Your Book Has a Birthday
To close out my brief AWP Boston experience, I attended the last reading which featured Cheryl Strayed and Augusten Burroughs. They were there to talk about their most recent books, specifically, and the writing process more generally. Incidentally, though both have written memoirs and novels, their most recent books are both advice/self-help books, in a manner of speaking. Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of her Dear Sugar columns, originally published in The Rumpus. Burroughs’ book, This Is How, is a general how-to survival guide (the subtitle is “Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For the Young and Old Alike.”).
Strayed is now best known for her memoir Wild but before that, there was Dear Sugar. She wrote the column anonymously, often pouring her heart out in her responses to strangers, with such beautiful words and wise advice you couldn’t help but fall in love with Sugar, whoever she (he?) was. I started reading the columns because I’m a regular reader of the Rumpus, and have a weakness for advice columns. These, however, stood out to me right away for their honesty, their compassion, their humanity laid bare. These are many of the same qualities that have drawn so many readers to Wild. Cheryl read from both books during the reading, but it was the “Tiny Beautiful Things” column that was really moving. An excerpt:
“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”
Those lines really struck me–that idea that there’s something inside of you, just waiting to break through the surface. All you need to do is keep working for it. This applies to so many different things in life, not just writing, but for me, the writing part was particularly apt on that occasion (I was at a writing conference, after all).
I enjoyed Burroughs’ reading as well–I had seen him read before, many years ago when I was in college, and he’s very entertaining–dryly funny and sardonically wise. For me, the best advice he gave was on overcoming those crises of confidence that block everyone: “Confidence is subtracting the give a shit.” Why do we care so much about the little things? They just end up standing in our way. Take all of that away, and confidence is that much closer.
It was just the right amount of fun and motivation, and the perfect way to close out another AWP.