Growing up, we were all able to indulge in the stories of who we would be when we grew up. Many of us boasted of becoming astronauts, firemen, doctors, and rock stars. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, though I also caught the theater bug and thought that acting would be a great career as well.
As time passed, those childhood dreams of growing up to be the idealized versions of who we wanted to be faded away, shifting our focus to practical choices. Even as I headed off to college with the idea of focusing on creative writing, I ended up focusing more on my “back-up” plans than on my writing dreams.
Writing seems like a hobby to a lot of people, which is weird because so many people dread doing it. It’s hard work, and making a successful career out of it requires a lot of hustle, risk, and sacrifice. That can feel scary, especially when there are safer options available.
On the other hand, every road out there is hard and comes with its own potholes. As I’ve toiled away in my “back-up” careers, I’ve learned that you can’t run away from who you are, and there are no safe routes through life. Everything in your life is impermanent, so you might as well pursue your dream and hope for the best.
Throughout all my years writing on the side, I never felt like a real writer, even though I was. A writer is someone who writes, which I did. I think that part of why I was so hesitant to call myself a writer is that some people can heavily guard the persona of a writer.
Additionally, any time you tell someone that you’re a writer, they immediately ask, “Oh, what do you write?” It’s hard to explain that the bulk of your work is hidden away in your desk drawer, saved on a flash drive that you have nightmares about losing.
When I started freelancing, it suddenly became easier to tell people that I’m a writer. While I felt like I was really a writer, I still didn’t have the kind of life I thought I’d have. Like many people, I’d created a fantasy about how my life would be: I’d write in coffee shops, use my flexible schedule to get inspired at the art museum’s free day, and ponder story ideas over a homemade breakfast while I stared wistfully out my window.
I dreamed of being an enigmatic writer with her head in the clouds, always crafting a new story. I dove head first into my new career, but found myself trudging through piles of work. I would be holed up in my apartment for days at a time, working in my pajamas or workout clothes because my workday started when I woke up and just kept on going until bedtime.
Where were the lattes? When would I get to read on a park bench, or stare at a painting and get the perfect idea for a poem? Why didn’t I have time to put on a record and start my day with a proper breakfast, complete with my writer-ly journal?
I was stumped, and wondered if I’d made a mistake. Then I started thinking, and realized that the problem wasn’t writing. It was that I was letting myself be swept along, and I was looking for a reason to blame for my inaction.
Sure, some things are out of our control. That’s okay and to be expected. At the same time, it’s up to us how we react to situations, including making the best choices available to us. Things may not be perfect, but when you take control of your own story, you can start to cultivate the life you really want.
The traditional idea of a writer’s life that we see in movies and on TV may be a fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that you can bring elements of it into your life. Not only is it possible to have these types of moments, but it’s really fun and so satisfying to fill your days with moments that you always fantasized about living. When you take control of your own story, you can make your dream life a reality.