By Peggy Morehouse Strack
What did I learn on the first day of my writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed?
A lot. Much more than I have time to type out here, but I will share some thoughts.
First, I learned that the author of Wild is a superb teacher who sincerely cares about helping writers dig deep to uncover the story that only they can tell. When she first walked into the room I was admittedly star struck. That “in awe” reaction soon dissipated and was replaced by an eager desire to sharpen my writing skill. Cheryl has so much to give. Not only is she knowledgeable and prepared, she is kind, witty, friendly, and open.
My attention was particularly activated when she addressed writing reluctance. I had just discussed this with my co-blogger and friend, Susanne, the day before. I love to write, especially fiction, but lately I haven’t felt like it. My second novel is in the revision stage. I’m on summer vacation from my teaching job. I’ve had some interest from the publishing world. I should be sprinting to the finish line so I can stamp “the end” on the last page of my book. Instead of scrolling away however, I find myself online loitering on Facebook, checking my email, the weather, the news, the class schedule at the YMCA, Groupon, and Buzzfeed. When I’m done with that, I think where else on the World Wide Web can I visit or maybe I should sort through those boxes of books in my closet.
I know I’m procrastinating because creative writing is hard work and some days I just don’t want to work that hard. Cheryl relayed that good writing involves two major components: craft and heart. Regarding craft, there’s plot, characters, dialogue, setting, pacing, voice, language, beginnings, endings, and so much more. There are thousands of books available about the craft of writing along with an array of classes on the subject offered in most communities. I’ve done enough homework to know that craft is an area of study that is unremitting and forever evolving.
Then there’s the heart component. That’s even more challenging than craft. It involves digging down deep into my emotional reservoir and pulling out treasures that will stoke my story; zap it with originality and passion; capture a reader with a message from a journey that only I have traveled. I need to find golden threads from my own experiences and connect them to another through my words.
That’s tough stuff. As Cheryl pointed out, the way to make that happen is through practice. Finding a routine that works and sticking with it whether it be a couple of hours of writing each day or one long writing day per week. Different methods work for different people. The bottom line is when done consistently, craft and heart emerge onto the page. One to three hours of writing per day generally works for me, so no more excuses. In her book, Tiny and Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed gave this advice to a writer having trouble getting motivated for an assignment from The New York Times:
“Writing is hard for every last one of us. . . . Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. Which brings me to the last piece of advice I have: Get over it. Bloody hell: The New York Times asked you to review a book!…Am I going to have to remove my silk gloves and bop you with them? Sweet pea, you need to get out of your own head, get over yourself, and reach. Starting now.”
Well okay, Cheryl. I’m on it, and I hope she doesn’t wear silk gloves to class tomorrow!