In 3 words: “We all do.” In 3 more words: “Get over it.” In 2 more: “Read this:”
Cheryl Strayed: On “Binge Writing,” Doling Out Advice & Finding Clarity
by Jenn Godbout
Cheryl Strayed believes she was put on this earth to do one thing: write like a motherf*cker. She wrote through her mother’s death, through a divorce, and through a grueling, 1100-mile hike up the Pacific Crest Trail. Yet, when her 30th birthday arrived before her first book, she felt like a failure. Creation for creation’s sake wasn’t enough. She needed to share her art with the world. She needed to publish.
Today, Strayed is the author of the bestselling memoir Wild and a new book called Tiny Beautiful Things, which collects the best work of her alter ego, advice columnist “Dear Sugar.” I chatted with Strayed about how she finally birthed her first book, what she learned by being “Sugar,” and how we can all use writing as a tool for self-discovery.
What kept you going during the years when you hadn’t realized your dream of being published yet?
I was writing. I just wasn’t writing my book (though I thought I was). I kept trying to direct my writing by thinking it all had to become something – a book. But really I needed to do work that would lead up to my ability to write a book. I was learning to write by writing and reading and journaling. I was also growing up, doing that work we all need to do in order to find our place in the world.
I’ve written my whole life, but I would go for months where I wasn’t doing enough. I’ve always been a kind of “binge writer” even in my waitressing days. After not writing for a few months I’d apply to a residency in an artist colony and just go and write for months.
A big part of your Dear Sugar persona has been about encouraging your readers to write. Why?
I often recommend writing as a tool for self-discovery because it’s helped me so much. I use writing in different ways: I write as an artist but I also write when I’m just trying to work through something or make a tough decision. And I think, a lot of times, even people who aren’t writers will write in crisis. They’ll write in their journals after breaking up with someone, even though they haven’t written for two years. That’s because it’s a way to essentially practice your thoughts and see what’s there. Writing forces you to locate your clarity.