On my flight home to Houston a few weeks ago, I was flipping through Glamour and found a quote from Reese Witherspoon to Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, that resonated so much so that I wrote it down. Well, more accurately –tapped it down via iPhone Notes with lots of backspaces and "dumb autocorrect!"s because seriously why is it that texting's so second-nature on a smartphone yet typing anything important like an email or a novel paralyzes my fingerly motor control?
The quote was this: "I'm inspired by people who write beautifully, like you, by people who find the emotional center of things and connect the dots. That's big. You can sleepwalk through life, or you can see all the meaning."
After braving a stampede of well-dressed middle-aged folk (the line, I kid you not, wrapped around our entire business school. Twice. There were maybe 1500-2000 people trying to get in.) and waving our student ID's in the air, my friend Leah and I somehow grabbed the last two seats at Cheryl Strayed's talk on Wednesday evening ... which just so happened to be in the front row.
I see exactly what Reese meant. Cheryl's a wonderful writer and an articulate and eloquent speaker. She's super down-to-earth and funny, simply one of those people who you instantly click with, who you want to be friends with. She just gets it. So when she talks, you listen.
Some of my favorite insights:
+ Believe in the power of storytelling, personally and culturally.
+ Those who write memoirs (and ahem, blogs?!) are far from being narcissistic because they have to "mine themselves" for the very things that aren't about themselves. It's about extracting the meaning, the universality, the relatability of their experiences.
+ Be kind, but also know to respect your own story. When you write – know that feelings can be hurt. Your intentions can be misinterpreted. It's up to you to decide what you need and want to be in your story, and if you're okay with the consequences of that.
+ It's only fair to communicate and express things in relation to you. Your writing is about how you have perceived people and memories and situations.
+ Sometimes, you only realize meaning and turning points and important moments way after-the-fact. Sometimes, the most important parts of the story aren't even a part of your rough draft or outline. You realize only in hindsight how insanely critical something so ordinary can be.
my to-read list!
+ Some helpful writing exercises Cheryl suggested –
1) Go through the works of writers that you admire & count the number of times they are able to describe sensory experiences. Pick a page and observe - can you feel, smell, taste, see, hear what's going on in a scene and to a character? How so?
2) Write about what you don't know. It might be difficult at first, but then you begin to realize that you can write more than you ever thought you could know about what you don't know. Tongue twister!
3) Write about an object that is on you right now. Cheryl Strayed referred to talismans plenty of times. Objects are just objects ... until you transform them into something more than that. Until you can take a physical object and assign to it meaning and story, thereby transforming a simple physical object into a symbol, into a representation. It then ultimately stands as so much more.
Needless to say, I'm off to do some wild bedtime reading!