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.