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As a child, bedtime stories were what lulled me into sleep. These were not classics like Goodnight Moon or popular fiction like Percy Jackson, nor were they pulled from tomes of fairy tales. I fabricated them in my mind, conjuring up characters and settings to entertain myself. Sometimes, my nightly routine was more effective at energizing me than getting me to snooze, but most nights, the process calmed me, sending me to sleep and leaving me on cliffhangers of which only I could create the resolution.

I didn’t recognize at the time that dreams were my first foray into fiction writing, albeit without a pencil or keyboard to actually record it.

That came later in fourth or fifth grade, when my awesome teacher, Mr. Barribeau, who encouraged our creativity in everything from creative writing to math, read a story I had jotted down at my desk. He told me it was good and that he wanted to give my parents information on a “young authors conference” for me to attend. I don’t remember much of that story I wrote, other than a line about the grass being greener on the other side of somewhere, a topic inspired by the deep Teen Nick cartoon As Told by Ginger. What I do remember was the pride and confidence the praise gave me, and how at the age when you still think you can be anything, I believed wholeheartedly that I would be an author.

For some reason, I never ended up at that conference, and along the way my confidence dwindled, dreams discarded for realism. Up until my late teens, writing was something I infrequently dabbled in, usually within the confines of the classroom or, a few times, in fanfiction. My mind was more occupied with the real world in front of me, trying to figure out where I fit and who I was in it. Whenever I found myself grasping at straws, I also found myself reaching for a story, hoping it could provide answers. Generally, the stories failed to deliver the specific answers I sought, but they always succeeded in letting me know I was not alone, and that was a gift enough. Though I hadn’t committed them to paper, I carried those stories in my heart and in my mind, and made it easier to sleep.

And, as I graduated high school and entered college, they also made it easier to survive.

The summer before college began, I had learned that one of my family members was battling with addiction. While giving it a name helped us to identify what was going on, a year later, it had not helped my family member move on a road towards recovery. The disease had only gotten worse, and my family life along with it. Living with someone in active addiction, my family and I described our existence as prisoners in our own home. When there wasn’t yelling, there was crying or silence or glib jokes to try to ease the pain. Worry lay behind all of that.

Longing for an escape, I found myself turning to what had calmed me: my own stories. This time, I recorded them on the page.

In the months leading up to my family member entering rehabilitation, I wrote at every chance I could, spending my weekends inside the imaginary world I was building, crafting character arcs and plot points.

Within three months, I had written the first draft of my first book. It was and remains one of the things I am most proud of.

Throughout my entire adolescence, the question “who am I?” nagged at me with impressive persistence and resilience. But when I wrote, it quieted, not even appearing as a whisper. It was as if in figuring out who characters were, in creating, that I understood more of who I was and who I was not. It was as if I had finally found something that could call back with an answer:

This. This is who you are. This is what you are meant to do. 

It was one of the few times in my life up until that point I felt like I was completely myself, and once I had, I never wanted to return that confusing, questioning emptiness.

In a cosmic sense, I don’t know why my family member has had to suffer from addiction. But I am someone who likes to believe everything happens for a reason, so I have found peace in knowing that from some of the worst years of my life sprung my love of writing. Not all was bad or lost.

That passion led me to add a creative writing minor at college, become a reporter, lead communications at my current job, and pen dozens of stories.

After struggling to find a place to belong, writing brought me into community with some of my favorite people—friends with whom I have had the privilege to collaborate with on writing and film projects; my past reporting colleagues; local artists in my town; and the very people who write for this website.

Yet, when people ask me why I write, I would not list these things right off the bat. What I would say is that writing has—and continues to—save me. When I cannot verbalize how I am feeling, or understand the world around me, writing helps me to make sense of it, and do so in a way that can help others understand me, too. It has taught me things about myself and about others, forcing me to consider alternate perspectives in ways I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It has brought boundless joy, and in my darkest moments, it has been my solace, my reprieve. Try as I may to quit it sometimes, when I feel like a fraud and writing is no longer for me, I always come back. Because writing will always be for me. It will always be me.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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