For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to “be” a writer.
My earliest memory about writing is when I was maybe five years old. My dad leaned over me, put his hands on my shoulders and told me, “You’re going to write the next Great American Novel. I couldn’t do it, but you can. You can do that, honey.”
On the face of it, this seems supportive, and for a long time, this was a good memory of my dad. But then I told a trusted friend about this, as an example of a good memory of my dad, and he said, “What a fucked up thing to say to a kid.” I was confused. This was the good stuff!
At first, I brushed off this guy’s reaction. But as I thought about it, I started to see how it’s not exactly the most supportive thing to say to a kid. Not only do you have to fulfill my dream, but you have to do it at the highest level, at a level that may no longer even actually exist.
Telling a kid to write the next Great American Novel is like telling them they need to win the Olympics.
Many writers who are considered the best novelists in America - Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker - many people probably don’t even know who they are. And it’s not because they’re not famous. It’s because writers aren’t famous anymore.
No writer today will receive the same kind of fame as John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway. Our culture has changed, and along with it, the writing industry has changed.
So telling a kid to write the next Great American Novel is like telling them they need to win the Olympics, only the Olympics don’t even exist anymore.
But it’s true that I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I filled notebooks with stories in grade school. I wrote character sketches in middle school. But at some point, writing shifted from something I wanted to do to something I had to do. Something that would give my life meaning.
If I don’t make it as a writer, I’d tell my spouse, I’ll die feeling like I didn’t do what I came here to do. But lately, I’m wondering, is that true?
Lately, the question floating through my head is this: Do I even want to do this? Do I even want to be a writer?
And the thing is, I do want to write. I know that. I love writing. And I’ve written for as long as I can remember. But I’m starting to think that I don’t have to be a writer. That it’s something I can choose. If I want. That succeeding as a writer isn’t the only thing that’s going to give my life meaning.
This opens up a new pathway for me, and it’s kind of scary. We have these parts of our identities, and these ideas about our lives about how IT HAS TO BE. But, here’s the thing - it doesn’t. Not necessarily. We get to choose what we want to do.
Life is more mysterious than any one path. Maybe I’ll be a big success as a writer one day, or maybe not. I’m starting to think that either way is ok. That my life might be bigger than this one dream or goal.
I don’t have to write the next Great American Novel in order to earn my place in the world. And the truth is, I don’t even think there’s going to BE a next Great American Novel.
I think it comes down to this: I can do a lot of different things. These are just choices. But no one choice is the right one. Or maybe they all are. Maybe all the choices are fine, just different paths.
Maybe we all are living a million different lives and just appear physically in any one life at the moment. I don’t know. I’m getting out into the stratosphere. The point is: I’m starting to think, I have more choices than I thought, and it feels good.
My call to action for myself, and for you, if you need it:
Don’t let your dreams destroy your happiness. Enjoy your life as it is, even though it may be a "work in progress." The secret is WE ARE ALL WORKS IN PROGRESS. And this is a good life. Enjoy it.