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Ten lessons from Cheryl Strayed and the Fox for writers

When I arrived at Writing Workshop with Cheryl Strayed, I felt like my hope to introduce myself and my book to her was melting like ice cream in July in Arizona: More than 1500 talented writers were there with me.

I started to feel this deep inside: How do I even dare to hope to be published in English? To write in English professionally?

An immigrant would never be able to be a writer, especially if they learned English at 30!

I opened my phone, and a new unbearable backpack of news from Russia and Ukraine landed on my shoulders.

I couldn’t pretend anymore that I had a plan.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Strayed gave us a writing task: in 10 minutes, to write a story: “What was the hardest for you in life.”

Words came like a waterfall out of my pencil: I wrote my piece and asked to read it aloud.

I just wanted to say “ Thank you, Cheryl Strayed, for your book “Wild”: it inspired me during some most challenging days to keep going and carrying this heavy backpack that I call my life.

I read my piece out loud and left the room. With no intention of coming back: I felt Iike a loser:

I sat in the darkness. Felt lost. Like a girl who gave anything she had, but her parents still divorced, humans still make wars, and nature is still abused. I felt exhausted.

Writing your book as a mother of a newborn during the pandemic and publishing it at the same time when the war started - its already a lot but quitting my job to come to New York to see Cheryl Strayed, spending all my money to translate my book into English, to organize the shipping of the books from a country that on the toughest sanctions. Am I crazy?

And even not feel like you have a right to complain: people are losing life now.

Life, Please, give me a break.

Life, please, give us a break.

Maybe I am just a dreamer? Tired dreamer close to 40 years old.

I started to cry. I have no plans anymore.

And I saw her.

Wild, beautiful fox staring at me. Deep inside ME.

Her wise, playful eyes looked at me like a more wise divine world message: “You are exactly where you need to be.”

I instantly felt safe and saved. I started to smile. I knew I met Cheryl Strayed as I knew that it was the same Fox that came to her in her book “Wild.” I knew the same Fox that looked at Reese Witherspoon at the end of the movie “Wild.”

I knew I did not just want to share my story; someone needed to hear it.

I know I will not give up because I don’t have a plan.

I know something more significant, spiritual, deep inside us is here to help. To help us go through this.

The next day I returned to Cheryl Strayed’s class peacefully with one intention: to learn writing.

I have no intention of giving her my book anymore: I knew we had met through the fox, and her spirit wished me luck ( sounds too much, but I feel so).

Cheryl was sharing her experience with HER Fox.

And one more magic had happened: Cheryl asked: “Alla, many people on zoom love your story and writing. How can they connect with you?”

I was. Speechless.

I wanted to show my book to Cheryl Strayed, but at the end of the workshop, people were asking about my book through Cheryl Strayed!?

Is it even real?

The moment I gave up all my “plans,” I received the main answer: keep walking this lonely strange road named “ Writer.”

You don’t know when you’ll meet your Fox, but Fox knows.

Just one more step, writer.

So there is a first lesson from the Fox and Sheryl Strayed:

1. No matter what language we speak: we all are connected more than we can imagine.

Words are just devices to deliver those empty pauses between them.

Empty spaces between words are those where magic awaits you.

To know: you are not alone here.

The writer is the one who is wrapping hopes, hugs, love and tears into words to deliver to the reader when he needs it the most.

2. Your book has already its day of birth. You know you are pregnant with the book, right? Be expectant, write, but let BOOK choose a birth date.

3. “ I knew I was a writer way before I got success with the WILD. I was on the same level as the writer, just not so famous. I could afford better boots now. But I was the writer even before I published the first book”.

4. “ There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou. Just tell your story.

5. Writing requires “the works.” Nothing will happen without your commitment! Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are essential!”

6. Dare to show the reader your wildest self. Not who you are but who you are. Aspire credibility, not likability.

7. Don’t edit your soul according to fashion.

8. Find a PARADOX. Almost all great stories have a paradox that seems impossible and contradictory. The paradox is that you must nearly die along the way to become one. For example: Write a curse that became a blessing.

9. Make your story alive: full of smell, vibe, sounds and talismans. Express yourself and your feelings through the objects.

10. Make it fun and unique. It’s YOUR book. Find YOUR editor, YOUR publisher, YOUR reader. It’s not just you who want to tell your story; your story wants to be said too.

Do you want me to share what I read out loud at Cheryl Strayed workshop?

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Dear Alla, please, share what you have written at Cheryl's workshop. Thank you!


You touch the soul with the words

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