Turning Life Into Literature – Cheryl Strayed (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 yesterday, Cheryl Strayed explained the scene that is the emotional core of her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, during her April 2 event in northern Colorado.

 In Part 2, below, I share memorable quotes and tips from her appearance.

 The Trip

  • “Instinctually, that feeling when I picked up that guidebook, Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California, I was listening to an ancient lesson…I was making my own rite of passage.”
  • “I thought I would reflect on things and everything would feel better.” But hiking long distance was painful and hard. Her feet hurt. Her back hurt. “I really had to enact that forward motion, one foot in front of the other.”
  • On hitchhiking during her trip: “I tried to assess really quickly whether someone was a serial killer.” She decided the man wearing a funny t-shirt wouldn’t hurt her: “Visualize Whirled Peas…You can’t wear that and then behead someone.”

Writing

  • She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 and didn’t begin writing the book until she felt like she had something to say, 13 years later in 2008. “I wrote the book when it was time to write the book.”
  • “I had no idea so many people would read it,” she said of Wild. “I wouldn’t have put half that shit in there.”
  • Question: What scenes didn’t make it into the book?
    • Answer: The married businessman who invited her into his camping trailer for dinner, then asked, “Would you like to see my porn collection?
  • Question: How do you write in such vivid detail of past events?
    • Answer: “I have a good memory…but also, the way writing works is you sit and write what you do remember, like talking to someone from high school…” and details reveal themselves in re-telling the story.
    • As she entertained the audience with the businessman story, she remembered his exact words after paraphrasing it: “Can I interest you in my porn collection?” which she said is a more interesting line. “When you’re writing, you uncover the first layer, then the second layer…If I don’t remember the color of a shirt, I’ll tell you whatever I decide the shirt is.”
  • Writing fiction: “That’s what writers do,” Strayed said of the characters who inhabit our fictional worlds. “We put them in a room and fuck them up.”
  • It was enlightening to dispense anonymous advice to anonymous people via the “Dear Sugar” column in TheRumpus.com. Her words were compiled in the book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. An often-quoted pearl: “Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
  • Learning to write well: “Apprentice yourself to the craft…,” submit to publications that welcome writing of your skill level. “You have to get used to rejection but keep the faith. You can do that.”
  • Continuing to write despite rejections from agents and publications: “Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”

Life

  • On her father, who was abusive: she remembers later “feeling grateful to him as my dark teacher.”
  • Question: “What advice do you have for a girl who wants to go on a journey by herself?”
    • Answer: “Everything I said in Wild. It’s not like people are dying in droves out there on the trails. Do they [the skeptics] have the statistics to back that up [that you shouldn’t go by yourself?]. No, they don’t. So go.”
  • “Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.”

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4 comments

  1. I appreciate reading and hearing what any author says about their writing processes. Thank you for adding more highlights – especially the businessman. It made me smile.

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