Penned: Interviews with Writers

As one of my favorite professors always says: “Most people want to have written, not to write.” I’m here to challenge this notion by interviewing a handful of writers currently on a writing and publishing excursion. These writers showcase their passion, their determination, and their love for the written word – not just words already on the page, but words they themselves have lovingly penned.

Each month, various writers will respond to a themed question about their writing process, whether it covers their love of writing or their responses to writer’s block, and anything else in between. Penned aims to inspire writers, established and emerging, by bringing forth experiences from this tumultuous wordy lifestyle, and turning them into the lyrical.

The September theme: Why you love to write.


Chelsea Dingman:

Since I was young, I’ve found writing to be a way to unlock the world around me. Whatever mysteries or conflicts I’m compelled to respond to, large or small, writing is a way to hold those moments like snow globes in my head and turn them until I see something unexpected. It’s the unexpected that ends up on the page. I love to be surprised. With poetry, it’s often the language that surprises more than anything else and I find that thrilling. The way language can be twisted and wrought in a way that I’ve never seen before is why I read poetry. The thrill of pushing the boundaries of language in poetry is why I write it.

Sarah Rainous:

I write to reclaim Imagination that Reality has hidden. I write to fight – for relationships, courage, love, logic, and surrender – and to calm things when the fight gets too stormy. I write because I’m no good at art, yet my hands itch to create. I write because life is both horrible and beautiful, but most people only see one or the other.

That is why I write. But why do I love it?

I choose to.

Martha West:

Writing allows me to express myself in a way that I could not otherwise. Writing dares me to dream beyond my wildest imagination, to do more than I could ever accomplish in the real world. Writing tells me to be the one to slay the dragon, to be the heroine that the world needs. Writing challenges me to look deep inside myself, to discover who I really am. And if somehow through my own words I can encourage just one child to have faith and stand up while humankind simply looks on, then I have given the greatest gift that anyone can offer.

Andee Schuck:

If stranded on a deserted island and could only bring three things with me, I’d choose a notebook, an ink pen, and a copy of Don Quixote. I’ve always had a love for writing. It seems cliché to say, but for as long as I can remember I have been more or less scribbling words on paper. I didn’t always know what I was doing, of course, I didn’t know I was translating the world around me into my own language. I just liked how the words looked and made me feel, and the passion has never left me.

Jessica Walsh:

Writing is another dimension, a parallel universe from which I can gaze, impossibly, on what constitutes this thing known as me. I become a theoretical physicist observing the unobservable, positing ideas that can never be objectively tested because they exist outside any tests available. Writing stops time but helps me survive what happens when the clock starts again.

Steven Shields:

I spent many years working as an all-night radio announcer and so I often think of poetry as being on a sort of “frequency” or “channel” that whispers away through the static and roar of our individual preoccupations.  It’s there if we can only tune in to hear it.  For me, the love comes when the message bursts suddenly through loud and clear, chanting, chanting. And it’s never what I was expecting.


I’d like to thank all of this month’s participants! I hope you, writers, have enjoyed this month’s Penned. I look forward to engaging in the lyrical next month!



Chelsea Dingman has been writing off and on since she wrote a book of poetry for her fifth grade teacher. The last two years, she has been pursuing her MFA at the University of South Florida. Her first book won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017).  Visit her website:

Sarah Rainous spent every morning as a child drawing and/or writing at her family’s “Little Red Table” before toddling into the kitchen for breakfast. She has tried her hand at writing novellas, short stories, poetry, and songs. Sarah will (ecstatically) receive her degree in English this May from a small, sweet tea-drinking, fried food-eating, Jesus-loving university in Kentucky. The university’s literary journal, Pensworth, published one of Sarah’s short nonfiction pieces, “Make Believe,” in 2015.

Martha West has been writing since she had penned her first story about a young girl befriending a lonely ghost at the age of ten. She has since then written many other stories, and is now pursuing an English Degree at a liberal arts college. Her favorite stories to compose and share are creative fiction, dealing with outsiders struggling to find their place in their world.

Andee Schuck is a redhead from northern Iowa but studies English and history at a small liberal arts college in the southern United States. As her writing has matured, her favorite pieces to write are satire and poems, some of which appear in her university’s literary journal, Pensworth.

Jessica L. Walsh has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but really kicked into high gear in the last decade. She has a PhD in English Literature from University of Iowa and teaches at Harper College. Her first book, How to Break My Neck, was recently published by ELJ. Her work can also be seen in journals like Midwestern Gothic, Tinderbox, The Fem, Whale Road, Ninth Letter online, and more. Visit her website at

Steven Shields has written poems since a high school lit teacher offered extra credit for writing a sonnet cycle (which he wrote over a weekend, not knowing good ones take months or even years).  A move to Atlanta in 2001 led to steady publication and a book, “Daimonion Sonata,” along the way in 2005.  His day job is teaching communication coursework at the University of North Georgia. His poetry veers between formal and open forms; his prose includes prose poems, micro-fictions and lyric essays.

Advertisements A Digital Mind-Mapping App

If you’re someone who really loves to brainstorm and map out their ideas to find all the most interesting topics, and you prefer to work digitally, I would bet my cat that you will thoroughly enjoy using is a free to use digital mind-mapping site. This software is a simply executed digital solution for writers of any variety, who regularly use mind-mapping to brainstorm ideas and topics for their writing.

Why I love

-It’s free! It’s true, this software can be used at no cost, and creating an account is made super easy with Facebook and Google+ login buttons.

-It’s easy to use! The design of is really simple and done in a way to mimic writing out a mind-map, so you don’t have to spend much time at all getting to know the ins and outs.  Tracking your train of thought is made easy, as you can colour code your bubbles, and as your map grows and you add more information in, you can rearrange you bubbles to make your brainstorming more organised. The simplicity of it is probably the thing I love most above – mind-mapping is a simple concept and they have stayed true to this by making the interface really user-friendly, and it’s in no way overwhelming or scary to look at.

-You can print and export! If you would like to print out your mind-map to have as a visual reference or would like to export it as an image, etc. to use in another document, has you covered.

There is more to than just the basic mind-mapping, however this does come with an upgraded account. In saying that, the minimum cost to upgrade to a Premium account is very manageable at $6 per month and this allows you to do a lot more with the software. For example, one of the things I really love about this is that you’re able to attach images or put links in bubbles. It’s a really efficient way of keeping track of information as you research and brainstorm, allowing you to go back and re-visit information, links, images, videos, etc. This is probably my favourite feature, it makes this easy to use AND super-efficient.

Another great thing about upgrading your account is you can remove the branding to use your mind-map in professional or academic documents, and there is no limit on the number of mind-maps you can make either! Plus, priority support from the team when you upgrade too.

My only complaint about this application (other than looking like a program built for Windows 98) is that this is pretty much where it ends for It has a very specific function and purpose, and is really only going to be good for people who build their writing through mind-mapping. For anyone who doesn’t work that way, is still a useful tool but there is nothing outstanding about it to make you want to mind-map if you are not already inclined towards using that skill. For example, I personally don’t use mind-mapping as a tool to build my writing, so although I found this to be a useful and efficient tool, there’s nothing about that would convert me into a mind-mapper.

Overall, I found this site to be really useful for mapping out ideas and organizing information, and being able to have all my ideas in the one place (my laptop). It’s easy to learn and to understand, and is beautifully simple in its design. If you’re someone who has been wishing for a platform that digitizes the mind-mapping process, is it.

Creative Opportunities for Teens: #3

Teen Ink Environment Contest

Hybrid cars? Organic food? Solar and wind energy? Pay-as-you-throw trash programs? Required recycling? If you have a plan to save the world, we want to hear about it. And if you know a lot about a current problem facing the planet – pollution, overpopulation, natural resource consumption/destruction – share your thoughts with others by writing a persuasive essay.

Winning stories are published in Teen Ink magazine and contest winners receive a copy of the magazine featuring their work. Plus, they’ll have the opportunity to choose from an exciting selection of Teen Ink merchandise – apparel and other items – available exclusively from Teen Ink.

Click here for contest guidelines. Teen Ink will only consider work by teens.