Why We Write

February 18, 2008

Why We Write – Number 48: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:47 am

Number 48

Today’s piece is written by Kelly Dunleavy, who writes for a fashion magazine. 


When I was 7 and joined the swim team, I became convinced a shark was going to kill me at my local pool. Just because I couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there. That shark was going to come up through the drainpipe and bite my leg off. I’ve seen the shows; I know how this shit goes down. 

Last week, ever so much older, I found myself alone in my gym’s pool and I knew: this is it, this is when they would come for me. No one around and raining. Drop a water moccasin in the water (something I’ve been terrified of since Lonesome Dove), it’d slither up and I’d be very dead. It didn’t matter that I don’t have any enemies (who are that resourceful), those people on CSI are always getting murdered on accident.

But that’s not why I write. That’s why I have issues being alone at night.

I am good at a lot of things. Not really good. Just good. Above average. I am above average at math, public speaking, sports (except basketball and tennis) and baking desserts, to name a few. I am barely skimming the surface in writing.

And that is why I write.

My teachers would encourage me to go into physics or to pursue a career as a politician. ‘Actuaries make good money,’ my godmother’s daughter would say. ‘I know a guy, let me give you his number.’

Instead, for our weekly essays in grade school, I would turn in 12-page hand-written epics starring Pendryn, the stranded survivor of a space exploration mission on a journey to recover the lost sphere of Oleuas. Or diagramed stories starring characters modeled (ever so subtly) after my classmates, stuck in a parallel classroom in a world underground. I started a poetry writing business and charged my parents’ friends for poems titled ‘Sisters’ and ‘Good-Bye Coby’.

I didn’t want to be a writer. God no. I wanted to be the long-lost twin child of Princess Leia and Han Solo, who would come take me out of the protective custody they had left me in because they needed me to help them save the world. Spent a whole year waiting for that one.

I wanted to be the President, until I figured I’d get shot.

I wanted to be an explorer, but all the islands had already been discovered and planes make me sick.

And that is why I write.

That’s why I work at a fashion magazine. Oh, wait, no, I work at a fashion magazine, because the real world is an odd and twisted place, with a dark sense of humor.

But that is why I stay up late some nights, scribbling, trying to write as fast as I can think, positive this is the sentence that’s going to make me a star. This is the first page of a novel that’s going to be the next huge first page. Because I never get beyond the first few pages. I wake up the next morning, like a bleary-eyed sorority girl, wondering, ‘What did I do last night?’

And it’s always crap. I can see that now. I’ve lost whatever precociousness I once had. It’s not cute anymore. Now, I’m just another sad, hipster, writer-wannabe. I might as well go buy myself a beret.

So why do I keep at it, in between bouts of fiscal responsibility?

Because people said I couldn’t; my grammar skills would hold me down. Because it kills time until the CIA needs me for a super-secret mission. Because I would be a horrible doctor. Because when I am killed in a horrific meteor accident, the likes of which have never been seen before, at least I’ll have left a record behind.

Because I’m a paranoid, over-imaginative hypochondriac with few valuable skills and virtually no sense of self-control.

Because it’s all I want to be good at.


WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

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