Wild Cheryl Strayed
Photo: Cheryl Strayed
1. The Wrong Idea Persisted and Persisted
I write a lot of essays, and in 2008 I finally decided, "I'll do an essay about my hike." I kept saying to myself, "This is not a book." Even when the essay reached 60 pages, I still thought, "Well, maybe it's a part of a book. I'll write a collection of essays, and it will be the one really long essay."

2. A Rogue Flu Swept in and Took Over Her Life
While I was writing Wild, both my kids were in preschool. They were born 18 months apart, and we don't have anyone that takes our kids for free. My husband has his mother, but she really doesn't babysit, and I don't have parents.

Two months before the book was due to my editor, when I really was supposed to be diligently writing along, my husband had to go out of town. And— gulp—it just so happened that both my kids got the flu. There were two full weeks where they couldn't go to preschool, and I was freaking out, saying, "I have this book due! And my husband is out of the country! And here I am at home with two sick kids!" I was absolutely beside myself. I thought I could never finish.

3. Exhaustion Turned into a Voice in Her Head
"I give up! I can't do it." Every day I said this to myself. Every single day. Writing is part intuition and part trial and error, but mostly it’s very hard work.

Next: How she overcame her starving artist status