Wild Cheryl Strayed
Photo: Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed's memoir takes readers on a journey up the rugged Pacific Crest Trail. Today she talks with Oprah.com about those moments when life nearly gets in the way of achieving a dream.
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
4. The Money Pressure Didn't Ever Stop
I am, as they say, the classic starving artist. While I worked on the book, I was also writing the Dear Sugar advice column and mentoring writing students at the Attic Institute in Portland. I taught workshops at universities. I wrote for magazines. This took time and insane amounts of juggling, but it's how I earned a living.

5. A Weird, Scary Moment of Self-Doubt Cropped Up
For three weeks, I holed up by myself in this cabin in a remote corner of Oregon. It's actually the farthest away you can be away from a freeway on-ramp in the United States. During that time alone, I sat in a chair and read the entire book out loud to myself. If someone had filmed those three weeks, it would have been a documentary of a madwoman. I was so obsessed that I would work around the clock and barely sleep.

There's this weird point in writing where you both can see the work really clearly and deeply—and then also you can't see it all. I worried that I'd failed miserably and that the book didn't make sense and that it was boring and stupid. I thought I would send it in and my editor would say, "Oh, no, we've made a terrible mistake."

6. The Fear of Vicious, Cackling Strangers Gave Her Second Thoughts
When I finished the book, I said to myself, "What have I done?" I really thought, "You are insane, Cheryl, for having written a memoir." With fiction, you can hide behind it. You can say, "Some of these things are true—but not all of them." With a memoir, it's "Here I am!" I was telling the whole world about who I was and what had brought me to this one experience. What if nobody could relate? I was terrified, and I thought, "If people don't like the book, they really just don't like me."

Wild was chosen as the first selection in Oprah's Book Club 2.0 in 2012.

Go deeper into Wild:
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