartburn. We're constantly being told to look forward, not backward. But sometimes, in looking backward, we can find our best material. 

Tell the truth. A reporter once pointed out that Ephron was rather unkind in her representation of a certain celebrity. Ephron retorted, "You have a soft spot for her don't you? I don't. I think she is a spider dipped in chocolate." What made Ephron stand out in her early days was this ability to clearly and succinctly explain what was going on in her head. Okay, so we can't all go around saying exactly what we think of people--but we can stop sugar coating things so much. When people have a clearer understanding of your perspective on things, you may find that you can move forward with more speed. 

Be multifaceted. Do what you want. Her essays full of sharp edged humor and often indelicate observations, so when Ephron started making movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, critics were thrown. But Ephron did make movies that were closer to the style of her essays, and they just didn't work. I hadn't even heard of half of them. Don't feel beholden to just one thing. Just because you're known for one thing does NOT mean you need to abandon another seemingly uncharacteristic passion. 

I didn't know Nora Ephron personally, but I miss her. That's what creating does--it touches people who don't even know you and makes them feel understood. This week, go on creating. You never know who you're reaching. 

Lots of love,
Joy (and Melissa + The Hello Sessions Team)

P.S. One of my favorite Nora Ephron essays