Advice: For Writers, From Writers

Alden Jones, writer and faculty member at Emerson College and The Newport MFA, recently launched her new memoir, The Wanting Was a Wilderness, with great success. The memoir, which began as a project examining Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 national best-seller, Wild, blends analysis and essay along with the telling of Jones’ own introspection. This month, I had the privilege of attending an author talk between Strayed and Jones. Listed below are tips these two accomplished authors have for writers of all genres.

As a writer of nonfiction, what do you do if your family does not approve of the story you want to tell?

Both writers suggest that as always, do the most you can when telling your story to protect the privacy of others. Changing names of characters is a great place to start, as well as leaving out details that do not further the story. For this very reason, some writers even choose to publish under a pseudonym.

Though your story may encompass others, remember it is still your story to tell. So long as you respect the anonymity of others, both writers agree it’s a personal choice whether you risk uprooting tensions with your family. 

How do you write about something painful? 

When asked this question, Jones explains writing about pain helps her to “reclaim” the experience. Writing can be healing. (She jokes every writer needs a therapist!) 

If it is too painful to write about it now, jot down the details you need to recount the story if you can, and return to it at another time. Ultimately, do what is best for your wellbeing. If you find writing to reopen an old wound, consider writing about another subject.  

How do you handle book criticism? 

When asked this, Strayed simply stated, “It Hurts!” Despite her 2012 success, criticism affects Cheryl no different than any other writer. Her strategy to combat negativity is simple: scroll past the review, ignore the tweet. Don’t even read them. 

Though gaining an outside perspective on your work is crucial, sometimes that perspective is not constructive. Sometimes, we have to be our own best advocates. 

You can find Alden Jones’ The Wanting Was a Wilderness here:

Get in line to get yours soon– it’s on backorder everywhere! The link above helps support local bookstores. 


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