Why I Write: Yasmina Madden

I wish I could say that from a very young age, five or six, I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and that I write because I’ve always known this fact. In reality, I didn’t consider the possibility of being a writer until my late teens. What is true is that as a child I read obsessively. I read everything I could get my hands on—books, magazines, newspapers, every sign we passed on our way wherever (much to the annoyance of my siblings). I remember smuggling books under my shirt so as to read during enforced naptimes, and when I finished the stories, I’d scribble on the blank page at the back of the book, sometimes just my name, occasionally a few words that didn’t necessarily connect in any way. I also know that I spent a lot of time making up my own stories—not writing them down, but telling myself stories in which some other version of the world, and some other version of me in it, existed. I guess some might say that on some level I was trying to be a writer in these moments. Maybe not.

It’s strange, but attempting to answer the question of why I write is bringing back memories that contradict the opening sentences of this essay. I am the third child of four, and a story I liked to tell myself as a kid was that I was the Forgotten Child. I took pleasure in telling myself that my eldest sister was defined by being first and most powerful, and my younger sister defined by being last, and the baby. And, well, my brother? That doesn’t need explaining, does it? My nicknames for him were (and still are) the Golden Child, Buddha, and The Chosen One, if that helps you understand how I saw his place in the line up.

As the middle daughter, I loved to become maudlin over my lack of distinction and in response to some perceived slight or another, I remember angrily scrawling on a small pad of paper, all of the ways I’d been persecuted or overlooked. This narrative of my tortured existence went on and on. I taped the pages together, as if making my tale of woe into a scroll would make it that much more important, and I left it out on my desk, hoping that a sibling or parent would find it. I was around nine or ten years old when this happened, and I remember that writing these things down brought a relief of sorts, a release of the petty resentments a ten-year-old carries (more specifically, the petty resentments that a privileged, middle-class, suburban ten year old carried). It seems, as I think about it now, that in writing about the ways I believed I’d been neglected, and manipulating or embellishing these acts so they read as more awful or sad, I was trying to make sense of my position in my family and create a version of my world that matched my dramatic emotions. Or maybe I was just an egomaniacal child.

Prompted to consider the various reasons I write, I keep coming back to the fact that, like many writers, I write about what gnaws at me or awes me—writing about an experience, or taking a difficult or beautiful moment and building a story around it, brings me a sharper understanding of the world and my place in it. I write, I think, because I’m continually trying to figure something out for myself: How do I see this experience? What does it mean to me? What does exploring a character’s choice reveal to me about what motivates or destroys us? There are quite a few references to me in those last few sentences, and it seems, embarrassingly, that I write because I’m am, actually, a bit self-centered!

In, perhaps, a less self-interested way, I also write because we live in a horrifying and wonderful world and writing is a way to try to preserve some of the wonder or to confront some of the horror encountered. There are certain experiences I’ve had, or witnessed, or heard about, that seem impossible not to explore, or seem too important not to record in some way, and writing a story about these events or experiences is my attempt at preservation. I should probably clarify that I write, primarily, fiction. In the writing process, whatever moment or experience may have served as the spark, is more often than not left behind as the story I write tries to make sense of the subject, no matter how many lies I have to tell.

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Yasmina Madden

About Yasmina Madden

Yasmina Madden lives in Iowa and has published short stories and flash fiction in The Idaho Review, Revolver, Carve and other journals. She was a finalist for the Raymond Carver Short Story Prize and received a Pushcart Prize Nomination for her story, "That Baby." She has an MFA from Indiana University and teaches fiction and nonfiction at Drake University.