December 17, 2017

What Makes Wild Special

IMG_1935Wild is everywhere these days, and so it’s no surprise that Cheryl Strayed keynoted at the San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Conference, which kicked off last night. And she was great.

What strikes me most about Cheryl is her presence. She’s authentic and real. She is the character you meet and grow to care about in Wild. But Wild has become much bigger than Cheryl Strayed at this point. It’s one of those rare memoirs that has launched into the stratosphere and become the next big memoir that every author will try to compare their work to. Just like Eat, Pray, Love and The Glass Castle before it, it’s setting the bar for new memoirists and also giving memoirists everywhere hope for what’s possible to achieve with memoir. These are a few of Cheryl’s key points from last night:

“Real transformation doesn’t happen in one moment; it happens over a series of moments.”

This statement should set memoir writers free. There’s a lot of pressure to wrap up a memoir with a single important takeaway for the reader and to tie up everything just so. But Cheryl’s point is that writing a memoir is a journey, one that’s full of a million little ah-has. Use these insights to your advantage, and draw out your takeaways over the course of your whole book.

 

“What I faced on the trail schooled me in how to be a writer.”

For Cheryl it was the trail. For others of us it may have been another experience—travel, loss, facing yourself, coming out of something difficult. She made the point that out there on the trail no one was going to come to her rescue. She had to take care of herself, and rely on herself, and the same has been true in her writing. What struck me here is the perseverance of someone like Cheryl, on the trail and in her writing. Her brand of tenacity and spunk has served her well.

 

“People have reflected back to me a million times what my story is actually about.”

I love this. And writers must understand its importance. Your memoir, at the end of the day, is not about you. It’s about your readers and what they take away from the experience. People are looking for a mirror. They will resonate so powerfully with certain parts of your book, because those are the parts that spoke to them and inform their story. You can’t necessarily set out to write a book that mirrors others, but in paying attention to universal truths and larger themes, you can tap into what’s essentially true about your own memoir and begin to be buoyed by the ways in which your story is bigger than you are.

 

Thanks to Cheryl for her wonderful book and heartfelt keynote!

Comments

  1. Lovely post, Brooke, thank you for taking the time to write it up. I especially appreciate your highlighting Cheryl’s point that transformation is a series of moments. Sometimes these moments on their own seem random and insubstantial. But when a memoirist realizes the deeper story and, thus, which moments to craft into scenes or chapters as part of the bigger whole, they deliver magic for both writer and reader. I love that you’re reporting from Mexico! Talk to you next week, Marilyn

  2. Brooke Warner says:

    Thanks for your comment, Marilyn! It’s also interesting to hear someone like Cheryl, who of course had no idea what a huge success her memoir would become, talk about the process of writing about what matters. She simply said she was interesting in writing about how someone bears the unbearable—which for her was her life when she set out on this journey. Really good stuff.

  3. Hi Brooke,
    I was at that talk in San Miguel, (and at your outline class). Have just been re-reading the notes I took from that talk, and now found your summary–thanks so much! It’s perfect, just what I needed. It was such an inspiring week in Mexico, working now on maintaining that momentum in the midst of parenting a toddler and a teen and working inbetween!
    Am going to sign up for the Craft of Memoir course now.

    • Brooke Warner says:

      Thanks, Dhana! It was such an inspiring week. We welcome you to Craft of Memoir. Thanks for your comment.

  4. In my memoir, Know that I have Lived, I aimed for precisely what you point out: universality and the bigger themes within my life. I now teach memoir writing courses and encourage my students to look for those in their writing… to emphasize the linkages! Memoir writing really does help us know ourselves better!

  5. I am one of the millions who love Wild. Thank you for this recap of Cheryl’s talk. I hope to see her in person one day but meanwhile I look forward to your free discussion on what made Wild so successful. Thanks. Lori from AfricaInside.org

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  1. […] at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. We kicked off last night with a keynote by Cheryl Strayed. Read more here. This morning I presented one of the first workshops, whose focus […]

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