Elissa Bassist & Cheryl Strayed in Creative Nonfiction:
In August 2010, a young writer named Elissa Bassist moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn to start working on an MFA in creative nonfiction. After living in New York for just two weeks, she wrote a letter to The Rumpus’s popular online advice columnist “Sugar,” expressing her frustrations about her writing: “I write about my lady life experiences, and that usually comes out as unfiltered emotion, unrequited love, and eventual discussion of my vagina as metaphor. … I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude, to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness.” She asked, finally, “How does a woman get up and become the writer she wishes she’d be?”
Sugar—who last February revealed herself to be Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—replied: “Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
The quote—“Write Like a Motherfucker”—has been emblazoned on a T-shirt and a coffee mug; the letter also appears in Tiny Beautiful Things, Strayed’s bestselling collection of Sugar columns, published last summer by Vintage.
Over the past two years, Bassist says, she has taken every word of Sugar’s/Cheryl’s advice to heart—and she’s not alone.