When Do You Write? DILRUBA AHMED

The only time I’ve ever studied poetry was during my senior year in high school, when I had to pick a poet and her poems, analyze, annotate and write about them. It was called the “Senior Poetry Project” and completing it was one of the most stressful times of my high school career.

A few days into researching my poet’s poems, I regretted my choice. For my seventeen year old self, the poet I picked seemed too dark, too biting for my taste. Looking back, I hadn’t lived enough life to appreciate her genius, to understand her insightful commentary. I lacked the maturity to experience her work. Unfortunately, after the project was turned in, I decided poetry wasn’t for me.

Until a few years ago, when at the back of my latest Poets & Writers issue, I came across the announcement of the 2010 Bakeless Literary Prize for poetry– to Dilruba Ahmed, for her debut collection entitled Dhaka Dust. I had met Dilruba right before moving from Philadelphia to Atlanta, and was thrilled to hear about her published book.

I also wondered whether it was now time to try reading poetry again.

I ordered Dhaka Dust, and the day it arrived in the mail, read it from cover to cover.

Perhaps, when I first tried poetry in my life, I wasn’t ripe for it. But I’m thankful I heard about Dilruba’s poetry collection a couple of years ago. Because Dhaka Dust got me on the path to reading poetry on a regular basis. And now that I’ve started, I don’t think I’ll ever stop.


In the insomniac hour, in the insane, exhausted hour, after the snacks are packed, the day swept back, and both husband and child are sleeping.

I am of a certain generation, the so-called sandwich generation.  What I owe my parents: everything I am.  What I give my child: everything I can.  I ask myself daily, where does writing fit?

Every moment feels borrowed or owed.  So for now, I write in the stolen hour:  I steal from my day, I steal from my sleep, I steal from my family, my life–all for a writing that is sometimes difficult, and always necessary.

I write as I drive to work.  I write in line at the grocery store.  I write at night, when my mind can own a sliver of silence in a household typically abuzz with activity.

I write when I’m in transit–in cars, buses, planes.  When forward movement unfastens me from the tasks at hand.  When something from the blur of scenery springs into focus, quivers like a little live wire, a wire I must wrestle with my bare hands.

BIO: Dilruba Ahmed is the author of Dhaka Dust (Graywolf, 2011), winner of the Bakeless Literary Prize for poetry awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Cream City Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, and Indivisible: Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.  A writer with roots in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Bangladesh, Ahmed holds BPhil and MAT degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA from Warren Wilson College.  She has taught in Chatham University’s Low-Residency MFA program.  Web site:  http://www.dilrubaahmed.com.


Sometimes the hardest part about writing is not, actually, the writing. Sometimes isn’t not even the revising or editing, either. Nor is it the query letters or the pitches to agents, or the submissions of manuscripts for publication.

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is remembering why you love writing so much when it’s beaten you down. It’s remembering the joy of the process– the careful selection of words, the creation of worlds, the getting to know your characters– even when you’re suffering from major writers block or a tough critique of your work.

This is why I’m thankful to have Julie in my life. Julie is a poet who reminds me every day that writing is spiritual. Maybe, when you have pressing deadlines and an editor has just informed you that you don’t know how to write– it doesn’t feel spiritual. But it is. Stories come from our hearts and souls, and Julie is my writer-friend who doesn’t ever let me forget this.


It was storming outside again, rain pelting the window, demanding entry as if it, too needed the solace of the warm, inviting room. Julie lit another candle, opened her journal and began to write.

Dear Anjali,

When do I write, you ask? On dark nights, when storms rage outside my window and a restlessness seeps into my weary and aching bones; when sleep has flown with the nightingale high in the shivering boughs of the willows that weep as they sway in the wind …. Before the light of dawn has bonded with the warmth of the sun; in the brilliance of full day, and in those quiet moments when dusk descends, I write.

During the most mundane chores; in grocery lines, while washing dishes, when I hear a haunting, soulful tune, I write. Words swirl with summer breezes and winter gusts; pour onto the page in bursts of joy and sorrow, elation and pain. And even when the pen idles on my desk and my eyes are closed, my mind writes.

When do I write, you ask … and I answer; dear Anjali … I write always.

Love, Julie.

Julie dabbed the ink on the page with her blotter and closed her journal with gentle reverence. She cupped the flame of the candle, taking a moment to watch it glow against her fingers, then blew softly. In velvet darkness she padded to her bedroom, hoping for a few hours’ sleep before rising to bask in another day of writing.

BIO:  Julie Catherine Vigna is a writer, poet and artist currently residing in Alberta, Canada, moving to British Columbia in October 2012. Writing and art have been driving passions throughout her life, which began in Dundas, Ontario, before she migrated to western Canada in 2004. She is inspired by the world around her, nature, and especially water – her muse and source of inspiration.

Julie Catherine’s poems have been published in various anthologies throughout Canada and the United States, and her self-published debut poetry book, Poems of Living, Loving & Lore, is scheduled for release before the end of August 2012 under her pseudonym, J C Edwards.

She participates regularly in BlogTalk Radio’s Speakeasy Café: The Sound of Ink; an online, open mic poetry reading show held every Thursday evening; and at Re-Verse Classical Poetry online open mic on Sunday evenings.

Beginning with the October 2012 issue of AWESOME! Online Magazine, Julie Catherine will be writing a monthly column called “Poetry Corner”— with articles and interviews featuring a wonderful variety of poets and their incredible poetry.

Julie Catherine belongs to several internet writing groups, including 21st Century Poets and Wattpad, and has her own blog: Muse-Sings, Poetry & Art of Julie Catherine, at http://juliecatherinevigna.wordpress.com. She continues to write poetry, and is working on her first fiction novel for young adults; a mystery set in Georgian Bay, Ontario.


If reading and writing are therapeutic, then my friend Jessica Handler is well on her way to healing the world.

I met Jessica a few years ago, after taking her wonderful workshop, “Writing Through Grief.” After the class, I devoured her memoir Invisible Sisters– Jessica’s gorgeous, yet heartbreaking story about the early deaths of her two sisters from two different terminal diseases. Have you ever cried your eyes out over a book because it shifted your thinking about the fragility and power of life? That’s how I felt after reading Invisible Sisters.

Jessica’s workshop and book helped me to write more fearlessly about the complexities of grief in my own personal essays. But they’ve also helped me to become a better fiction writer. If there is a common language between fiction and nonfiction, it is certainly the expression, through words, of pain from loss. And when I sat down to write my first novel, Secrets of the Sari Chest, I channeled the fearless truths from Jessica’s workshop and her memoir through my characters.

Which is why I can’t wait to get my hands on her new book, “Writing Through Grief,” to be published next year. Because the made-up characters in my next novel have a lot of grief to work through, too.


Like you, I revel in the “writers’ camp” experience; the artists’ colony, retreat, or residency. It’s alternately exciting and appalling (and exciting again, because I can dig in that very minute and fix what I wrote) to be face to face with my work for weeks at a time. But that’s a rare and generous break in the “real” life that I also love.

The more realistic answer to “when do you write” is “almost every day, sometimes to the detriment of being on time for other things.” I’m currently on deadline with a book and my teaching schedule is intentionally light, so I’m at my desk in my very messy home studio, five to six days a week from about mid-morning until it’s time to make dinner, and sometimes for a few hours late in the evening. On a good day, that adds up to a full eight hours or more. Other days, family responsibilities, teaching, errands, or the value of a good day off mean that I write for an hour or two, and that’s okay, too.

At conferences, I’ve grabbed an hour with my laptop between leading workshops. I write on airplanes, on Amtrak, in hotel rooms, and make notes about bits and pieces at times in between if I feel the need to.

And sometimes, I don’t write, and instead recharge my batteries; the laptop one and the emotional/mental one. I’ll be the better for it the next day. 

BIO: Jessica Handler is the author of the forthcoming Writing Through Grief  (St. Martins Press, 2013.) Her first book, Invisible Sisters: A Memoir (Public Affairs, 2009) was named by the Georgia Center for the Book one of the “Twenty Five Books All Georgians Should Read.” Atlanta Magazine called it the “Best Memoir of 2009.” Her nonfiction has appeared on NPR, in Drunken Boat, Tin House, Brevity, Newsweek, The Washington Post, More Magazine, and elsewhere. Honors include 2011 and 2012 residencies at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship from The Writers Center, the 2009 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, and special mention for a 2008 Pushcart Prize. www.jessicahandler.com.