Why I Write (or, Let Me Tell You a Secret About Writing a Book)

For those of you who’ve never had the chance to write a book, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. For most of us writers, there doesn’t come a time when crowds of people start following us through the street for our autograph (that’s not the secret). For most of us, a royalty check has not yet arrived in the mail that we look at and say, “That’s cool – now I can pay off the house” (that’s not the secret either).

Here’s the secret.

In my experience, for every book I’ve written, there’s come a moment in time when a light has fallen down from the heavens and a voice has whispered in my ear, “This is why you wrote this book.”

Seriously. I’m not kidding.

Sometimes that moment happens before the book is ever published. When I wrote Think No Evil, a book about forgiveness in the midst of the Amish schoolhouse shooting, that moment came as I sat across from first responders who had the chance to talk about what they experienced on that horrendous day. As they wept and talked and processed, that little voice said, “This is why you’re writing this book.”

During work on a recent family memoir, a daughter of the lady the book was about looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never knew my mom went through all of this stuff. Thank you.”

At a book signing I attended with Tim Kreider for the book Refuse to Drown, more than one person leaned in close to Tim and I and said, “My relative did something horrible, and it had a huge impact on our family. Thank you for writing this book.”

This is why you wrote this book.

* * * * *

If you look inside my recent novel, The Day the Angels Fell, you’ll see that it’s dedicated to the following people:

To Maile,
Cade, Lucy, Abra,
Sam, and Leo,
for being the main characters
in my favorite story.

And to the families of
Peter Perella
Jason Darity.

Peter and Jason are two high school friends of mine who passed away in the last sixteen months. They were both in their 30s. Jason was an incredible man, raising his daughter, determined to live a good life.

Peter’s family, the Perellas, played a huge role throughout my childhood. His cousin Johnny is one of my very best friends, and his uncle was my little league baseball coach when I was six years old (as well as my 4th grade teacher). His aunt was also a teacher at my elementary school. His father was my music teacher in middle school, and his two brothers played soccer with me and my cousins. His mother is a librarian at our local library. The name Perella has provided a wonderful backdrop to my childhood.

Peter died of cancer earlier this year.

* * * * *

On Wednesday night, I got a message from Peter’s brother Tom asking if I’d sign and write notes in three books for Peter’s three children. I don’t know Peter’s wife or his kids, but I feel like I do. I signed those three books, thinking quite a lot about my own children as I wrote to each of Peter’s children. If I was gone, what would I want someone to write to my own kids?

And as I signed each of those books, I thought to myself,

This is why I wrote this book.

8 Replies to “Why I Write (or, Let Me Tell You a Secret About Writing a Book)”

    1. Thanks Nancy. I think it applies to everything we do in life. It’s not in the huge moments of fanfare but in the small things where we find meaning.

  1. Oh, Shawn, I am sitting here in tears. Yes those reasons are why you wrote your books, Having read Think No Evil and just having finished Refuse to Drown, yes that is why you wrote those books. You are an incredibly gifted and sensitive young man whom I am proud to know. Thank you. The Day the Angels Fell is sitting on my desk to read next.

  2. Such a beautiful post. I have to say, I can’t wait to read my copy of The Day the Angels Fell that arrived yesterday!

    Earlier this year my first book, Very Much Love, was published. It’s a book about my journey through grief and the process of losing my dad to pancreatic cancer. I’ve been fortunate to have several moments when I heard that small voice of affirmation, as I’ve embraced someone hurting who has been touched by my words. One moment in particular will forever stand out in my mind, as the person hugged me and with tears said, “I needed this, it was a comfort…It was the only thing I could read after I lost my mom…” And in that moment I knew, if for no one else, the book was for this person, for this moment.

  3. Shawn, I’ve been following your journey from afar, and am constantly encouraged by your faith and tenacity. Keep fighting the good fight.

  4. Thanks for your book. It is a beautiful gift. I know the Perellas and this book really touched my heart.
    Thanks again.

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