Cheryl Strayed’s writing tips

Photo of Cheryl Strayed by Ben Brink, The Oregonian
Photo of Cheryl Strayed by Ben Brink, The Oregonian

I saw the movie Wild yesterday, which is based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed. That reminded me that she has a list of advice to new writers on her website. It’s a bit buried down towards the bottom of her FAQ page, so I thought I’d reproduce it here:

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

1. Write a lot. But do it on your schedule. This might be every day. It might not be. The point is not to follow other people’s rules but to make your own. Then follow them.
2. Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Be in a hurry to become the best writer you can be.
3. Find the work that moves you the most deeply and read it over and over again. I’ve had many great teachers, but the most valuable lessons I learned were from writers on the page. Study the sentences your favorite writers made until they live in your bones.
4. Find your tribe and honor it. Become friends with other writers. Exchange work. Talk shop. Ask them questions about how they write. Tell them about how you do. This will make you feel less alone and you’ll share a bond with people who know what it is you’re up to on a core level. Be happy for them when they have successes. You’ll be glad they’re happy for you when your day arrives.
5. Do your homework. If you want to publish your writing, research what that means. There is so much information available about everything you want to know. It’s your job to seek it. Don’t expect anyone to hand it to you. Apprentice yourself to the craft and the profession.
6. Be brave. Write what’s true for you. Write what you think. What about what confuses you and compels you. Write about the crazy, hard, and beautiful. Write what scares you. Write what makes you laugh and write what makes you weep. What what makes you feel ashamed or proud. Writing is risk and revelation. There’s no need to show up at the party if you’re only going to stand around with your hands in your pockets and stare at the drapes.
7. Be humble. Other people might be right when they tell you this or that isn’t really working in your manuscript. Listen to them. Challenge your attachments to the things you’ve written. This can be a painful process, but it almost always improves your work.
8. Don’t believe that you have to “know someone” to get published (or get an agent or win a prize). Nothing good that has happened to me as a writer happened because I knew someone. Everyone in the lit business is looking for poems and stories and essays and books they love. This doesn’t mean dumb things don’t occur, that there is no such thing as this leading to that because so-and-so knew so-and-so, but beautiful things happen far more often than most people seem to believe. Make people fall in love with your writing. That’s how you get published.
9. Be strong. No one is going to ask you to write. Many people will tell you not to. Don’t listen to them. If you want to be a writer, be a writer. You don’t need permission. If you need permission let this be it. I give it to you. Now go.

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