I do not want to be a writer.
I recognize the irony of expressing this sentiment through a blog post. Anyway.
Writing has been at the core of my identity for a very long time. This held true in the activities I participated in at school, the classes I chose, the ways I spent my free time, the ways I built and tore down my own self esteem, the way I described myself on Tinder, and everything else in between.
Writing is exhilarating, and fun, and anytime I find myself feeling devastated or excited or anxious or trying to think/emote my way through a crisis, the first thing I want to do is write about it. For example, this.
But I don’t want to be a writer. I don’t want to stop writing, ever, but I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that this thing, this thing that I’ve spent years loving and slaving over and working on, will not be my full time career.
I don’t want to be a writer, because a career in writing is 10% writing…and 90% everything else. And both parts of that come with its own issues:
The 10%: Find what you love, then leave it the %^$ alone
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals, so what could possibly be a better dream career than spending all day helping them? That dream lasted until I picked up a copy of Animal Ark.
A book series from the late 1990s, Animal Ark follows the daughter of a vet as she tried her best to help out around the animal hospital. Book and book covered topics like animal abuse, animal abandonment, car accidents, and more. In one story, the main character follows her mother to a house visit to euthanize the resident border collie who was old and suffering.
After I realized being a vet meant being completely submerged in the saddest and hardest parts of human-animal relationships, I decided to find a new dream job.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve destroyed my own love of writing by trying to find a career in it. There are times when I’m writing or editing, and all I’m thinking about is whether or not whatever I’m writing will be well received, or liked, or relevant to other people. Will including this one specific detail in my essay alienate certain readers, or keep some magazine from accepting it?
The past year, I’ve struggled to write. I brushed it off as a temporary period of writer’s block, until I realized I hadn’t written a single thing in 2017 that I felt proud of. I posited that I was just really busy, and if I blocked out the time, things would come naturally. A month of “write 15 minutes a day” and pages and pages of terrible writing later, I started to think maybe it was something else.
I was trying to force myself to write because I wanted to get end products, not because I actually felt like I had anything I wanted to say. A few weeks ago, a friend noted that I hadn’t posted any poems online in a while (in a perfectly harmless and offhand way), and the comment sent me in an all night frenzy, trying to salvage some terrible poem I trashed months ago in some misguided attempt to just…produce.
Me, the writer. Me, the editor and poet. Me, “when Juliana mispronounces things it’s extra funny because she’s supposed to be good with words.” If I don’t have this part of my identity, what do I have?
I write best when things come candidly and spontaneously to me. When I work to deadlines or portfolio lengths requirements, I spew trash. I’ve been published by luck a few times, but the result of that is my orientation towards writing has become “I need to write because I need to submit things to get published more and be writer-person.”
I don’t think being a full time writer would be good for my writing. In fact, quite the opposite. I really need figure out how to stop tying my self worth and salience of identity to how many poems I can churn out in a week before I can get back into writing whole-heartedly I think.
The 90%: This stuff, I can’t and don’t want to do
Being a full time writer means a number of things. It usually means you have a day job to support writing. It also means you dedicate absurd amounts of time to submitting new material to publishers, or arguing with your editor about commas, or reading other people’s writing. I don’t want to do any of these.
The most amazing and talented writers I know of, the ones who win national awards and publish books and poems that change my life, have day jobs. Usually, as creative writing teachers. You get an MFA so that you can teach creative writing, and spend your free time working on your own writing.
One of the highlights of my time at Stanford has been the myriad of creative writing classes I’ve taken here, and I am so thankful that the industry functions so that the best of the best become teachers. My creative writing professors have been nothing but amazing. But I myself don’t want to become a teacher. It’s not a profession I’m interested in and given my tendency to want to lead rather than help, I don’t see myself being a very effective teacher either.
Secondly, I’ve tried to do the other stuff, and I don’t enjoy it. Submitting to publishers and magazines is stressful and more often than not, quite disheartening. And like I said before, the second I start trying to write to someone else’s aesthetic, things fall apart.
This summer I’m working in marketing and publicity at Heyday, a nonprofit publishing house in Berkeley, California. It’s been a really fun and eye opening experience, and I’m glad to have this sort of exposure to the publishing industry. However, I’ve also realized that I have no interest in participating in this industry as a writer.
With the poetry publishing community, most of the audience is comprised other poets. You make writer friends and read each other’s work and attend everyone’s book readings and signings. Community is awesome, and honestly this sounds awesome. But I don’t want to be in a small insular world of poets, writing for and reading the same intimate group of people.
In fact, I don’t want to read all that much at all. I remember being nominated for the “biggest bookworm” superlative in high school. I was quite confused when I found out, because I really didn’t read all that much. I eventually realized that people thought of writing and reading as going hand in hand, and my known love of writing translated to a love of reading in people’s heads. I love writing, but I don’t love reading and literature the way I need to to be a writer and to be a part of the publishing and writing industry.
Also, I really, really don’t care for the arbitrary and odd conventions that writing is all wrapped up in. I love language, but I really don’t care about commas, or periods, or font type, or even typoes. If other people can understand what I’m saying, then I’m good. Proof reading poems before I submitted them to magazines has always been my least favorite part of “writing”.
And one more thing…
I’m not good enough
I think I’m at that point in late-adolescent frontal cortex brain development where I’m starting to realize I’m not the center of the universe. The history of the world does not revolve around my biography as I become the next Julius Caesar (I had a phase in 8th grade where my life goal was to become as influential in history as Julius Caesar L O L). My love of writing is a hobby, and not the story of the world’s next greatest poet or storyteller.
I write because I love to, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to quality or talent. I’ve had the honor of being around some truly amazing writers, peers as well as mentors, in college, and I can see that they have more important things to say than I do. I’m more in awe of these people than I am jealous of them, but why saturate the market just because I want to satisfy my ego?
A few final thoughts
- I finished the four required creative writing courses for my minor, and now I have the two literature courses left. I don’t really want to take them, because you know, not the world’s biggest bookworm. I have two years and six quarters left in college and I don’t want to waste time on ANY class that I’m only kind of sort of interested in. So…maybe I won’t finish my minor. And that’ll be okay.
- It’s freeing in a way. If I have no intention of becoming conventionally successful in this thing I love, then I can do whatever I want. Maybe I’ll write a poem every ten years. Maybe I’ll write one every day. NO ONE WILL CARE BUT ME!! I can post my writing all over the internet and print out index card poems and pass them out to strangers because screw “We do not accept previously published writing; self publishing counts” right????
- I’ve been saying that I want to become a poet/writer for literally the past decade. It sucks a little that I didn’t call this one correctly. I never was a full time writer, but the loss of that goal and life vision still cuts deep. Maybe I’ll change my mind again in a few years and relentlessly go after that first book length collection of poems or what not. But I’m good where I am right now, and I need to stop coming down so hard on myself for not turning out the way 10 year old me wanted.
- Love of language is still really salient for me, now I just need to figure out new ways to let that manifest/hopefully become some semblance of a career???
Of course, I’ll be dealing with that in the same way that I always have: by writing about it. I anticipate using this title for my next post: “I don’t know what to do with my life and other mid-college-life crisis cliches.”