Instead, I’ll tell you about Cheryl. Cheryl Strayed grew up in an abusive household, lost her mother at age 22, spiraled in her grief by having sex with strangers and using heroin and told the world all about it. She’s written essays and books about the worst moments of her life—not because they happened, she said, but because she’s a writer. Doing so turned her into an excellent writer, a compassionate human being, and someone whose fans approach her regularly to tell her the worst things that ever happened to them (something I saw happen at least once a day).
I think a lot of people were drawn to the retreat as a healing mechanism for something they were going through; however, I wouldn’t say that it was a depressing experience. Cheryl taught for 3 hours a day, we worked on writing prompts, shared work with others and ate gluten-free, mostly vegan food together. The whole thing just felt very honest. Everyone was really open in their writing and in general. Although I was motivated to attend because I think her essays The Love of My Life, and Heroin/e are perfect examples of writing, I think this environment of vulnerability and honesty did ultimately teach me something about writing.
First, I internalized the power of vulnerability, especially for novice writers. When you haven’t had the training, experience, or mastered the technical skills, that’s basically the only real tool you have to create something great. Second, I think I write a lot from my head, which seemed separate from writing from my heart. Now I think the best way to go is to write from your heart but with what Cheryl described as a “literary consciousness.” Basically being conscious of the point of what you’re writing and making it make sense. I think that’s the money combo.
So in honor of today’s post on openness, I will tell you about the story I had to tell when I was writing “Lessons from Robin.”
It all started three years ago when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up. Not only was I reeling with emotions, but I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. That ish was crazy. I couldn’t believe that it happened and I couldn’t believe how traumatizing the experience was. Add to that that one of my close friends in D.C. lost a parent a few weeks earlier, the other drifted away for other reasons (that could be its own novel), and everyone else was in another city, I felt like I was going through the whole thing alone.
I had a story in me, but it wasn’t really about love or grief or the dude. It was about how I was a completely different person when I left that relationship than when I entered it. That experience changed me, and I didn’t know what to make of that. So there was a loss of a boyfriend, a friend, and also myself. I never knew that a relationship could have that kind of effect on someone, so I wrote a story about that.
It’s still not an autobiographical story! The characters aren’t me or people I know, but the core of it comes from that experience.
Do you have a story you have to tell?
The retreat site.
Me and Cheryl. I suppose I’m cheesing a little too hard…