I think of Tiny Beautiful Things as the book I wrote by accident while I was working on the book I was trying to write on purpose. I think that in some ways I was primed by having just written Wild and not having pushed myself to go that distance in terms of really learning how to reveal myself on the page in the story. I think that in some ways primed me for some of the things in Sugar.
I also think that all three of my books seemed different from each other. One’s a novel, one’s a memoir, one’s a collection of advice columns, but at root they have so many similarities in what I’m reaching for as a writer. I’m always interested in those really intimate relationships and the “who we really are” question: who do we say we are and who are we really, and how do we come to terms with that? I’m always trying to illuminate, the darkest places of us, and there’s a different way that I do that in all three books. So in that way I feel that they’re connected.
When I took on Sugar I thought it would be this fun little lark that I’m doing after I’ve worked so hard on Wild, and here it became this whole other, incredibly challenging piece because I just couldn’t do it halfway, I had to do it all.
I think it’s interesting that you said that thing about connecting, because I think not all writers think that way. I know I do, but that’s not everyone’s purpose. I was really interested when I saw Dear Sugar blowing up and connecting with people. I thought it was a really profound example of that sort of kind of writing where people feel really moved because they can connect so deeply.
I think that one of the biggest, most striking things I’ve learned in my writing life is the thing we’re all afraid of, always, all our life from the time we’re little kids is that if we show people who we really are, they won’t like us. They will make fun of us, they will ostracize us, they will beat us. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes that does happen when we expose our vulnerabilities, when we take that risk.
But what I’ve found as a writer is that every time I thought, everyone’s going to condemn me, everyone’s going call me a slut, or say “How dare you have an abortion,” but the reverse has happened. Every time I risk actually showing myself or telling you something true and hard about something I’ve done, the flood is gratitude. People saying, “Thank you, thank you for talking about that. Thank you for writing honestly about this because I had that experience too.”
That’s a way that people are connecting, and they’re connecting because I took a risk, and that’s what I think the whole deal with art is. You have to be fearless, you have to take those risks.
There has not been a day for two years that I haven’t received at least five emails from people saying something that I wrote changed their life. And it’s that simple fact of me speaking to the human experience, simply by telling about my own little human experience. It’s just a very small and humble thing, it’s not a grandiose thing. It’s really powerful, I think, that message. It’s given me a lot of faith in our world.