Episode 05 | The Physical Toll of Book Writing feat. Elissa Altman

After finishing her manuscript for Motherland, author Elissa Altman posted a hard truth about the writer’s life on Instagram: doing this work can take a physical toll on your body. Our conversation explores this important topic, including how she’s putting her body back together again after finding it left in shards from the emotional writing process.


Meet Elissa

ELISSA ALTMAN is the critically acclaimed author of Poor Man's Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking and the James Beard Award-winning blog of the same name and Treyf: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times, Tin House, The Rumpus, Dame Magazine, LitHub, Saveur, and The Washington Post, where her column, Feeding My Mother, ran for a year. She has been anthologized in Best Food Writing six times. A finalist for the Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, Altman has taught the craft of memoir at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Loft Literary Center, 1440 Multiversity, Ireland's Literature and Larder Program, and has appeared live on stage at TEDx and The Public, on Heritage Radio, and NPR. She lives in Connecticut with her family.


Conversation Starters

On knowing which story is ripe:

How do you know the story you need to tell? It’s the thing that won’t leave you alone. It’s the thing that keeps you up at night and whispers in your ear when you’re running or walking the dog or chopping onions. It can scream at you in a variety of different ways, and you have to pay attention.

On the value of self-care:

It’s a traumatic act to relive the experiences that brought you where you are. And it’s very easy to go down paths that might make you feel good for a few minutes or an hour, or two hours, and then you wake up the next day and you’re faced with the exact same problems. I think this is true for a lot of writers. I came to the table with a lot of cynicism where self-care is concerned, and as a result of that, our bodies fall apart.

Episode Highlights

  • Elissa’s technique for using journal entries to create scenes

  • How a 10-year stint in the publishing industry ignited her creative spirit

  • The Instagram post that launched a conversation about the physical toll of book writing

  • Why writing is romanticized, but hardly romantic

  • The concept of negative space and silences in our writing

  • A self-care plan to prep for book publication

  • How writing is like an obstacle course

  • Who owns the right to tell a story?


Linkable Mentions


If you're craving connection, inspiration, and support for the journey, there's a hot (virtual) mug of tea waiting for you inside the Wild Words Collective. Sign up here