Have you been writing since you were a kid? Did you have one of those crazy imaginations all children are said to have, making up wild scenarios and telling them to your parents? Did you know all your life you were going to be a creative force who had to write more than anything else?
I’ve been consuming a lot of interviews with writers lately. Most of them say they were writing since they were kids- making up stories and reading them aloud to anyone who would listen. Some of them wrote novels in grade school, some were published before they graduated.
There will always be ambitious and driven folks, and I don’t begrudge them. There are plenty of people in their early twenties who’ve got lucrative book deals with big house publishers. Plenty of actors say they were making up plays in their basements and presenting them to the family, and tons of artists doodled endlessly during class only to turn those sketches into fabulous works of art. If you’re one of those people who knew what you wanted to do with your life at nineteen, well shit, go for it.
I, however, am not one of those people.
This is the aspect of creativity that fascinates me, because I find it so elusive. In this way, it’s like the myth of True Love. There’s this expectation, a story we’re told, that when you meet “the One” everything just clicks. You know you’re meant to be with them, and it’s easy from then on. There’s no question, no struggle. For the first time ever, “it’s Real.”
We get taught the same thing around our careers. We choose our majors when we’re 19 years old- deciding that This Is Who I Am and that if it doesn’t feel perfect all the time, we’re on the wrong track. The aspect of work, of craft, of frustration and self-questioning never really come up in the conversation.
In college, I decided I was a neuroscientist. And then I thought, “Shit, I’m going to have to cut open how many rats?” By then it was too late to change my undergraduate major, so I got my degree in neuroscience and promptly forgot everything I learned to work in the theater. I dabbled with art in so many ways, but I never thought I could do it for money, do it daily, do it For Real.
Because I didn’t write stories when I was a kid. I was pretty shy, and I didn’t like taking up too much space. The idea of spending hours mining my own brain and then giving what I came up with to the world was anathema to me (hence the still-present blogging anxiety). I’m still working to get over it.
For every writer who “knew” they wanted to do it, or for every actor who put on costumes and pranced around for the neighbors, or every cartoonist who kept themselves company as kids with the same characters that have made them famous, there are dozens more that just put the pen to paper and started to work. These are the bored housewives, or the disgruntled office workers, the retirees or the freshly inspired. They never seem like overnight sensations, and their origin myths tend to be rather dry. But they’re out there, selling books, and writing their asses off every day, even though they majored in Accounting and or dropped out of high school. What matters isn’t the nineteen year old you’re competing with. She doesn’t matter one whit whether you’re successful or not. You just have to show up and do the work.