There’s a home video of me, six years old, saying I want to write books. I had just learned that the books I love came from somewhere—or rather, from someone. And I wanted to be that someone. I folded stacks of paper in half to fashion books, I wrote little “about the author” blurbs for the back, and I wrote story after story. And thus I began my lifelong obsession with being an author. In middle school, when I began to hate school so much it gave me headaches, I seized on the idea that if I wrote and sold a book, I might be able to leave school and never go back. Writing for fun became writing for profit (theoretical future profit, at least).
And I stopped writing.
I didn’t stop wanting to write, or thinking about writing—in fact, I did so endlessly, obsessively, with the manic, frustrated compulsions of an addict. It was all I wanted, and I fixated on it as the only future I could ever want or accept. It would solve all my problems, it was the only thing that could make me happy, and failing to become an author would mean a life of failure and agony. The problem was, as I thought endlessly about writing, I wasn’t actually writing. When I tried, I couldn’t keep at it; I would change my mind, lose interest, and give up and start over. Thinking about writing was fun and easy, but transitioning from thinking to doing was (and is) impossible.
This blog has in many ways been about that transition from thinking to doing, and about trying to figure out why it’s so hard for me when it has been all I’ve ever wanted since I was six years old. I struggle with the question of: If this is my dream, my passion, my purpose in life, why is it so painful and difficult? If this is what I was born to do, why can’t I do it?
And in the meantime, as I’ve struggled, my life has stalled. I spent all of high school and college dreaming about writing and getting away from school, but I did my schoolwork in the meantime and did well, so my life continued on along with everyone else’s. But then I graduated, and while everyone else went out and got jobs as demanded by society, I started the mad scramble to make this dream a reality. Writing was the only job I wanted, the only job I would accept… except I couldn’t do it. Forget making money at it—I couldn’t even do the basic requirement of the job: writing. This would be a different blog if I were finishing drafts but unable to publish them. But while I can talk about writing like my future career, and I can think about writing like my future career, I can’t actually do anything to make it my future career. And the brief span of time in which my extended adolescence is (barely) tolerated by society, reality, and my loving and supportive family is… ending. Fast.
It’s just a matter of discipline. Of deadlines. Of outlining. Of the right characters. Of writing exercises. Of the perfect idea. If I just find the right technique, the right trick, everything will fall into place and the draft will appear. And so I try—writing every day, no matter what (for two days); setting deadlines and rewards; trying to silence the inner editor; reading writing how-to after how-to… and it doesn’t work. Because I don’t work.
I know that writing is hard. It takes work, and discipline, and it isn’t always fun and it certainly isn’t easy. But I just can’t shake the feeling that if this were really my dream, if this were really such a natural part of me, it wouldn’t be this hard to motivate myself. It wouldn’t be this hard.
So I began to question whether this really is my dream. At what point did the future career of writing become my crutch, my defense mechanism, my avoidance? I realized that I became so fixated on being an author that I let it become a form of denial rather than an active passion. Once I became an author, all my problems would be solved. Making friends would be easier; I wouldn’t have to deal with people at work because my work would be writing at home; and I would have enough money to live wherever I wanted and have everything I could ever need. The parts of my brain that rightfully pointed out that becoming a successful author involved things that frightened me, like public speaking and television appearances (I’m talking successful authors), were ignored. And that festered in my subconscious and sabotaged my writing.
The dream of being an author, the crutch that has become, maintains my obsession; my fear of being an author, of the reality of what that would mean, of the criticism and public scrutiny that comes with putting your work out there, keeps my obsession from actively producing anything. I live in the limbo of potential, in which I am always one trick away from success but never actually in danger of being successful (though I can believe I am). It is agony, but it is a safe, stable, comfortable agony that I have learned to live with.
But it is not an agony that can sustain itself for much longer.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, a lot of hard, honest thought. I have constructed my entire identity around writing and being a writer; it has defined me and shaped me since I was six years old (and even before that, though I didn’t know what it was until then). It has informed my every decision, accompanied my every waking moment, shaped my every thought. I am not exaggerating when I say I think about it all day, every day. But somewhere along the way I lost sight of why I’m doing this. Of what I really want, and what writing really is to me, and for me.
And so I’ve realized that if I ever want my passion back, if I ever want to write again, I have to let this dream go. I have to give up on wanting to be an author, in order to be a writer. I have to actively imagine (and accept) a future in which I never publish a book; maybe I post my writing online, for free and for fun, or maybe I just write for myself. Maybe I write unfinished drabbles, or just summaries and outlines that never actually become drafts, or maybe I work on drawing or screenplays or poetry or whatever… Maybe I just think about characters in the abstract without stories at all. Maybe I world-build for fun and for no reason. Maybe I don’t write at all.
If this is going to work, it can’t be a trick. I can’t have a part of my brain crouching in wait for my defenses to relax before pouncing back with the dream, with the pressures and expectations of the dream. I can’t fall back into my old patterns of obsession and denial. I have to completely and honestly let this dream go… and find a new dream.
That’s the hardest part for me, right now. That new dream, of a new career and a new future, can be anything. Maybe being an editor, helping authors realize their visions. Maybe working in Hollywood on movie sets. Maybe writing book reviews. Maybe teaching. Maybe anything. But it has to be a future that I can accept and even embrace with enthusiasm, that I can envision having for the rest of my life without publication as a part of it or a way out. The more I can imagine and desire this future, this new dream, the better my life will be. It’s scary, because I have always defined my future by writing, and all of the defense mechanisms that come with that (oh, once I become an author, dating will be a breeze!). Stripping away that crutch and hobbling out into the great unknown without it might be one of the hardest things I’ll ever have to do. But I have to do it.
The ironic thing is that once I let go of the dream of being an author (truly let go), I might actually start writing again. It might take a while to de-program my brain from the “publication, publication, publication” mantra that it uses to analyze and construct all writing; but once I do, and I write without that voice that predicts what everyone else will say once something is published, I might actually be able to write for fun. Not that all writing will be fun, but that the process as a whole will be fun. And maybe, if I’m very lucky, something I write will be published. But it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be a big advance, bestselling sort of thing; it can be cheesy little paperbacks that hardly sell that are just fun. Or self-published eBooks that are ignored like everyone else’s. But the lack of the onrushing deadline of life screaming at me to publish NOW, and the lack of the myriad of voices of reviewers and readers criticizing my work for a cacophony of sins… I already feel lighter and freer.
I will continue to write, and continue to blog, because this grand experiment in the evolution of a dream is something I’m very curious about. What will happen? What will my creative process become when it’s just creating for the sake of itself? I have a natural creative urge, a natural desire to express myself and share what I create, so I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating entirely… but I have no idea what I will do without the pressure of “the dream.”
I don’t think the dream will fade without a fight. This is a decade of thought patterns and daily habits ingrained in my psyche that shape and guide my every action, and I’m trying to change that and build new thoughts in a world that frightens me and fills me with anxiety. My warm blanket of imagined future security is being ripped away, and I have to imagine a new future without it. I’m sure I’ll stumble, and fall back into the patterns of dreaming of author-dom, which is safe and familiar. Especially if I actually do start writing again. But if this is going to work, I have to give that new dream a chance. I have to fight for it.
You never know. Pursuing this new dream may be just what the old dream needs to breathe and survive. But even if it isn’t, this is what I need. This is the hardest blog post I have ever written. I am sad, I am frightened, I am uncertain.
But I am, as ever, hopeful.
I’m just not exactly sure what I’m hoping for now. My mind and future are open.
Now I can dream.