Joanna Nelius

In high school, I wanted to be a crime scene investigator. But after nearly failing Chemistry my junior year, I was told by a counselor that I better find something else to do with my life. Having an adult figure, someone whose job it was to put students on a path for success, disparage my hopes at the only career I could see myself doing well into adulthood, only added to the already fragile self-esteem of my 16-year-old self. Combined with a tumultuous home life, I closed off to family and friends.

Then Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicals” resurged to popularity, and suddenly I had this new entire group of friends. We analyzed the characters, the writing style: applying the things we learned in our English classes to our discussions of Lestat’s latest shenanigans. I never cared for Shakespeare. I never cared for Chaucer. I never cared for Charles Dickens. But reading something that wasn’t being taught in my English class made me love reading all over again, and these new friends of mine felt the same. Slowly, I started connecting to the people around me again.

I don’t remember exactly what made me sit down at my desk and write my first poem, but it was somewhere between reading “Memnoch The Devil” and finally getting over my “Edward Scissorhands” binge-watching phase. I just remember wanting to try writing a poem. I didn’t have anything else going for me, so why not? Everything I wrote I brought to my former English teacher and ceramics teacher and their reactions encouraged me to write more.

My mom eventually caught wind of what I was doing. I didn’t think she cared for creative writing. My parents were not readers, aside from the Clive Cussler thrillers my dad read, but my mom realized that I was starting to enjoy writing. Perhaps more by fate than coincidence, she was at the movies and saw an advertisement for the California State Summer School of the Arts. She told me about it, I applied to their creative writing section, and was accepted soon after. My former English teacher and ceramics teacher came to the awards ceremony along with my mom and grandmother, where myself and about twenty other high school students were awarded with a Governor’s Medallion.

Writing gave me a place to fit in when suburbia expected my rebellious attitude to get me addicted to drugs or get pregnant right out of high school. I never actually was a rebellious teenager—like a patched-up plaid pants and spiked leather jacket, skip school because anarchy rules kind of rebellious—but I guess wanting to do a book report on Jack the Ripper is frowned upon in polite society.

Writing continues to give me direction. It slaps sense into me when I need it. It’s introduced me to countless communities of writers across all genres and mediums around the world. I can be a million different things at once through writing, even a crime scene investigator.



When the task of writing grows inevitably arduous—and seemingly thankless—we must remember why we started. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” this introspective project highlights our motives for writing. Share your story and join the conversation. Live events are produced throughout the diverse cities of Orange County and feature author readings from curated essay submissions.

  1. Write a 500-word essay explaining why you write.
  2. Submit via Submittable.

The 1888 Podcast Network is a curated collection of educational and entertaining podcasts. Each program is designed to provide a unique platform for industry innovators to share stories about art, literature, music, history, science, or technology.