“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.