Saturday, February 18, 2017

Why do I write? (Alissa Grosso)

Why do I write? For the money, of course.

That was a joke. Of all the things I spend my time doing, writing is probably the least profitable. A couple of weeks ago I found $20 on the ground while walking my dog. So, walking the dog is literally more profitable than writing. And yet, I persist in this writing thing anyway.

Jack searching for treasure on one of his walks. He and I define treasure a bit differently. He thinks he's hit the jackpot when he finds a spot where a girl dog peed.
Creating is something I feel compelled to do, and I know from speaking to other creative types that I'm not alone in this. It doesn't matter the medium - and writing is only one of the mediums in which I create - I feel compelled to make stuff.

When I'm bored or tired or walking the dog, my mind tends to entertain me with stories. I've written thousands of stories in my head, most of them long since forgotten now. It's the ones that can't be forgotten, that won't go away that find themselves leaving my head to become words on a screen, and maybe, some day words on a piece of paper.

So, answering the question why do I write is difficult. It's like trying to answer the question why do you breathe? Or perhaps if you're my dog, why do you love girl dog pee so much? It's just one of those things that comes so naturally, that's so very much a part of who I am.

I keep writing, even though in a typical year it rarely brings enough money to buy dog food, let alone pay the rent, because it's what I do and who I am, and if, like some dog walks, it brings in some money now and then, well, that's pretty cool.

Alissa Grosso is the author of the YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. She is probably writing a story in her head at this very moment. You can find out more about her at

Friday, February 17, 2017


I was a shy kid. Seriously shy. When I was little, I cried when my parents took me to playgrounds because other kids were there and I was afraid of talking to them.

Sometimes, I think that might be how it all started—it was easier to write than it was to talk.

I mean, it wasn't JUST the shyness. There's always been something about storytelling and books—it's always fit like nothing else. (I was also the kid who always had to have a new Little Golden Book every time I went to the grocery store with my Mom.)

But I also now have a handful of friends from college—friends I haven't seen in person for years but write to regularly. And I swear, with a few of them, I feel like we're closer now than we were when we saw each other nearly every day. There's just something about writing—you let people in in a different way. You tell them where your head is. You show them what's in your heart. And they respond in kind. You wind up "saying" things you never would have in person.

I do feel like I'm more me on the page than anywhere else. (In a way, I think all writers do.) But after years and years of emails, I have to say I think that even non-writers feel that way, too.
So maybe, in the end, we all write for the same reason (whether or not we’re professional authors):

To be known.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Writing Your Way Through by Jody Casella

She wrote weird stories when she was a kid.

Stories about children who were crippled. Stories about children being run over by cars and one story where a little girl was attacked by a bear. She filled notebooks with the beginnings of stories, folded over stacks of pages to look like books, drew crude crayon drawings. Scribbled in diaries. Wrote poems. Song lyrics. Lists. Plays.

When she was thirteen she got a typewriter for Christmas and taught herself to type with two fingers, typing out more stories, two finished books, diaries, stories commissioned by friends, stories that won contests and praise, and one time, condemnation, in school. Stories she never showed anyone.

She filled an entire trunk with words.

The only way out is through, Robert Frost said, and she wanted to believe that, writing her way through her broken world by writing it, over and over, the same story really, the same questions at the core.

Why do people hurt the ones they love.
How do we survive pain and grief and loss and betrayal and trauma.
How do we mend together the pieces of our broken selves.
Can we?

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

There is no meaning in the world but what we make of it, and what we make of it is Story.

Once upon a time there was a girl who wrote weird stories

stories about broken children living in a broken world. And then one day, she found herself on the other side, still gathering pieces but fitting some of them together. She told her story to others and she listened to their stories. And she found that while the world was still broken and the people in it were broken too, they were all in it together

                      dreaming suffering loving hurting caring worrying hoping

and maybe that is the message (or maybe it isn't)

But because it is her story, she has decided

it is.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Ongoing Conversation (Amy K. Nichols)

When I saw this month's topic, "why we write", my immediate answer was because I have something to say.

Then I thought, No, that's not quite right. The more I write, the more I realize I'm searching for what it is I have to say.

So, do I write to find myself? Perhaps. But that feels too...shallow. Self-serving. No, it's something bigger than that for me.

Story. Story is at the heart of why I write. I love stories. Most pinnacle moments in my life involve story in some form. But again, it's not just about me.

Stories are powerful. That's closer.

Stories can change lives. Yes, that I believe. Absolutely. Stories have changed my life. I've seen stories change the lives of others.

Stories change lives by revealing truths about people and about the world.


Stories revealing truths about people and the world are part of a larger, ongoing conversation about who we are, who we've been, and who we might become.

That's it.

That is why I write.

I write because I want to be part of that conversation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Power and Powerlessness (Nancy Ohlin)

These past few months, with the new presidential administration, I’ve been thinking a lot about power and powerlessness—and writing. 

Part of the reason I'm drawn to writing is because it makes me feel empowered.  Mean people and bullies?  Write a murder mystery, turn them into villains, and kill them off.  Rejected by a crush?  Write a love story and have the main character end up with an even better guy or girl.

I have been bowled over and humbled and inspired by the sheer number of written words that have been created and disseminated since the January 20 inauguration.  Even as the administration generates multiple scary headlines every day—the wall, the Muslim ban, mass deportations, unqualified cabinet appointees, alternative facts, conflicts of interest, Planned Parenthood funding cuts, LGBTQ rights under threat, constitutional crises, climate change denial, pipelines, the Affordable Care Act, etc., etc.—people are writing, reaching out, mobilizing.  Telling the truth, or trying to get to the heart of it. 

In this 1984 nightmare that has descended on our country, we are empowering ourselves and each other with words. 

True story: 

When I was six, my parents sent me from Tokyo to Ohio to live with my American grandparents for the summer, to learn English.  One day, I was playing in a park near my grandparents’ house when this blond girl came up to me and said: “My parents said I can’t play with you because you caused Pearl Harbor.”

I had no idea what Pearl Harbor was, but I knew it must be bad.  Which meant that I was bad.  Which made me feel ashamed and embarrassed and like I had no right to be in that park, in Ohio, in America.

I carried that experience inside of me for decades, even after my family immigrated to the U.S.  And then one day, out of the blue, I sat down and wrote a short story about it.  I sent it out to literary journals, and it eventually got picked up. It was my first publication.  I got a check for $25.

But more than that check, more than the hysterically happy Ohmigod-I’m-getting-published!!!!!!! victory dance I did when the editor called me, I had discovered the art of translating powerlessness into power through words.

It was life altering.

And now more than ever, it’s essential. 

So here’s to all my fellow writers out there.  Let’s keep writing.  Let’s keep telling the truth.  Let’s be powerful together.

Friday, February 10, 2017

I Don't Know, But I Can't Not Write (Sydney Salter)

Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if I didn't write (or engage in its necessary companion: reading). Would I make crafts? Knit really cool sweaters? Would my house be really clean? Would I happily work in a cubicle somewhere? Would I wear cute business suits?

Every time I think about doing something else - tour guide, flight attendant, history professor, librarian, bookseller - it still ends with "and then I could write about [fill in the blank]!"

I can't stop writing. Even if I miss a day on my WIP, I still write in my journal every night. I've been doing that for more than three decades. Yet my compulsion to write is the surface answer.

I write to find out.

I love learning so much - about everything and anything - and writing is the best way for me to do that. Being a continuous college student would be too expensive! I don't think I've ever written something that I haven't eagerly researched. I like to learn about the way people live, different times in history, different places in the world - pretty much any topic other than mathematics, although I'm sure I could learn to appreciate that one too, if I gave it a chance. As a writer, I'm not stuck in one particular area of interest - like I might be as a history professor (my current "if I weren't a writer" dream job).

Often I think about how easy it would be, not to be a writer. I wouldn't spend so much time alone, so much time lost in my head - and the compulsion to write never ceases. So many things to write about, so little time!

Throughout my writing journey, I've watched many people stop writing, and I'm always a bit in awe - maybe a bit envious too. But I just can't stop.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why Do I Write? An Imagination Assembly Line - Jenny O'Connell

I think that most writers have an entirely different world in their heads (at least I hope I'm not alone in this). All day long I have characters who exist in my mind and nowhere else because I haven't found their story yet. And I have story ideas that go nowhere because I don't know where they're meant to go. They're scenes or sentences or characteristics, but nothing more. Because everything, and everyone, is fodder for my imagination.

Maybe the question, for me, isn't really why I write, but why I can't help but experience everything as an input. And by that I mean that people I observe or encounter, and things I hear and see, places I go are all inputs, like raw materials going into an assembly line - and that assembly line is my imagination.

If my imagination is an assembly line, and life's experiences are the raw materials, then what's the output? And what happens along that assembly line?

Well, sometimes the assembly line spits out the rejected materials part way through the process because something isn't right - characters aren't working, an idea just sucks, or something I thought would be great just doesn't come together. But when it does all come together, the end of that assembly line is a story. And a book.

Fortunately, for a writer, the raw material is endless (and free!). And maybe that's why the assembly line can take so long to filter through the all the raw material until something good results as the output.

So, why do I write? Because as long as there are raw materials, the assembly line doesn't stop.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why I Write--Kimberly Sabatini

Why I Write...

This one is very simple.

I write because I spent the majority of my life only saying things that made other people happy.

And that made me unhappy.

The first outlet for my voice was my writing.

Now I'm better able to verbally speak out, but it's harder. Writing is more comfortable for me.

When I use my writing voice, I feel like a real person--I feel whole.

When I speak my truth, I'm aware that it's MY truth and just because I say it doesn't mean someone else's truth is any less real.

Knowing this, I try to be cognizant of how I speak up.

I want my words and my voice to add and not detract.

In my mind, speaking a personal truth walks hand in hand with striving to be kind and intelligent.

I also think it's brave.

But to capture the best words--you must also be prepared to listen. Life should have balance.

And my writing is better when my ears are involved.

Why do I write?

...because a world without words--my words--is not a world I want to live in.

Why do you write?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I Write Because I Am by Joy Preble

I write because story is how I make sense of the world. Like many of us, I believe we're hard-wired that way. Before written language, we kept our histories through story. We passed them down from person to person and I'm sure along the way we honed and tightened those narratives. It's part of who we are, this storytelling thing. It's how we keep track. That line from HAMILTON pops into my head as I type this: "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story." Story matters.

When I visit schools and present talks about my writer's life, I always say some version of the following: All stories, including mine, are at their core about what it means to be human. What it means to love and live and lose and fear and hope and all the rest of it. For me there is no end of mining that through stories and characters. There is always more to learn. Lately I'm especially fond of figuring out what happens when it all breaks: when our lives implode, when the rug gets pulled out on us, the safety net ripped away--when we're lost and scared and things seem hopeless. What then? I always want to know. What will the character do? What will any of us do? What will I do?

So yeah, writing is like a form of self-therapy and I doubt that I'm alone in thinking that.

But of course it's more than that.

I write for some of the same reasons I read and consume story through other mediums: because story builds empathy. As so many of us talk about ( a lot lately in this particular, toxic political climate), we need both windows and mirrors in our fiction. I need to be able to find myself in a story -- see characters who are like me in crucial ways, know that I'm not alone. But I also need to fictionally live in worlds that aren't mine. Find the common humanity in characters living lives vastly different from my own.

So I write. And I write. I try to represent the truth as best as I can and then I try a little harder. I want to get as close to authentic as I can. Sometimes it's trickier than others. For me personally, I write to tell stories that don't always have happy endings--where there's murk and grey areas and the bad guys aren't always just bad and the good guys aren't always just good and some of my characters can't bear to look the truth in the face, although I always give them the chance. This bothers some readers, I know. They want it wrapped up. They want to know. They want everything to be fair and equal and exactly as they see it or want it to be.

I write because the world is not fair, is not always equal, is rarely wrapped up tight, is quite often different from what we think. I write because weird stuff happens and the unexplainable and it is my job to poke at that and try to figure it out. I write because the world seems too damn short on empathy these days, although honestly has it ever had an abundance? And yeah, here comes another HAMILTON quote, the verb shifted to make sense here. "I write my way out."

Why do you write?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pick a Door (Bill Cameron)

You’ve probably heard the puzzler in which you’re a prisoner faced with two doors protected by two guards. One door leads to freedom, and the other to death. One guard always tells the truth, the other always lies. You have to choose a door to go through, and to guide your choice you get to pose one, and only one, question.

So what do you ask, and to whom?

At its core, this is a logic problem—one with many variations. You can actually reduce it to symbols to solve it (see below for one possible solution). But because of the way the puzzle is often presented — the guards, their integrity, freedom vs. death — it seems to be about human nature. Get to talking about it with your friends, and the conversation can quickly become about their views of human nature.

“Does the dishonest guard always have to lie? Or do they get to choose?”

“That honest guard is such a goody-goody.”

“Do they outright lie, or is more about being deceptive? How subtle can they be?”

“If they always lie, isn’t that just a different kind of truthfulness?”

The puzzle is also about the problem of choice and consequence. There’s an implied backstory. Why are you a prisoner, and what did you do that warrants a possible death sentence? Or did you do anything at all? Are you guilty, innocent, or somewhere in between? Perhaps you were unjustly imprisoned. And how do these guards feel about their jobs? Are they pawns, or willing actors? Are they tools of justice, or tyranny?

Superficially, of course, we may think of the honest guard as “good” and the dishonest guard as “bad.” But when you start noodling even that, it’s not so simple. Given the choice they’re offering, deceit doesn’t necessarily mean always dooming a prisoner to death. And always telling the truth doesn’t guarantee freedom for even an innocent prisoner. If subtlety and nuance in their responses are allowed, a dishonest answer could be crafted to point to freedom. And honesty can be manipulated for nefarious ends.

When you testify in court, the oath is to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” for a reason. If you don’t tell the whole truth, you may lie by omission. And if you don’t tell nothing but the truth, you may sneak a lie in amongst all your honesty. So in the case of the honest guard, are they obliged to merely tell the truth, or must they tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Now, I admit I’m piling a lot onto what’s a straightforward logic puzzle, but that gets to the heart of why I write. I’m always asking myself Why? and What if? The answers to those questions lead to story. What if the honest guard really doesn’t like the prisoner, but is still constrained by his honesty? What if the dishonest guard really hates his job, but needs the money? What if the prisoner is actually guilty of some horrific crime, and if allowed to go free will commit more heinous acts?

Exploring these kinds of ideas, especially when it comes to situations which seem on their surface to be fairly straightforward, is what brings me to the keyboard each day. I want to know why, and I like to wonder what if, and when faced with a puzzle, I like to see what happens when I tinker with the settings.

To solve the logic puzzle itself, you have to strip away all the variables which may be the product of human foible. The prisoner’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant, and the honesty or dishonesty is perfect and complete.

Given that, one solution is to ask either guard, “Which door would other guard say leads to freedom?” It doesn’t matter to whom you pose the question. The honest guard knows the other would lie and indicate the door leading to death, so that’s the door he points to. The dishonest guard knows the honest guard would indicate the door to freedom, but since he always lies he’d also point at the door leading to death. In both cases, you go through the door not indicated and you’re free.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

You Are Not Alone (Yes, you are) By Brian Katcher

In 1998, I decided to move to Mexico and accept a position teaching English to kindergartners. I gave up a good job, proximity to my family and friends, and a nice car in the search for adventure.

When I arrived in Pachuca, Mexico, I realized several things. I was making about $100 American a month, rent paid. My new school had about a fourth the money of my old school, and my class sizes were about twice as large. I could barely speak enough Spanish to successfully shop, let alone make friends. And anyone who even remotely cared about me was two thousand miles away. I had no phone, and 1998 Mexican internet service was spotty at best.

It would have been easy to give up, go back home, and write the whole thing off as a bad idea. But two things stopped me:

1) I'd been planning for this for years. I could not give up just because things were hard.

2) I'd have to move back in with my parents.

So I decided to honor my two-year contract, or at least get through the school year.

I ended up staying for three years. I only left because I was afraid I'd end up staying forever.

I make friends. I taught children. I fell in love. Got hurt in love.

I guess my point is sometimes everything seems hopeless. I know I've felt pretty depressed, since, I dunno, the past two months.

Just remember that sometimes the only one who can get you through a a rough time is the person in the mirror.

Her name is Dolores. She has no eyes and only appears in the glass when you say her name backward three times.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Books about surviving the worst (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

“The worst” is a relative term, and it means different things to different people. There are so many ways that things can go wrong!

But I’ve compiled a list of books about people surviving situations that you could certainly make a case for being “the worst.” Some of these are YA and some are more adult. All of them feature survivors.


 I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro. Comedian Tig Notaro found her life taking a less-than-funny turn when she suffered a romantic breakup, the death of her mother, and two different life-threatening diseases within the space of a few months. And lived to tell about it.

A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard. Abducted at the age of eleven, Dugard was forced to live with her captor for years. She eventually bore him two children. This is the story of how she survived and made a life even within the harsh confines imposed by her captor.

Anne Frank Remembered, by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank did not survive, but her father did. This is Miep Gies’s memoir of resisting the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, hiding the members of at least four different families, and reuniting with Otto Frank after the war.


Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman. Abby falls for a guy who is not what he seems. The demons she faces include, but are not limited to, an internet predator.

Thaw, by Monica M. Roe. A young man fights off a deadly ailment, but faces the fact that he may never recover completely. On top of that, he’s beginning to confront the ways in which he has wronged those around him.

This is the Story of You, by Beth Kephart. When a hurricane hits the New Jersey shore, the main character is separated from family and friends. Overnight, most of what she knows is swept away. Yet the surviving community comes together in surprising and healing ways.

Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Dystopian fiction. When an asteroid jars the moon out of its usual orbit, the resulting chain of natural disasters sends the main character and her family into survival mode, where they learn to rely on one another in new ways.

Prisoner B-3087, by Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, Jack Gruener. Although technically fiction, it is based closely on the true story of a boy who survived ten different concentration camps during World War II.

Escaping the Tiger, by Laura Manivong. Also based on a true story, this narrative follows a boy and his family as they flee a Communist regime, only to land in a refugee camp in Thailand that brings challenges and troubles of its own.

The Crazy Iris: and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath, ed. by Kenzaburo Oe. Also closely based on true stories, this compilation of short fiction explores life after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Survival Strategies (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

A while back there was this game going around social media where you listed which three fictional characters are most like you. I did not participate because I know exactly which three characters I am, and I did not want you to know, but what the heck:

  • ·         Chilly, the snowman/hypochondriac from Doc McStuffins

  • ·         Bert, of Bert and Ernie

  • ·         Chicken Little, of "The sky is falling" fame

I have terrible anxiety. Not the getting worried about worrisome things like everyone does sometimes. Constant, always there, low-grade but occasionally flaring into meltdowns and panic attacks anxiety. This is my natural state. I have to fight it every single day.

I know that it's not my fault, that it's the unfortunate way my brain is wired, and that we're not supposed to be ashamed of ourselves for things like this anymore, but I was raised in a world of stiff upper lips and brave faces and suck it up (to be clear, not just my family, but nearly every person I've ever met), and I am ashamed of it. Almost no one knows this about me, not even my closest friends and family, and here I am telling the internet, but again, what the heck.

And I know there are some people who will say, "Well, if worrying about things is the worst thing that's ever happened to you, aren't you lucky? Some people have real problems." I know this because they've said it to me. And yes, I have been lucky. But also, ha. ha. ha. And also, shut up because you clearly have no idea what anxiety is.

The 24-hour news cycle has never been my friend. I can trace the escalation of my anxiety to the development of social media and the constant onslaught of information—true, maybe true, and patently false—and opinions—informed, misinformed, and uninformed.

These days, I feel like I'm constantly being told that it's my duty to be informed, to be watchful, to never rest.

But that leaves me immobilized, not empowered.

So I have done what, ultimately, all survivors do.

I have given myself permission to survive.

I have given myself permission to put my own oxygen mask on first, like they tell you on airplanes.

Maybe it's not admirable, but it's necessary.

If I continue to let the news into every moment of my life, I will quite literally be sick. So, in the spirit of New Year's resolutions, here's what I'm doing.

  • ·         I have an app called Calm that I highly recommend, although it is pricey, and I meditate before bed and upon waking, when I remember.

  • ·         I read. I have discovered that my anxiety is so much worse when I'm not in the middle of a good book, so I must always be in the middle of a good book.

  • ·         I have taken up cross-stitching again. I did it some in high school and college, and then I quit because who wants cross-stitched stuff. I tried to learn to knit, but it is not my thing because it's just tying a bunch of knots and it escalates my anxiety. The counting part of cross-stitch is calming. It's hard to be too worried when you're counting 40 tiny stitches. Also, it is easy.

  • ·         Yoga. I pay for the Gaiam app, so I can do it anywhere. Again, pricey, but worth it.

  • ·         Exercise and healthy food. This sucks because I love sugar, but it doesn't love me.

  • ·         Tea. Tea makes everything better. The British are not wrong about this. I'm so committed to tea that I import it myself, from the UK, because I discovered that Twinings gives the UK all the good tea and passes off the stuff that tastes like mud puddles to the Americans. My local grocery store carries Taylor's of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea in the international section, and guess what? It's like three times cheaper and a thousand times better, but they don't have it in decaf, so I'm still ordering the decaf.

  • ·         At the beginning of January, I gave myself the gift of deleting Facebook from my phone. I love/hate social media, and this allows me to be more intentional about its use. It's a good compromise between being always "on" and keeping up. I've been crazy more productive, and I've realized how strong that itch to scroll through things I don't really care about is. Facebook is tough for me because it reminds me of all the things I can be anxious about, so if I was having a calm moment, I can be reminded of all the terrible diseases children can get, and all the ways I could die before my child is grown, and all the bad people who want to do all the bad things, and all the ways people misunderstand each other, and to top it all off, the people I think are on my side are screaming that I MUST BE AWARE OF ALL THE BAD THINGS ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IF I'M NOT I'M A BAD PERSON. And then I just want to go hide under a blanket, which does neither me nor the world any good.

So there you have it. My own oxygen mask goes on first. Not just so I can help others, but also so I don't pass out—because I deserve oxygen, too. My life doesn't have to be an endless stream of sacrifice and selflessness. I don't have to justify taking care of myself  with "because it will help me take care of others." (They love to tell you that after you have a baby. "Take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby." Um, take care of yourself because you're worth taking care of, you know?)

I get to take care of myself because I'm worth taking care of, and if I don't do it, who will?

You're worth taking care of, too.

So take care of yourself.