Frequently Asked Questions
How can I make a request or inquiry?
I'd like to ask Sugar for advice. How do I do that?
I'm no longer writing Dear Sugar as an online column, but I'm now doing a podcast with Steve Almond. You can read about the Dear Sugar Radio show at the link below. Questions can be emailed to:
How can I get a personalized and/or signed copy of your book(s)?
Do you teach writing?
Will you blurb my book?
I've blurbed books nonstop for the past several years and I need a break. I love to champion books and writers I admire and I will continue to do so in a range of ways.
Is Strayed your real name?
Yes. Strayed is my real, legal name and it has been since May 1995. I chose it for myself.
Did you keep a journal while you were on your PCT hike? How did you write such vivid details?
I kept a journal all through my 20s and 30s, and yes, I kept a journal on my PCT hike, which I noted passingly in WILD. My journal was enormously helpful to me as I wrote the book, often providing me with details I'd have forgotten. I also researched facts and consulted others about their recollection and interpretation of some of the events I wrote about in WILD, but, like any memoir, WILD is based primarily on memory crafted with the intention of creating a piece of literature, not a report. I re-conjured moments, recreated conversations, feelings, landscapes, and the people I met as I remembered them from my own point of view and my own subjective memory.
Do you still hike and/or backpack?
Yes. It's one of my favorite things to do.
Have your feet recovered from your PCT hike?
Yes! Entirely. But it took a few years for my toenails to be normal again.
You hiked the PCT in the summer of 1995, but you didn't write about your hike until many years later. Why did you wait so long?
I didn't wait. I wrote Wild as soon as it occurred to me to do so. Wild is not in the "I did an interesting thing so I wrote a book about it" genre. It's a literary memoir. I didn't write Wild because I took a hike; I wrote Wild because I'm a writer. By which I mean until I had something to say about the experience, I didn't have any reason to write about it. After I completed my hike on the PCT the story I most urgently had to tell was the one I told in my first book, Torch. It was published in 2006. In 2008, I began to write about my experience on the PCT and I realized I wanted to write a book about it.
Are your siblings and ex-husband okay and did they like Wild?
Yes and yes.
Where can I see photos from your PCT hike?
Watch the Wild book trailer (below).
Can you please direct me to your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages?
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
1. Write a lot. But do it on your schedule. This might be every day. It might not be. The point is not to follow other people's rules but to make your own. Then follow them.
2. Don't be in a hurry to publish. Be in a hurry to become the best writer you can be.
3. Find the work that moves you the most deeply and read it over and over again. I've had many great teachers, but the most valuable lessons I learned were from writers on the page. Study the sentences your favorite writers made until they live in your bones.
4. Find your tribe and honor it. Become friends with other writers. Exchange work. Talk shop. Ask them questions about how they write. Tell them about how you do. This will make you feel less alone and you'll share a bond with people who know what it is you're up to on a core level. Be happy for them when they have successes. You'll be glad they're happy for you when your day arrives.
5. Do your homework. If you want to publish your writing, research what that means. There is so much information available about everything you want to know. It's your job to seek it. Don't expect anyone to hand it to you. Apprentice yourself to the craft and the profession.
6. Be brave. Write what’s true for you. Write what you think. What about what confuses you and compels you. Write about the crazy, hard, and beautiful. Write what scares you. Write what makes you laugh and write what makes you weep. What what makes you feel ashamed or proud. Writing is risk and revelation. There’s no need to show up at the party if you’re only going to stand around with your hands in your pockets and stare at the drapes.
7. Be humble. Other people might be right when they tell you this or that isn't really working in your manuscript. Listen to them. Challenge your attachments to the things you've written. This can be a painful process, but it almost always improves your work.
8. Don't believe that you have to "know someone" to get published (or get an agent or win a prize). Nothing good that has happened to me as a writer happened because I knew someone. Everyone in the lit business is looking for poems and stories and essays and books they love. This doesn't mean dumb things don't occur, that there is no such thing as this leading to that because so-and-so knew so-and-so, but beautiful things happen far more often than most people seem to believe. Make people fall in love with your writing. That's how you get published.
9. Be strong. No one is going to ask you to write. Many people will tell you not to. Don't listen to them. If you want to be a writer, be a writer. You don't need permission. If you need permission let this be it. I give it to you. Now go.
How long did it take you to write your first book, Torch?
There are three answers to this question and they are all true: four years, seven years, and thirty-four years. I found it to be both very fun and difficult to write my first book. It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline, determination, and magical thinking to keep the faith with a project such as novel--what is it anyway, aside from a story you made up while sitting alone in a room? The reason I finished Torch is that I finally came to understand that the only thing worse than having to really, truly write the whole damn thing was having to live with the fact that I didn't. The day I wrote the final sentence I bawled my head off for an hour.
How long did it take you to write your second book, Wild?
About two and a half years. It was hard to write too, but hard in a way that felt familiar to me. Writing Torch taught me how to write a book, and most importantly, it taught me that there are good writing days and bad writing days and you simply have to ride through them all the way to the end, so I had that in me as I wrote Wild and it helped me keep the faith, even when I doubted my abilities. When I finished the first full drafts of both Wild and Torch I was away from home, in landscapes foreign to me (in the Warner Valley of Oregon for Wild and on the island of Itaparica, Brazil for Torch), and I think it had to be that way. I had to be entirely locked away inside myself to make it through that final hard push. The days I finished the first solid drafts of each book are among the most joyous and meaningful of my life.
What do you think about MFAs in creative writing? Yes? No? Maybe?
You don't need a MFA to be a writer, obviously, but it can be a useful experience, one that may or may not turn out to be important to your success. Having an MFA will allow you to teach in a wide range of settings, so it's a key credential if you hope to earn your living as a teacher at the college level. MFAs get a ridiculous amount of unfair criticism, often from people who have never been in an MFA program or from people who are making judgments about all programs based on their experience in one. My advice to anyone considering an MFA in creative writing is first to get clear about why you want to get an MFA. Is it because you have nothing else to do and you sort of like to write? Is it because you're just finishing college and nervous about getting a "real job"? Those are not terribly good reasons to get an MFA and you'd be better served by waiting or doing something else until you have a clearer sense of purpose. I'm glad I got my MFA when I did--at 30, after I'd been writing seriously for a decade (with lots of time off to mess around and be a knuckleheaded twentysomething). I decided to go to graduate school because I'd been writing seriously for years and I needed a community and a program that would support me in my efforts to once and for all finish a book. I didn't go to become a writer. I went because I already was a writer and I yearned for the temporary shelter an MFA program would provide in the form of money, community, and time. I knew I would not go to an MFA program that didn't offer full tuition remission plus either a fellowship or a teaching assistantship, so I applied only to schools that offered significant funding to their students (there are a good number of them, though they're very competitive). This doesn't mean I think it's a bad idea to go into debt for an MFA--it might be a good idea, depending on your situation--but it's wise to consider what you're willing to do on the money front and apply to schools accordingly. I learned so much in my years at Syracuse University--from my teachers, my peers, and also myself (as I spent all those hours and months typing away or not typing away on my computer). There were hard things about graduate school, weird things, sad things, appalling things, interesting things, lovely things. I treasure that time now. Contrary to what you hear about MFA programs pushing writers to write "the MFA story," I was exposed to all sorts of writing styles and a diverse range of ideas about what is considered "good writing." I wrote the first half of Torch while I was a graduate student and the second half in the year after I graduated (running on the momentum grad school gave me). I learned how to listen to the opinions of others and also to get to those opinions out of my head and trust my own instincts.