What We Write, and Why We Write It…


Here’s our latest investigative question:  In what genre do you prefer writing? Why? OR, How do you decide what genre a particular piece will be? Is there a difference between what you like reading and what you like writing? If you were to create an anthology of just your own work, what would its content be like?


I prefer writing poetry to anything else. I love the art and craft of writing poetry. Someone once said that the art of prose is finding the right words to say something, the art of poetry is finding the BEST word to say something. I love the spareness of poetry, the often surprise that comes in the last stanza—even as one writes the poem. I haven’t written essays intentionally, but think that might be fun too. When I wrote my memoir, I included poetry that had been written at the time about which I was speaking in places where the poetry expressed the immediate emotional content of the situation I was describing. Readers seem to appreciate it. I read poetry, fiction and non-fiction. I am in awe of someone who can write a good novel—holding all the characters and their backstories in one’s head while crafting a thematic story line for a novel is amazing to me. I write mostly poetry because it seems less demanding and at the same time more intense than fiction—and it doesn’t take as long to complete. If I were to create an anthology of just my own work, if would be 3/4 poetry, 1/8 non fiction (memoir) and probably another 1/8 of small pieces that aim to promote some point of view. Wait—is that an essay?

-Mary Ann Woodruff, ’60


All of my pieces start in some way or another as poems. My handmade anthologies from twenty years of writing are exclusively poetry. I bring less judgment to bear on poetry, and I seem to have one string, strung from neck to groin, that the right words pluck, set to vibrating. It’s a self-contained approval mechanism providing gratification of my own making.

If I want to make a point or relate an anecdote, I turn to prose. A novel is behemoth I strain to keep in order, to keep in view and there I explore the inner lives of others.

And that is what I love to read about: the inner lives of others. So I read novels more than anything else. I so admire great novelists, and I believe novels have been my greatest teachers–less about how to write than about how to live.

-Emily Dietrich, ’85


When I write, I prefer to write creative nonfiction, because I like making my life mean something. Usually I write something that’s a combination of mythology, an observance of modern culture, and memoir. When asked, I usually say that I can’t write fiction, which probably isn’t being fair to myself. I also love making people laugh! At any rate, I think my niche is definitely somewhere in nonfiction. I like reading everything, especially historical fiction and mysteries. I also like reading poetry, National Geographic, and headlines at the checkout at the grocery store (Did everyone else know that Kendall Jenner slept with her half-sister’s boyfriend? I did not know that.). If I were to compile an anthology of my work, I think I would want it to be rooted in mythology. For each piece I would take a particular myth, talk about its psychological implications, and then relate a personal story that really illustrates how the myth is tied to the modern psyche. Story, wisdom and reflection.

– Liz Burr-Brandstadt, ‘91


What determines the genre in which I write?

I write almost exclusively in poetry. It’s easier for me to express my thoughts and feelings in poetry as opposed to prose.

My primary question is: Will a particular piece be a song/poem parody or straight poetry?

The song parodies start with no (conscious) idea at all. I’m just cruising along in my life and suddenly my brain pops up a line or phrase, and I get no peace until I sit down and type or write the whole thing. The majority of these poems are written in less than an hour. Most of the parodies are funny.

What I call my “straight” poetry starts with me consciously having a vague idea of something I’d like to write about, and I sit at the keyboard or pad of paper for days (sometimes years) getting things said little bit by little bit. These poems might be either serious or funny.

– Jules Dickinson, ’77


I keep a list of short story ideas in this format: subject/predicate.

Then it came to me that this is the same format at CNN and Huff Post for tabloid stuff!

Why do we care?

We want to know what happened. And sometimes we want to know why.

Here is my past non-fiction week in this form:

93 year old mother wins Mercedes!

Mercedes salesman spots fraud!

Nigerian con-artist poses as son!

Grand-daughter kicks ass!

So, does this make you want to know what happened and why??

I write in fiction to explore the why.

– Mary Dicker, ’66


I write to help myself feel. Journaling and poetry are important instruments. I spent much of my life not writing, but if I had been it would have been sterile and factual as I wasn’t aware of my feelings, only the facts. Or what I thought were the facts.

I read a wide array of writers and subjects. Oddly, or perhaps predictably, I’m not reading journals written by others and not especially a lot of poetry. It would seem I get enough of those by my own hand.

I expect and hope that after I get more experience as a feeler, and writer, it will be a natural step for me to branch out into other genres. But if I grow through the writing and occasionally move someone else with my words I’m entirely satisfied.

An anthology of my work would need to be published posthumously if I die anytime soon. If I  live a bit longer I will grow into a space where I can publish it while I am still living. Because I am alive. Because I am growing. Because I am a writer.

– Greta Climer, ‘91


I prefer expository writing.  My training is as an historian, so I like to take a lot of material on a subject, digest it and write it in my own voice to make it interesting to a general readership. My job as a public historian was to “sell” history to the general public. Therefore I always had to make my writing interesting and readable. I always figured I had about 30 seconds to grab the interest of a reader, so what I write had better be interesting or I would lose my audience. I write in my own voice and like to have my writing flow like my own conversation. An anthology of my writing includes histories and pictorial histories.

– Sue Swanson, ’60


I work as an editor in the game publishing industry and am the mom of two kids. I’ve had writing published by No Quarter Magazine and, more recently, Skull Island eXpeditions (skullislandx.com). Although I’ve been a writer since childhood, I’ve always struggled with balancing that part of my life with my role as an editor, and before that, an advisor. I worked in the MHC Writing Center (as it was known then) for three years and loved it, but I never worked with MHC women on my own writing. Older and hopefully wiser, I’m grateful to have that opportunity now. Whether light-hearted or soul-searching, discussions with MHC women are exhilarating, inspiring, and thought-provoking!

– Darla Willis Kennerud, ‘89

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