Thursday, March 27, 2014


The roots of who we become as adults are put down when we are children. As a child who never felt comfortable in the real world, I turned to the worlds I found in books and within my own mind. Always a great believer in happily-ever-after, fairy tales, and worlds that should be but aren't, I was fascinated by Walt Disney's "Pinocchio," and I suspect I subconsciously patterned much of my life after the song, "Hi-diddle-dee-dee":

An actor's life for me
A high silk hat and a silver cane
A watch of gold with a diamond chain

An actor's life is gay
It's great to be a celebrity
An actor's life for me

Though I was much too shy to be an actor, I substituted "writer" for "actor." And while I have yet to buy a high silk hat or a silver chain, or find the "celebrity," I did get the "gay" part down right.

To say that I am a writer is a statement of fact no more remarkable than is the fact I have brown eyes. I am a writer simply because I cannot conceive of being or ever having been anything else. 

I can't presume to tell you why other writers write, but I can tell you why I do: to tell stories that assure both the reader and myself that those things which unite us as human beings are far more important than those which separate us, and that none of us is, despite our sometimes unavoidable belief otherwise, truly alone. 

Of course it helps that my mind is one gigantic version of Lawrence Welk's bubble machine, constantly sending out thousands of thoughts and ideas which appear and disappear in an instant. I'm forever reaching for them and every now and then one will alight on my palm long enough for me to see the elements of a story reflected on its surface.

I've often said that I do not write my books, I read them as the words appear on the computer screen. I am incapable of plotting in advance, because new thoughts and ideas keep sending me off in new directions. I am constantly editing and changing, going back several pages or chapters to lay the groundwork for the appearance of a character or plot element that came along as I wrote. I primarily write mysteries—probably because, to me, life is one large mystery—and while I start off with the basics of the plot and know generally where I'm going, the route I take to get there is not laid out in advance. I often don't know who the killer really is until well into the story, or I'll begin intending for one person to be the killer and end up with someone completely different...occasionally a character I hadn't even created when I began.

Writing is, to me, a far more effective way of communicating than are spoken words. Once out of the mouth, a spoken word cannot be changed. But in writing affords me the luxury, if I don't like the way I've said something, to go back and change it, and to go over and over it until I'm satisfied that it says what I want it to say.

My characters and plot elements are often based (generally very loosely) on my personal experiences, on places I've lived or been, and on people I've known or encountered. I enjoy naming my characters (either first or last name, but almost never both) after my friends and acquaintances. I am frequently amazed to find, in my writing, elements of myself I'd never known were there. It only struck me after several books, for example, that I have an apparent fondness for names beginning with the letter "J"...Jonathan, Joshua, Jared, Jake, John, etc. Why this should be I haven't a clue, which is fine with me. That there are many things in writing which have no explanation is part of its wonder.

But I do think that whatever success I have had in writing comes not only from my ability to tell stories people seem to enjoy reading and can relate to on some level, but from the fact that I am always acutely aware of the reader as I write. I look on every book as a conversation...albeit one-sided...with the reader. And I am delighted when that conversation is reciprocated in the form of a note from a reader.

There is no greater catharsis than putting thoughts in writing. Writing for publication is not nearly as simple as it may seem, but it is only one aspect of writing. I encourage everyone to write, whether for others to read or just as a way of putting into written words aspects of themselves they may not have been aware existed. Whether or not you intend for anyone else to read it is really important: seeing yourself through your words is. You may well be surprised to learn, or at the very least to gain insights into who you really are and what you really think. 

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

Do you know what I've always thought would be fun and worth doing? Going back through our work and detailing in a book how the stories came together, the little 'in' jokes we put in them, how the characters were named and where plot elements came from.

Have you ever considered this? Somebody out there will ask one day (if they haven't already) and it helps to explain our process as a writer.

Self-indulgent? Maybe. But still fun.

Dorien Grey said...

It would indeed be interesting, Kage...but wouldn't we risk taking some of the...well, mystery...out of our exalted status as speakers for the gods?

Kage Alan said...

I don't think so. Someone will only read the book if they want to know. If they don't, then they won't.