Rites of Passage

A few weeks ago, I heard Cheryl Strayed, author of the popular memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, speak at the Nonfiction Writers Conference.

Wild came out in 2012 and tells Strayed’s story of solo hiking 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) when she was twenty-six. The PCT covers 2,650 miles from the Mexican border in Southern California to the Canadian border in Washington. The terrain, as treacherous as it’s beautiful, courses through the Mohave Desert and across the crests of nine different mountain ranges.

Strayed’s life sat at its lowest point when she decided to thru-hike one hundred days on the PCT. Her mother had just died from cancer, her marriage was terminal, and she had been dabbling with dangerous drugs and men. She had never done long-distance hiking but felt she had nothing to lose.

Strayed talked about how your memoir must be about more than just your experiences if you write for the general public.

“For it to go from interesting story in your own life to interesting story in literature, you have to locate what’s universal in it,” Strayed said. “Your story is like a lasagna. The first layer is what happened. All the other layers beneath make it universal.”

When she decided to write a book about her experience, she found that all-important universal theme. In the hotel, before arriving at the trailhead, she tried to pick up her pack and put it on her back for the first time—she did no practice hikes ahead of time and could not lift it.

“That moment became the universal thread. The one thing I couldn’t do was the one thing I had to do. I had to bear the unbearable, which most people can relate to in one way or another.”

I so identified with Strayed when she said, “I never know where to start on a project, and I will do anything to avoid it. I feel anxious and full of dread, but once I start writing, I know I will keep going.”

Cheryl Strayed is now working on a second memoir, but she didn’t say much about it. I guess we’ll just have to wait for its publication.

Remember, the only way to do this wrong is to not do it at all.

Until next time, happy writing.

If you’ve thought about joining our Life Writers membership, now’s a great time to check it out. We begin studying a new memoir June 1, 2023.

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Please note: All grammatical and typographical errors have been put in this article for
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