I write because, as a child growing up in an unstable and often harsh environment, it was a way that I could create a world that made sense to me, and it continues to serve that same purpose today. Writing gives me the ability to grasp the convoluted, ambiguous and overlapping shades of life, and to give them form, color and definition, and then to carefully arrange them in an order that I can process.
I first learned this trick from my grandmother in the form of oral storytelling. A Norwegian-American woman who grew up on the plains of North Dakota, she would wind the tales from her girlhood like a ball of twine, twisting her life around and around, always coming back to the beginning. I spent countless afternoons sitting by her knee, listening until she lulled herself to sleep with her own memories. Soon, it wasn’t enough for me to simply listen; I began to excitedly shout out ideas which she would incorporate into her story with a nod of her head, as if they were details she had absent-mindedly forgotten. Suddenly, the story about the Chinese medicine man treating a snake bite on her leg involved a chicken in his mysterious remedy, or she had a pet wolf that saved the day. Eventually, I had morphed her stories with my childish whimsies so fantastically that it’s hard for me to recall how the original versions went.
At the time, it felt like a game that we were playing, but what I didn’t realize was that my grandmother was cultivating the seeds of the storytelling craft in my nascent identity. Many years later, after she passed, and I was struggling in an abusive home and with relentless bullying by my peers, the gift that she had given me saved my life. Through tears, bitterness and confusion, I wrote. I created new places with elaborate histories, characters with misunderstood abilities, innocent romances and violent battles in which the victor was always the character with whom I related most. I can’t say they were great stories, but they were necessary to my survival. When I look back on my life, the darkest times were always the ones during which I didn’t write, when I rejected and buried that sacred inheritance, telling myself that it was a waste of time. Thankfully, like a resilient vine, the need to write would always burst through the layers of self-doubt and deliver me from the chaos.
I write because it’s the only thing I have that has never wavered or harmed me. It’s a comfort, a coping mechanism and a means to stay sane. But above all, it’s an obligation handed down to me, a living essence to be nurtured and given to anyone in need of it.
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.
- Write a 500-word essay explaining why you write.
- Submit via Submittable.