After all these years of meeting, interviewing and even becoming friends with published authors, you’d think I would have lost my habit of getting starstruck. But nope! I’m a big dork when it comes to meeting a literary idol, or even just a literary person I admire. And of course, when a book becomes as big a hit as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, it’s easy to believe the person behind the writing is no longer on earth.
On the contrary, Cheryl Strayed was so much on earth she helped ground me back into some very basic things I’d not exactly forgotten about writing, but perhaps gotten cocky about thinking I already know them so well. So here are my few tiny insights gleaned from her lovely workshop, the talk she gave and the writing exercises she led us through.
- Stories live in our bodies. Our own stories, and those of others. For many of us writers, the act of writing is a necessary pressure valve, to release these rambling stories onto the page.
- What is the big question driving your writing that can become universal, beyond you? For Cheryl it was “How can I live without my mom” which turned into “How can I bear the unbearable?” I’d have to say mine is something like: “Why was I abandoned/neglected?” Which translates into: “How do we learn to take care of ourselves in the world?”
- It’s perfectly okay to write a story terribly. Cheryl’s words were “It’s better to write a book that kind of sucks than none at all.” In this, she’s talking about first drafts, about getting those words out.
- BUT: until you strive to make “art” out of the experience or story, it’s just a bunch of words or journal purge. She wasn’t talking about genre or snobbery either, she was saying that there are two things: 1) The messy, beautiful imperfect experience and the profound act of writing that down, and 2) Shaping and crafting that story to be able to speak to others in a meaningful way. If you don’t shape it, you can’t expect others to FEEL what you’re trying to elicit.
- Revising is the way you make that beautiful shape and meaning.
That’s enough for today. I’m looking forward to reading her novel Torch and savoring her Tiny, Beautiful Things column as Dear Sugar.