Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime

I’ve just finished reading tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. I first came across Dear Sugar in The Sun magazine – a wonderful magazine of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Its contributors speak in a voice similar to Sugar’s. Fearsome advice, often, and harrowing stories that are above all else, beautifully written.  Cheryl Strayed is a very big deal now (she just “came out” as Sugar and also had her new novel, Wild, kick-start Oprah to begin a new book club. It’s always a bit tough when a tiny beautiful thing you’ve come across unexpectedly turns out to be a very big thing many people know about and have been following for years. But what the hell – she’s great.

And while the book covers all the usual topics – love, work, children, addiction, Christmas and stupidity – it is also a handbook for writers. Her tone is reminiscent of Anne Lemott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Like Lemott she has a history of addiction, abuse and general trauma that she refers to when she responds to those who ask for advice. Her language is blunt and sometimes brutal. But she tempers it all with generosity and kindness.  We all fuck up, she says, and that’s how we learn. She answers a letter from a man who has lost his son in a car accident and is actually useful. She tells you to get on with it while acknowledging that nothing will remove the pain you’ve experienced. The bad things that have been done to you. The awful things you have done. Above all she tells you to face up to your bullshit  (and others) truthfully and keep climbing out of whatever hole you’re in.

“We’re all going to die, Johnny,” she writes. “Hit the iron bell like it’s dinner time.”

Which is all great advice for a writer. Get on with it. Write. Write truly and write well. “Write,” she says, “like a motherfucker.”

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