I was going to be a writer when I grew up. I remember getting praised for a story I wrote when I was six, and thought I’d want to get that kind of praise for the rest of my life. The story involved rabbits who visited Earth from outer space. I was certain of my career choice.
My grandmother told me I should be a lawyer instead, because I argued all the time. I argued with her about that, insisting that I would be a writer. I became a lawyer instead.
Now that I’m embarking on writing as a second (parallel) career, I’ve had to look back and figure out how I got off the path I meant to take. The reasons are instructive, and revisiting them (or visiting them for the first time) helps keep me moving in the right direction. Here were the obstacles I placed in my own way, and how I’ve accommodated them to become a writer.
- I’m an extrovert. I love being around people, and draw energy from my friends and family. Given the choice between sitting alone to write and doing literally anything in the presence of another human, I will almost always choose the human. My extroversion has waned over the years. Supervising a large staff, having kids, giving away too much emotional energy — these are the things that tap me out and send me to a quiet place to write. Since I started my solo practice, I’ve had to learn to be alone, and I’ve come to enjoy it.
- I’m an activist. My values are very important to me, and when there’s a need to speak out or speak up, I’m always happy to be at the ramparts: hosting meetings, speaking at conferences, leading marches, writing angry letters. In college, this took the form of running the Womyn’s Union. My need to “take a stand” made me unsuited for journalism (I thought). After law school, I became a labor lawyer. Being a part of cause is great, but it’s reactive, not creative. Since the 2016 election, I’ve felt a need to temper activism with introspection, and to manage anger with creativity.
- I hung around with better writers. In college, I hung out with the editors of The Baffler magazine, and was constantly surrounded by really great writers, including Tom Frank and Jennifer Gonnerman. The staff of our two college papers (The Maroon and The Grey City Journal) and many of my classmates, were writers who have gone on to be published. A few are heavyweights in the cultural scene, like Mark Athitakis, Ana Marie Cox, Kim Phillips Fein, Jeff Gramm, Tucker Max (not a heavyweight, and I’m not linking to him), and Jason Zinoman. I am very explicitly name-dropping for this reason: I thought there was no way I could write as well as they could, so I just stayed away from trying to get published. I wrote a little zine, and contributed to a couple others, but I felt like a lightweight, and was afraid to have these smarties think I was a wannabe. I got over it by realizing that I had to start somewhere, and although I might not catch up to them, I was further ahead than someone starting after me. I also realized that I have been underestimating myself in other areas, so it’s possible that I might be underestimating myself here, too.
- I was risk-averse. I graduated college with very little debt because my tuition had been covered by need-based financial aid. I couldn’t really move home, and I needed to get a job. More importantly, I needed psychological security that I would be totally self-sufficient for the rest of my life. Being dependent, being poor and not having a clear road to success were terrifying to me. Economic security has brought psychology safety. That’s a hard barrier to overcome but I might have done it if it were the only barrier. Instead, I squirreled away my dream because of my fear of failure and my fear of ridicule or even criticism. I wanted writing to be as easy as it had been when I was six, and it wasn’t.
- I was talented. I got praised when I was six, and again and again and again, until I was almost 30. I got a lot of praise for doing stuff that seemed easy, like writing well and speaking eloquently. What I’ve learned is that talent is useless if it isn’t married to, no, welded to, hard work. I thought being talented was all it took, but if you never put pen to paper, you are just a talented bullshit artist, not a writer.