On Writing: Why Story is Necessary (1)

Why I Write in a Fucked Up World…

by J.M. Rinker

fbbe04_3ba5103c973f462e999810199d104ab9My partner and I were talking about our favorite books the other day and he has a well-rounded list while mine resembles that of a twelve year old: Charlotte’s Web, Little Women, Secret Garden, Bridge to Terabithia, and Tuck Everlasting. I actually do read grown-up books as well, but they never stay with me the same way as those titles, perhaps because childhood is much more impressionable.

But there’s something that links these books together which is the real reason they impressed themselves upon me and remain close to my heart. I read to understand. To know that I wasn’t the only one. To know it was possible to survive. As a child, I clung to those stories because by the end the kids were okay.

I write for the same exact reasons. It’s as though I don’t know anything until I’ve written it, whether it be a journal entry, a blog post, or a new novel. I can’t figure things out without writing about them. I feel alone more often than not, but when I am writing, I know exactly where I belong and which part I play. Illogical things suddenly make sense. I script scenes I will never experience so that I can experience them. So that I know, by the end, I will be okay.

So why is telling stories important in a screwed up world that we will never understand? Why should we bother?

Because when we write from that most confused, grievous, joyous, personal place, we create works of art that can significantly enrich people’s lives. These authors did exactly that for me.

EB White wrote Charlotte’s Web as he struggled with reconciling his love for animals with the way livestock meets its end. This endearing cast is unforgettable.

Louisa May Alcott was asked to write Little Women, but the characters are based on her life and the death of her own sister is mirrored in the pages. Beth becomes beloved to us all.

Frances Hodgson Burnett began The Secret Garden after she lost her son and said her characters “came to her” rather than the other way around. These are some of the richest characters ever drawn.

Katherine Patterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia after the death of her son’s friend. A poignant story that reminds us to hold close our loved ones.

Natalie Babbit wrote Tuck Everlasting because her daughter showed a fear of death that Babbit didn’t want her to carry throughout her life. Because that fear will prevent you from living.


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17 responses to “On Writing: Why Story is Necessary (1)

  1. It shows when a writer is truly connected with their writing. I’ve noticed some of my best pieces are when I’m connected with the story in some way.

  2. I started writing after my mother died, but it wasn’t until I had written 3 very different manuscripts where the heroine was motherless that I realized the connection

    • Yes-it all comes out in the writing whether we’re conscious of it or not. Pretty amazing to look back and read what we’ve worked through while we thought we were just “writing stories.”

  3. Jessica, my list is totally the same as yours and (I’m guessing) not nearly as sophisticated as your partners. Soul sister! 🙂

  4. Linda, I’m so glad you are a devotee of those books! I’m totally moved by Secret Garden and Heidi type stories. Give me a red headed orphan from Pippy to Anne of Green Gables and I will happily let them lead me with their clever and creative minds.

    The stories you mention are deeply important. There are little girls in there that not only survive but transform lives. I believe we are looking for courageous role model in our own psyche that is not a grown up goddess, but an inner child– a child we never got to fully be–and a happy ending that is NOT solely in someone else’s hands. The Prince is not The Solution in the books you mention.
    Maybe these heroines reflect the best of mental health?
    I’m so delighted you wrote about this! I would never have guessed these were your treasured titles!


    • FYI Donna, this is a guest post by J.M. Rinker.

      • Donna Warwick

        And so it goes–I continue to be challenged with “reading for meaning” from my iPhone! Lol!
        Thanks Linda! Funny– 😄

    • Donna-I love this: “There are little girls that not only survive but transform lives.” That just hit me hard, for some reason. I’m always thinking: survival, survival, survival, because that’s the personal place I come from, but you are absolutely right. Those characters are true heroines and now I love them even more than I already did.

      • Donna Warwick

        Thanks for your reply, Jessica. I really enjoyed your blog post. You zoomed in and identified an point that is so important to me personally. I lost my best friend in 2003 and set about to re-write her childhood a few years later.
        I was mostly “processing” for myself (not for publication). But I found it in The Drawer in October and realized it was time to finish this one. My biological clock is clearly ticking. Time for a mid-life baby!
        Happy New Year to you and to Linda –and ooodles of thanks for the inspiration! -D.W.

  5. Writing is how I process my emotions and problems. I’m not sure even a therapist could help me if I couldn’t read or write.

  6. Natasha Sinel


  7. Jess, lovely post! I started writing novels out of grief when I lost my mother. I needed to focus on something else – anything but grief. The author, Michael Kimball, wrote his novel US from this sort place and wrote. “There is a lot of love in grief”. I think its true and comforting.

    Another author who wrote from grief is Ann Hood. She lost her will to read and write after her 5 year old daughter died suddenly from virulent strep. She eventually took up knitting to comfort her. From her healing grew the tale The Knitting Circle about a woman who loses her 5 year old daughter to meningitis and how knitting comforted her during a time of terrible anguish.

    But I read like you do – to connect as well, to the present and to the past. To know I am not alone in this messed up world. 🙂 As a matter of fact I am re-reading one of my favorite childhood books now, The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston.

    • It’s completely true. And even if we don’t write with direct response to something that happens to us or around us, those experiences come through our writing. They make it authentic and relatable to others as well. I get bogged down by all the shit that goes on in the world. The sad stories like the young boy in your community, or a car accident in my neighborhood–sometimes those stories hit me the hardest. I almost always end up writing about them in some way. I can’t really help it!