Julie Berry | Why I Write

Julie Berry grew up in western New York, and now lives in eastern Massachusetts with her husband and four young sons.  Her first novel, The Amaranth Enchantment (2009, Bloomsbury) was a Junior Library Guild Selection and an IndieBound Next Top Ten Pick; her second novel, Secondhand Charm, releases October 12, 2010 from Bloomsbury.  She is also the co-creator, with her sister Sally Faye Gardner, of Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys, a series of comic-graphic for ages 8-12 on August 19, from Penguin Books for Young Readers.

I forget sometimes how much I love to write.

Life as an author is unromantic. Moments of joyful creation are few.  They never happen with the right set dressing – no windswept moors, no beaches, no cozy fireplaces. New books are born, in my world, in a tiny office so cluttered you can’t see the floor, or on my half of the bed, buried in unfolded laundry. Occasionally I flee to a library carrel, and sometimes I escape to a friend’s house to hide in her spare room and write. Stolen space, stolen time. I’m more fugitive than artist.

Often other concerns dwarf writing entirely. There are proposals to submit, contracts to negotiate, outlines to revise, ideas to research, deadlines to fret, and manuscripts to revise, revise, revise, revise.

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Revision has its pleasures, to be sure, and anyone who dreams of publishing had better find them. But the rewards of revision are a pat on the back for washing the dishes. The rewards of writing, of pristine untouched virgin writing, can approach the Infinite. On good days.

Then there’s the commercial side of writing. Events to schedule, promote, orchestrate. Events to remember to show up for with an ironed shirt and brushed teeth.  Fun and thrilling in their way, and a necessary part of the process. But they’re a long remove from writing.

All author time is a withdrawal from life, home, and family that must be repaid. It would be far too easy to obsess over all things authorial and allow them to engulf who I was before I started writing. Perhaps I already do. But I try to balance my life in books with my other roles, principally in my marriage, mothering, and friendships.  So payback time is just another factored cost in my writing bottom line.

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I’m lucky and I’m grateful to be an author. I’m fortunate to need to wrangle with contracts and deadlines and revision letters. It’s a privilege addressing audiences, young and old. But occasionally the sheer magnitude and fuss of these roles makes me wonder why I bother, makes me think nostalgically of those pre-writing days when I watched more movies.

And then I find a moment, or a reason, to open a new Word document and start to play. It starts badly. Again I tell myself it’s time to renew my friendship with Netflix. But first, just a few more paragraphs, to see if there’s some salvageable material here.

And then, while I’ve stopped paying attention, in a hum almost too quiet to hear, the joy appears. This bad beginning, this waste of words bends and twists itself into tangibility, like a man of clay beginning to stir. A breath of life brushes across the idea, across characters that were mere names, and they gasp a little. So do I.

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It’s a miracle, and I’m a witness. These stories come from a land I do not own. Not without effort, for it’s a hard rodeo pinning a skittish novel down, but still, they come on their own, and when they do, then I remember. Ah, yes. This is why I write.

That I ever discovered I loved it was a gift my creator gave me.


Do you ever get so mired in the unintended consequences (good and bad) of your dream that you forget  why you love your dream — whether writing, painting, running, working, mothering?

Is there anything in particular that brings you back, as Julie described it, to what is “profoundly spiritual and unexplainable, like dew from heaven” about your dream?

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