This post was inspired by a video of writer Neil Gaiman giving a commencement speech at the University of the Arts.
11 years old seemed like a fine time to begin my first novel. It was a grand fantasy about two children who, after escaping their abusive mother, discover a beautiful and tumultuous world beneath the sea. Amongst romance, personal struggle and magic, they join an underwater mer-society and lead it through a time of crisis. Or… something like that. I’m sure the story would’ve turned out that way, had I finished it. But I never did. At age 13, I moved on to novel number two– what was it called? I can’t remember, I can’t even remember the characters’ names! But I do remember that it contained three genres all at once; it was a love story, a ghost story and a coming-of-age story. I envisioned the characters so fully that I drew them on notecards and listed their birthdays, their hometowns, their eye colors. I worked on the novel every chance I got, typing until my hands ached. But when I reached the climax and found myself unable to continue the story, I saved it on my family’s clunky, early 2000’s PC, closed the file and never opened it again. Maybe I’ll return to it someday soon. Almost-20 seems like a fine time to finish my first novel.
I could blame my sudden withdrawal from fiction on writer’s block, adolescent insecurity or starting highschool, but that would be a lie. I know exactly why I stopped writing. I remember the moment vividly: One day, my 9th grade biology teacher called me to her desk while the rest of the class worked. She placed her chin in her pudgy palm and looked through the thick black frames of her glasses straight into my eyes. “Savannah,” she said, “do you want to become a doctor?” I shook my head. “Nope.” My teacher puffed, wrinkled her brow; she seemed shocked that I could want to do anything else. “Well then, what do you want to be?” “I want to be a writer,” I said. My teacher lifted her head from her hands, stood up straight and pulled her glasses down to her nostrils to give me the once-over. “Oh,” she said.
Oh. I could see her scratch a giant red X in the proverbial lost cause box that sits alongside each student’s name in every teacher’s mind. My future was hopeless. And from that moment on I felt it really was. For the first time, I had encountered doubt regarding what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. Suddenly, my dream seemed idealistic, childish. It was as conceivable as fiction.
I would spend the next five years denying my desire to be a writer and trying to find ways to make it more practical. At my worst, I attempted to erase my ambition entirely. At my best, I nearly let myself acknowledge it by declaring a major in journalism. Journalism reminded me of what I love most about the writing life: every day brings something new and presents the opportunity to create something, something that just might touch another human being. I know now that journalism might not be enough for me. When I was 11, I didn’t want to be a reporter. I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve finally accepted that I must write in order to live a truly fulfilling life.
Can you imagine a world in which we all did what we wanted to do? A world in which we were free to follow our bliss? I’m not sure I can. It would be so radically different…but it’s worth striving for. Everything about the world as I know it discourages people from doing what they want to do. It seems that no matter what you dream, if you dream it there is always someone to tell you it’s far fetched, especially if it’s artistic. Get a real job, they say. Quit being lazy. Don’t you think that’s unrealistic? Have a back-up plan. How could you do that you’re just a girl from nowhere Arizona with hardly any money and half a college degree. Well, my question to them is how couldn’t I?
Embracing my talents and my dreams has put me on the road to self-actualization and there’s no turning back. I’m going to read and write and read and write and write until my eyelids become so saturated with fatigue from long hours of absorbing and creating that they turn to bricks. When I sleep, I’ll dream of the stories I’m inventing and the universes I’m engineering. Then I’ll be back to it the next morning, playing with words and sailing through my imagination.
No, I have no back-up plan. No, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. It is who I am and who I must be. So piss off.
What about you– Were you ever discouraged from following your bliss? How did you overcome that?
As for me, I have a few people to thank for encouraging me to pursue the writing life. Mindy, Momma, Chase, thank you for everything. Most of all, thank you for never doubting me, even when I doubted myself.
Oh– and watch the video, you’ll be happy you did.
Smiles and all the best,