Why I Write: Cass Morris

July 25, 2017 | By | Reply More

“He’s hurt. We’ll have to hide him under the bushes until the king’s men pass, and then we can go find the magic that will save him.”

So ran the first story I remember telling — a sequel to The Last Unicorn, which I forced my cousins to act out with me. I don’t recall precisely how old I was — somewhere between three and six — but I know that by that point, I was already swimming in stories. My parents figured out early on that the best way to keep me occupied, in any situation, was simply to hand me a book. Give me a fictional world in which to lose myself, and I wanted for nothing else.

Why do I write? Because I can’t help it. The instinct is baked right into me, as involuntary as breathing and as essential as blood. I have no memory of a time when storytelling wasn’t my natural inclination — a reflex to almost any stimulus. Years before writing as a career ever occurred to me, I kept notebooks full of information about the denizens of my dollhouse (a tribe of feral children, for the most part), and my floor was often strewn with hand-drawn maps over which empires of dinosaurs rose and fell.

As I got older, I started to realize how much I like words. I love the way that interesting words taste, and I love the puzzle of fitting them together in evocative ways. One of my favorite games at Girl Scout camp was always round-robin storytelling. I challenged myself to be the most entertaining — to keep everyone hanging on my words, invested in whatever tale I could weave off the top of my head.

I realized I wanted to be a professional writer at the age of 11, after seeing Star Wars for the first time. I was drawn so utterly into the universe, and it occurred to me then that this was something I could do — I could build a world and invite others into it. That “why” evolved into a “when and how” as the vague notion evolved into an obsession. Throughout my teenage years, I didn’t go anywhere without a notebook stuffed in my bag. It never took more than a moment’s mental boredom for my mind to flit off into another universe. (This occasionally became problematic when the moments of mental boredom occurred in, say, physics class). As I got older, I learned a trick: when in a situation where whipping out a notebook or laptop is impossible (or just impossibly uncouth), I tell the story to myself, over and over again, in my head, one paragraph at a time. That will usually fix the idea in place long enough for me to pin it down at the first opportunity. I write while walking. I write while driving.

I write to indulge myself in life on a larger scale. Whether romance or adventure, glory or pain, there’s something seductive about allowing myself to sink into the extremes — to experience greater heights of danger and delight than I’m likely to encounter in the waking world. I can delve into the psyches of heroes and villains alike, taking on the very best and very worst that humanity can offer. It’s a giddy delight, sinking into another personality to figure out how it works and what it wants. As a female writer, I find it a particularly magnificent outlet. On the page, you can scream and rail and claw and do all the things you can’t do in life; you can claim all the power that the world denies you. Ink knows no limits.

Do I write with a message? I don’t know. I’ve always sort of felt that if you’re writing to convey a message, you’re probably sacrificing story in some way — and for me, the story will always be paramount. Story — and characters. If there’s a message, for me, it needs to live in the characters. And those characters are a way of learning more about myself and the people around me. My current heroine is one with a story to tell about a woman’s power, denied and reclaimed. Her message is one of diminution and defiance; she makes herself small to suit the world that men have built around her, but when that becomes intolerable, she breaks free. The message has never been the “why” when I sit down to write, though — it’s something I tend to find as I go along, if I’m lucky enough to find it at all.

So, why do I write? I write to explore words and worlds alike. I write because there, the possibilities are endless — for adventuring, for learning, for captivating. I write to claim space for myself and for all the girls who are now as I was growing up — bright and burning and yearning, aching for a world of their own making, eager to take up swords and shields and pens with which they can blaze their own trails.

And I write because I quite simply wouldn’t know how to stop myself.

 Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Her debut novel, From Unseen Fire, will be published through DAW Books in January 2018.
Twitter: @CassRMorris

Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

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