A few days ago I watched Oprah re-interview James Frey,
author of A Million Little Pieces. To say they have
a rocky past is an understatement, but this interview was based in
forgiveness with an emphasis on growth and lessons learned.
I remember watching the original interview with James Frey in
2006; it made me so uncomfortable and so sad. I'm not a fan of
seeing anyone publically disgraced and ridiculed, especially when
the mistake is so human, so common.
But I'm so glad I watched it, because it became one of my
James Frey's fate came down to two words, one of them true
(novel) one of them not (memoir). The significance of his
writing wasn't questioned, the way it helped people wasn't
questioned; it was just a choice between words.
And unfortunately he agreed with the powers that be and chose
the word that was not true. Under the guidance of those that
said they were helping, he chose the word that would "sell" the
I think about how many of us make choices based on what will
"sell." Not just the work we do, but also the things we say
or the things we don't say.
Many of us play it safe and follow the road most traveled
because we want to be accepted. We stay quiet, agree with the
group, and we don't speak our mind.
Instead of finding our own path we blend in with the masses, but
ironically, we often end up feeling more alone.
We fear the discomfort of being different, but then silently sit
in the discomfort of not being recognized.
I started putting my first book together in 2008, and at certain
points in the process I questioned my writing and the decision to
share such a deep part of myself. I contemplated changing
some of my stories - I thought about making them more mainstream or
But then I would think about James Frey. I'd think about
how he had promoted his book, knowing it was not completely true,
and how he got caught up in the marketing machine and lost himself
somewhere in the process.
His experience inspired me to stand by my sometimes simple and
spiritual stories. They may not follow a certain tradition of
writing and they may not be great works of literature, but they are
They are an expression of my thoughts and feelings, a reflection
of my life at that moment in time.
I remember the process I went through to find an editor - so
many of them insisted on changing my words and ideas, they deleted
full paragraphs, they even disposed of entire chapters in the name
of creating "what people wanted."
I value constructive criticism, and like all writers I need a
smart editor with great suggestions, but much of their feedback
went beyond my comfort level.
If I made all of these changes and agreed with all of their
suggestions, it would no longer be my book, it would be theirs.
And again, I thought of James Frey. How his book defied
convention, how he didn't use traditional structure or grammar in
A Million Little Pieces. How he found his own way of
communicating, his own voice that he wanted to share.
And really, that was always my underlying intention - I just
wanted to share. When I dreamed of my first book I had a
vision, I could see it my head, laid out as a series of stories
with no obvious common thread, but each of them with underlying
universal principles and lessons.
It was uneducated and risky, but it was also real and it felt
good. And that is why I write, because for me, writing feels
I still consider myself a novice, I am constantly learning about
tone, style, grammar, you name it. But this doesn't keep me
from writing - I have no choice but to write.
I write first thing when I wake up, I write for this blog, I
write books, I write articles, and I write motivational sentences
and words and place them around my house.
Writing is the way I process my life and my experiences; it's
the way I remember who I am.
I remember when Oprah interviewed writer J.K. Rowling and asked
her what she "truly believed", she responded, "Sometimes I know
what I believe because of what I have written. Oddly, if you'd
asked me before I wrote it 'what did I believe' I maybe couldn't
have told you."
This I understand. Sometimes I am unsure of what I believe
or what I should do, and then I read what I have written. My
writing comes from a deeper part of myself, the part that knows we
are all connected; the part that knows life is about relationships,
love and learning.
For me, writing is a route to true self. And it was James
Frey who taught me to never stray from this path.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.
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