Since the very thoughtful and kind, Ayah Assem, asked me to write a piece for her “Why I Write” blog series, I have been wracking my brain about this seemingly innocent clause. That brain power led me a few places, most of them being my kitchen for snacks, but some have also included my reasoning for my journey as a writer. The first reason that I write, and perhaps most important, is because I have to. Writing isn’t just fun for me, it’s essential and imperative. Are you curious if should pursue your writing, and if it may be more than a hobby? Ask yourself if it’s a compulsive need, something you miss when it’s not there, and someplace that hollows out when ignored.
I’ve always known I was as a storyteller. Before I could read or write, I’d make up elaborate stories when playing with dolls and stuffed animals. Like, these tales had plots and back-story. I married my stuffed mouse (appropriately named Mousie) to a teddy bear (Strawberry Bear), and their love story was a full romantic saga. I discovered that I was a writer when my dad brought home our first computer, and I was introduced to Corel Word Perfect (I actually never used Microsoft Word until college). I wasn’t very skilled at typing when he first bought the computer, so he typed the stories while I dictated them. Most people don’t choose the writer life. It chooses them.
Another reason that I write is because it’s a family thing. I come from a long line of writers, but they’re journalists… nonfiction kind of people. I’ve always loved fantasy… magic, unicorns, mythology, that sort of thing. Writing fantasy is a great form of escapism, which is what I needed when I started my book, The Blazing Star. I found a terrible job after grad school (underpaid, over-skilled, underwhelmed), and had to take my mind elsewhere. The YA age-range appealed to me because I was absorbing YA at the time, which also interests many writers because of the self-discovery for characters. I channeled my need for adventure and magic and newness in the protagonist, Portia, and wrote whenever I could.
My final reason for writing, at least for the purposes of this blogpost, is that I feel alive when I’m creative, and just penning my stories is a way to seek connection. I started writing The Blazing Star around 2011. In it, I wrote about a black teen girl who travels back in time, and goes on an amazing adventure. However, when the manuscript was done, I had difficulty moving it through traditional publishing, receiving a lot of “I didn’t connect with the voice” rejections. This was undeniably frustrating, as I’ve always been expected to relate to the voice of the dominant culture, even when it’s not listening to mine.
But I kept going with it, trying to get published, because I had been looking for my main character Portia my entire life. For so long, I was trying to find a character who shared my dreams, but wasn’t the snappy sidekick or the silent token addition to a white cast. I was trying to find the little black girl who went on a speculative adventure, but I always believed she just wasn’t there, that finding Portia would be like seeking out that horse with a stick on its head . . . and yeah, it’s called a unicorn. Sharing Portia with publishing was my way to seek connection, to put my voice out in the world and ask, “Do you hear me?” Because as many readers and writers of color know, when there is nothing in your world to connect to, no one who looks like you, the response to your plea for love, validation, and acknowledgement is, “No, I don’t hear you.” And that needs to change. So if you think you’re a writer, please write. Put your voice out there. Make your mark.