The Person Behind My Pen

Ask a writer the question, “What inspires you?” and you might be amazed at the multitude and variety of responses. Often a writer’s arsenal of inspiration includes a potpourri of notions, muses and sensory tools.  Perhaps a treasured book, a favorite food, a cherished pet.  Within my writing circles, common influences are song lyrics, dreams, and even the paranormal. We each carry with us a mixed bag of tricks providing seemingly endless stimulation and motivation.

But what happens when you change the question from what inspires you to who inspires you? Typically, the answer is much more succinct, often narrowed down to one or two persons of interest.  Some writers are inspired by a close friend, relative or teacher, but by and large it is a favorite author whose prose provides the encouragement for them to place pen in hand. While for many writers, Austen, Poe, King and Rowling rank high among the most influential scribes, I draw my inspiration from a wordsmith a little less traditional, Theodor S. Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

When I gave that answer to my English professor fifteen years ago, he asked me to tell him why. My response? “Umm, Cat in the Hat. Need I say more?”  Not exactly the scholarly answer he was looking for. What followed was the twenty page paper, Better Than This that ultimately stole the research category of the Richard Hawkins Prize for Excellence in Expository Writing  away from the science department and placed it in the hands of the English Department. Needless to say, the experience not only further endeared me to the prolific works of Dr. Seuss, but it also solidified my commitment to writing.

An excerpt from the epilogue of Better Than This:

In many ways Ted and I are quite alike. Like him, I am a perfectionist. Like him, I throw ninety-nine percent of my work in trash before I am satisfied. And like him, I am never completely satisfied.  I always feel as if I have left something unsaid or maybe I didn’t say it quite right.  Before his death, Ted was asked if there was anything that he had left out of his books–anything that remained unsaid.  His response was this:

Any message or slogan?  Whenever things go a bit sour in a job I’m doing, I always tell myself, ‘You can do better than this.’  The best slogan I can think of to leave with the kids of the U.S.A. would be: ‘We can . . . and we’ve got to . . . do better than this’

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, seated at desk covered with his books / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna.To pay tribute to Dr. Seuss, the person behind my pen, I’d like to share an in-depth look at his life, influences, and inspirations. To read my paper Better Than This, click here or follow the link at the top of the page. But before you go, I’d love to hear from you. What inspiration do you carry in your bag of tricks? Who is the person behind your pen?

If you liked this, you might also enjoy:
Better Than This
One True Fear


About Susan Warren Utley

Susan Warren Utley is a wife and mother living and writing in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Her stories are inspired by the unexpected twists and turns of real life and by her muse, a feisty Jack Russell Terrier who occasionally answers to the name of Lucy. View all posts by Susan Warren Utley

4 responses to “The Person Behind My Pen

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