Why We Write | Chas Stockwell

I believe inspiration is somewhat of a paradox, in that it can come from anywhere, and blindside you when you’re not even ready.

The inspiration for this piece came after reading John Donne’s ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions’. While struggling to read the long, uninterrupted paragraphs, I couldn’t help but agonise over why he had decided to write like this. To this day I don’t know, but I am grateful that he did.

While the content of his long paragraphs didn’t inspire me, the form did. As a writer, I like to imagine and write stories cinematically, but I am also incredibly interested in experimental forms in writing. While not overly experimental, the long, quite harsh paragraphs lent themselves quite well to detailing the state of the narrator in my piece. Without breaks, the text is inescapable and often uncomfortable. This is what I was hoping to add to the piece in terms of form, with the addition of using a specific yet alien title which directly refers to the narrator’s condition.

— Chas Stockwell

Why We Write | Danai Gabre

This particular piece was very different for me. I usually write fantasy stories, or even novels, or I write travel fiction based on my childhood experiences of China. This is one of those, but with a much lighter tone and from a first person perspective. Generally, I have an idea of where I want the story to go (ending), a midpoint and then I begin to write. Getting going is always difficult for me. Then I’ll get ‘in the zone’ and type out a few paragraphs furiously until I get distracted.

This piece, I actually wrote all within a day. I may have written the first three sentences the day before and slept on it, but most of it was within a day. Then I left it and read it again. Then my wife read it and gave feedback. Finally, the lovely editors of Zest Literary Journal read it and suggested further editing. Usually, the final edition will be a shorter version of the original. Beginnings may be shortened to introduce the main story quicker, or the ending might be made less conclusive. In some rare occasions I flesh out the story with more details. Usually on further edits I mainly struggle with word choices – questions like ‘can I make this sentence more powerful’ or ‘is that word bringing in the right connotations?’ – those kind of things.

Writing to me happens with a lot of coffee, a lot of staring off into space, and some typing.

— Danai Gabre | The First Time I Used the Word ‘Stupid’ | Issue 1

Why We Write | Pete Armetta

The piece Begin The Begin began over a period of several days when I couldn’t get the REM song of the same name out of my mind. Mostly the words of the title itself: Begin the Begin. They played over in my head. Being a lover of the Senryu form in poetry, it seemed natural to write it one syllable at time, and that’s how it unfolded.

— Pete Armetta | Begin the Begin | Issue 1

Why We Write | Monnie Bess

It’s not enough to say, “Because I have to.” What is at the core of my efforts and creativity? My inate shyness, born of fear and insecurity. As a child, I would see the world around me and be unable to speak about it. I would hear conversations, but never open my mouth to join in. I felt too unworthy and insignificant to have heads turn towards me; I had no desire to be noticed. Then I began to write and words gushed out. There was so much I wanted to say, just not vocally. My imagination took flight and created places full of beauty and fun. The books I devoured fed my curious, dreamy mind with streams of ideas. As an adult, this revolving door of writing-observing-writing-reading-writing-feeling cannot be jammed. Before my eyes open, I know sleep has ended because my brain is putting sentences or a scenario together.

— Monnie Bess | Ten Firsts | Issue 1

Why We Write | Sharna Eberlein

After many years as a newspaper columnist for our local Puna News, I began to write a mystery novel situated in the lower Puna area where I live. It is now published in a Kindle version.

This piece is my first foray into a more memoir style of writing. My desire is to show the meandering of the mind of a person who has lived long and well, and is coming into a new era of her life.

— Sharna Eberlein | The Woman on the Lanai | Issue 1

Why We Write | Sophie Alexander

I was walking down the road pondering the brief for the first issue of Zest Literary Journal and wondering what sort of story I could write about new beginnings that wouldn’t be clichéd, when I realised there was someone in my life to whom I wished I could give a fresh start, of sorts.

I went home, sat down, and wrote the story in a couple of hours. Although the situation is inspired by someone close to me, the character in Thaw has an inner life of her own, and I found the ability to shape her thoughts and the resolution of the story quite cathartic.

I am an inveterate daydreamer, and my writing usually stems from little scenes that pop into my head and unfold while I am walking the dog or sitting on a train. The tricky part is connecting these scenes, that are so vivid I can actually see the characters and hear their dialogue.

Thaw was my first attempt to direct my writing by deliberately choosing a theme.

— Sophie Alexander | Thaw | Issue 1

Why We Write | Stephen V. Ramey

The genesis for Love Seat was a prompt at Show Me Your Lits. The image showed a young couple seated upon a love seat, arms entwined. There was something surreal about their pose, at least to my eyes, the way they seemed so physically connected, yet emotionally detached. Their expressions lacked the passion of their pose. That seemed like the core of something worthwhile to me, and so I began. Should I open with this image or end there? I wasn’t all that interested in the people, but in this dissonance between action and emotion. That the couple held each other . . . wasn’t that an indication of their desire to love? But faces do not lie, do they? What is keeping these two from experiencing the love they long for? Better, what has pushed them away from what was once real? And then I thought how married people often drift apart over time. They change, and grow, develop new priorities. Maybe I could do something with that. In flash, however, I don’t have time to develop complications, or to deal with multiple threads. I have to focus in on what matters most, create the specific details that convey character and place and time, and move efficiently toward emotional resolution. At least that’s the usual way a flash plays out for me. How to simplify this story of love’s long drift… What if I were to make the abstraction literal? What if one or both of these people had ACTUALLY changed? In that moment, Jade became a love seat. The story firmed up in my mind.

That was the easy part. One thing I have learned over time, is that I am not ready to begin a story until I find an interesting way into it. By this, I do not mean finding something flashy or active that will pull a reader in, but finding something, some vivid image, a new technique, a way to compact something very large, that interests ME. If I’m not invested in a piece, my passion for it will not develop. Usually, I’ll try out sentence after sentence, maybe even a paragraph, before the opening clicks. When I do find that magic key, I know I can trust the process. I don’t have to know the details of the story at that point, don’t even have to understand the ending (though I did in this particular case). I’ll create something of worth now because I’ve intrigued myself.

In this story, the magic sentence proved to be, ‘The Steak ‘n Shake booth’s plastic seat crinkled under Alexander like a mouth chewing.’ Bingo. We have setting and mood, and the first hint that I’m going surreal. From there it was a matter of finding someone to interact with my character — the waitress stepped into the light almost at once — and a hint of back story to set up the revelation. Thus the anecdote about Jade running off to New York and the main character’s blind devotion (which helped me to understand him). And, because I believe it’s important to play fair with the reader, I added, ‘The anachronism struck a funny bone. Alexander imagined a stepstool tap-dancing on linoleum.’ While this isn’t totally honest, it does plant a clue that Jade may not be your typical wife. Total honesty would demand that the main character think of Jade the sofa at this moment, but there’s always a tradeoff between honesty and distraction in a short story. I tried to convey that while the character reacts to the waitress’ comment in an unusual way, the conversation itself does not afford him time to follow that reaction through to concrete thought. The rest of the story came fairly easily. I did, of course, have to revise and polish, and the editors of this fine journal pointed out a couple places where I needed to clarify a concept or change a word. Stories are almost never finished the first time through.

— Stephen V. Ramey | Love Seat | Issue 1