Reason To Write: To Break The Rules

Alyssa Martino: Steering clear of rebellion? Not for long!

It seems my Reason To Write series has struck a chord with many writers. Today, Alyssa Martino — a copywriter/editor by day and freelance superstar by night (and, I’m assuming, weekends), shares her own story of how writing gives her permission to break the rules. I love her story, because I often feel the same way: I’m a social anxiety-ridden wuss, but writing makes me brave! Without further ado…

If I were someone else, I’d start off this post by telling you about that time I was arrested for stealing a car. Leads are supposed to pull readers in, and I’d surely succeed with my daring tale of rebellion, crime, and excitement — the wind against my cheeks as I sped ahead of the five cop cars zeroing in from a fog-framed highway.

But the truth is, I’ve always lived my life rationally and responsibly. I rarely act without dissecting the relevant consequences and am infrequently careless (unless you count playing a few too many drinking games. It’s okay now, Mom; I’m 23). I’ve probably disobeyed my parents a total of three times and, even then, they were minuscule infractions, like sleeping over at a friend’s house or eating a second brownie. When they found out, Mom and Dad probably just laughed and said, “It’s okay, kiddo. That rule isn’t too important anyway.”

As parents, they’re likely thrilled by my lack of bad behavior… thrilled to have raised a poster child for compliance. But as a nonfiction writer, I worry about being boring. How will I avoid appearing flat and dull on the page?

But that’s a different story altogether. This isn’t a tale of how I write; it’s one of why I write.

I knew I wanted to write in high school. The first time I poured my soul into an essay was for my 12th grade class on Memoirs and Personal Writing. I didn’t write about teenage angst or anger. I wrote about writing, about how the pages at hand and that very class were helping me find myself. With each word, I was unpacking my life, putting the pieces together into one whole narrative. “I could lose myself in any good book, but it is in my writing that I find myself,” I concluded.

Six years later, I’m still proud of that heartfelt piece. But I’ve also realized that the message was way off target.

Because how could I find myself if I was never lost?

So it’s occurred to me that, these days, I don’t write to be found: I write to be lost.

When I write, I can be surprising or controversial. I can offend people. I can say things I’d never have the courage to say in real life. I can forgo worries about consequences or judgment and put myself out there, uncensored.

Writing gives me the opportunity to be a little bit wild. It lets me shock people with unexpected observations. I can express the anger or sadness or confusion I always held. I can show people that I’m not the shy or composed or happy-go-lucky girl I seem to be; even I have a dark side.

Through writing, I can break the rules. I can offend people. I can be controversial.

Likewise, I write to step out of a comfort zone with which I’ve become far too familiar. Some days, writing makes me panic — about how important the words are or how dire it is that they reach an audience. The thought of setting sentences free feels like a mutiny against my former self, the 15-year-old girl who never missed her curfew or told more than a white lie. The rules I break aren’t merely grammatical or structural. I burst the confines of my own life, digging into content so deeply unexplored it’s often jolting. I stray from conventions and shun clichés. I let my sarcasm shine through. I swear and talk about sex and smoke and fear and death — things that don’t really exist in my day-to-day life. At least not out loud.

I’m not always put together. I don’t have it all figured out. And, above all, I don’t really want to be a poster child for anything but passion.

Through writing, I can lose myself. And I do.


  1. Love this post! Alyssa, you bring a fantastically fresh and rebellious approach to writing that I really enjoy reading. Keep it up!


  1. […] the rest of my post, “Reason to Write: To Break The Rules,” published last month on Steph Auteri’s […]

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