Why I Write?

The lovely Dean Atta asked me to pen some words on the theme of ‘why I write’ for the New Writing South Guest Writer Blog. So here goes:


Why I Write

By Tessa Ditner

I love great stories. I love that people can recount something and you laugh because of the way they tell it. Their unique rhythm and stance is their personality distilled, as if you’d bottled them. Your friend, your sister, your mum, your dad turned into human Chanel n5s.

To be a professional storyteller. How wonderful! When I was younger the best medium seemed to be music. Lyrics, particularly pop. I loved Michael Jackson, then Britney. Music videos were my childhood espressos.

But my favourite songs weren’t the ones with interesting lyrics, but the ones that make you twerk in the broccoli aisle of Waitrose. I genuinely love the song Rude Boy by Rihanna even though its best lyrics is: ‘giddy up giddy up giddy up’.

Paint seemed the next best storytelling tool. My art school interview was horrible. I was honest while going through my portfolio. I told the story of each painting. The tutor kept correcting me: ‘So you want to paint ordinary objects?’

‘This one is about the light,’ I repeated.

The fact that there was a bed leg and a chair leg was incidental to the point of the painting. It was about South Africa’s brilliant, glorious and frankly quite sexy morning light. I get that if I had painted a naked man I can understand why he would have focused on the object rather than the light, but surely making the center of the painting the floor, made it clear that the focus was the light not the thing the light was bouncing off?

It made it easy to accept the offer at the MA in Creative Writing. Perhaps words would be easier to paint with. Besides, isn’t an artwork only really one thought repeating itself forever? Even Tracey Emin’s My Bed tells a lot of stories, but visually, it is just one still life: a still life with the apple and vase replaced by a condom wrapper and a pair of slippers, but still just one picture, one moment.

It seems that storytellers can’t get away from some limitation. Screenwriters have all sorts of limitations, from the collaborative nature of the beast to budgets or potential advertising revenue. Poets are limited by shortness and perhaps word-prettiness. Journalists are limited by the truth. Perhaps novelists are the freest kind, perhaps that’s why it is such an exciting medium.

Rihanna Music Videos.PNG

Here is more about the project and how to get in touch with Dean.

Writing as an Act of Kindness – a Manifesto by Dean Atta

Dean invites you to send him your own manifesto about why you write.

I wrote this month’s blog as a manifesto inspired by International Day of Kindness, which was on Monday 13th November 2017. We marked the day at New Writing South with a Be Kind sign in our window and by tweeting quotes from Post-it not

NWS logo

es we collected from our friends who wrote kind words for us to share. Also that day, I was leading a workshop in a school and I asked the students to write what kindness meant to them. I loved writing this. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you feel like writing your own manifesto about why you write, please send it to me at dean@newwritingsouth.com and I will add some of my

favourites to this blog post. They can be written in any style but a maximum length of 400 words.

Writing as an Act of Kindness – a Manifesto by Dean Atta

I write as an act of kindness to myself first and foremost. Before any reader or audience, imagined or real, I must write what I need to read. I must ask how each piece of writing will make me kinder, more compassionate. I must ask how each piece of writing might make my reader or audience kinder. The kindness in writing is bringing people closer; crossing identity and geographical borders. Being black and queer does not make me an authority on blackness or queerness.


Being me makes me an authority on me. My kindness to myself is to allow myself and my imagination to exist on the page, unapologetically. My kindness to my reader or audience is to allow them to see me, my imagination and perhaps themselves in what I write. When a reader or audience do not see themselves in what I write, I intend for them to see a possibility to move beyond themselvesand see from another perspective. This is an act of kindest on their part. All writing is an invitation to move beyond oneself. Moving beyond is not to forget, ignore or deny but to remember, acknowledge and accept the position and privilege I hold, whilst I challenge and question it, always with kindness to myself and others. I will read and listen with kindness too. I mustremember that I can afford to be kind while others are angrier, more desperate and disenfranchised. Whilst I believe kindness is always an option for a writer, I may be wrong. I amallowed to be wrong. I am allowed to change my mind. I am allowed to forgive myself when I am not kind. My writing is not just ‘my writing’, not only polished poetry or prose; every email, text message and social media post has the potential to be an act of kindness. Sophia, a 12 year old student in a workshop I led wrote: “An act of kindness can start with a post-it note.” Whether an affirmation, manifesto, poetry and prose, whatever the medium, the method will be kindness.


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