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Writing About Addiction: an Interview with Katie Reilly

by Writing Workshops Staff

2 months ago


Writing About Addiction: an Interview with Katie Reilly

by Writing Workshops Staff

2 months ago


Freelance journalist Katie Reilly crafts narratives that resonate deeply with her readers. With bylines in prestigious publications such as The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Elle Magazine, and more, Katie's work often focues on women's health, mental health, sports, and parenting.

However, her latest class, a 3-week nonfiction seminar titled Writing About Addiction, promises to shine a light on one of the most pervasive yet stigmatized issues facing society today.

Addiction touches the lives of millions, often leaving families and friends grappling with a complex web of emotions and experiences. According to the Addiction Center, nearly 21 million Americans struggle with addiction, while a 2017 Pew Center survey revealed that 46% of U.S. adults have a close connection to someone battling this relentless condition.

For Katie, writing is a means to navigate these turbulent waters, providing clarity and catharsis through the power of the written word.

In her upcoming seminar, Katie will guide students through an exploration of addiction essays from Cheryl Strayed, Melissa Febos, David Sheff, and Mitchell S. Jackson. Participants will engage in thoughtful discussions, receive constructive feedback, and learn the nuances of crafting compelling narratives about addiction. From brainstorming essay topics to mastering the art of pitching to publications, Katie's course offers a comprehensive toolkit for writers eager to transform personal struggles into impactful stories.

We sat down with Katie Reilly to discuss her journey as a journalist, the inspiration behind this new class, and the transformative power of writing about addiction. Whether you're looking to understand the intricacies of addiction or seeking to refine your writing craft, Katie's insights promise to be both enlightening and inspiring.

Writing Workshops: What inspired you to create a seminar specifically focused on writing about addiction?  

Katie Reilly: Writing, for me, has always been an outlet to process difficult emotions. I have family members dealing with addictions and there are so many complicated emotions surrounding that for both the person facing it and their family members. So I hope creating a safe environment to read and write about addiction will also be beneficial to others.  

WW: Can you share an example of a powerful addiction essay that has influenced your own work and explain what made it impactful?    

KR: I loved the book Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and the essay in the New York Times that inspired that book.  For me, with addiction essays and just generally, the essays that are most impactful are honest, raw and vulnerable. 

WW: How do you approach the topic of addiction in a way that resonates with readers while maintaining sensitivity and respect for those affected?

KR: That's a challenging one! That's the question that every writer has to face who writes personal essays. I always write honestly and then when I'm thinking about publishing later I check in to see how comfortable I feel with what's written. It's a process of checking in and seeing how you'd feel if that particular essay was published. (I think Melissa Febos' book Body Work provides some interesting insight on this topic too!). 

WW: What do you hope students will gain on a personal level from writing about addiction in this seminar?      

KR: I hope that writing about how addiction has affected them (or the topic they choose to write about) helps them gain some clarity. I also hope reading and writing about this topic generally helps them to process some of the emotions they may feel around this topic.  

WW: How do you select the readings for the course, and what do you hope students will learn from analyzing pieces by authors like Cheryl Strayed and David Sheff?  

KR: I pick the readings that I find most moving and also try to pick a variety in terms of authors and also the type of essays. I learn to write from reading and I hope the students who take this class will learn how to write better too from reading these essays.

WW: Addiction can be a deeply personal and often painful topic to write about. What advice do you give students for navigating their own emotions and experiences while crafting their essays?

KR: Continue to check in with yourself. If you're writing and it starts to feel too painful, take a break or consider writing about another topic. The point of this course is to engage with the topic of addiction in a positive way even though it may bring up painful emotions. So if writing at some point becomes too painful, it's time to reconsider your topic and we can chat to see what may help so that you feel more comfortable.  

WW: Can you share a bit about your own experiences writing about addiction and how they have shaped your approach to this seminar?   

KR: Most of my writing has centered on grief, women's health or parenting, but I have started writing about addiction in 2024. My approach is the same as with my other writing (and with the writing that I admire) in that I try to approach it with honesty and try to look at my experience objectively to the extent that's possible. 

WW: Thank you, Katie. We're excited about your new class. Interested writers can learn more and sign up early for your 3-week class, Writing About Addiction, and avoid the waitlist.

Instructor Katie Reilly is a freelance journalist based in the Bay Area in California. Katie's writing generally focuses on women's health and sports, mental health and parenting. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Elle Magazine, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, USA Today and HuffPost, among other publications.

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