Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché, but my favorite stories have always been about the lives of writers. Fictional, first-person accounts of a writer’s life; intimate memoirs with gritty details; biographies detailing the struggle of the writer; personal essays about rising to the ranks of published, at least quasi-successful author…it’s the writer in me living vicariously, I suppose. I majored in anthropology back in undergrad strictly because I wanted to know more about people, populations from all over the world, to understand and write about them to the best of my abilities. My fascination has always been with people, but especially those that share my love of the craft.
A friend recently suggested I listen to the Longform Podcast. Most specifically, I was referred to the interview with Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a woman who’s made a career of writing personal essays (and now writer celebrity profiles for a living). It was comforting to hear about her start at a soap opera magazine and her time spent as a stay-at-home-mom and eventually, her rise into the world of essay publishing. The thing about stories like these is they always make me realize, “If they did it, why can’t/don’t I?” I’m never more motivated than when hearing the very real struggle of a writer who had to climb out of doubt and debt. Many of you may understand where I’m coming from.
The past week or so during our Willy Walks, I’ve taken to listening to personal accounts from several writers. More specifically, I’ve sought out the interviews with women writers as they speak closer to my personal experience. And because I am a mother now, it’s especially comforting to hear the stories of mothers who made it work for them, despite 4 a.m. feedings, mountains of laundry, and endless rounds of The Wheels on the Bus.
I heard the interview with Cheryl Strayed and really enjoyed her conversations about putting in the work, and how she grew up with very little and was flat broke more often than not but made it happen anyway.
There’s a long history, of women especially, saying ‘Well, I just got lucky.’ I didn’t just get lucky. I worked my fucking ass off. And then I got lucky. And if I hadn’t worked my ass off, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. You have to do the work. You always have to do the work.
I’ve been meaning to read Wild for years now. A friend recommended it to me after my daughter died but my attention span for things diminished for a while there. Grief does that sometimes. I was compelled to watch the film at least after this interview and I was surprised by how different it turned out to be. I was not expecting her back story to be, well, the way that it was, and I really enjoyed the frankness of it all. I am excited to get my hands on the book soon because I just want to know more.
Who are your favorite writers? What were their back stories? How did they get to be where they are today? And if you’re a writer, what will your backstory be like? Leave your answers in the comments below.