When I was 13, I dreamed of being a writer. When I was 18, I decided to become a journalist. When I was 22, I landed my first job as a newspaper reporter. When I was 23, I realized the reporter’s life was not for me, and I quit.
Being a writer has never been a question for me. It’s who I am down deep. But what exactly a writing life might look like has been my life’s quest since those days of self-discovery when I realized it wasn’t the newspaper business.
For years, I assumed that in order to really be a writer, I had to find a way to write full-time. Julia Cameron, in The Right to Write, says lots of people think this way.
Very often, when people think about writing, they picture the writer’s life being best when it contains vast savannahs of freedom, huge bolts of structureless, unused time.
So I saved money and made plans, and when I was 26, I quit a good and promising full-time job to be a writer. I bought a used laptop and spent afternoons on my balcony working on my novel. In the evenings, I pounded out query letters about everything I knew enough about to write on and mailed them out to magazines. But very quickly, I was stuck in a plot that was moving too slow, I was out of ideas for queries, and I hadn’t heard back from any I had mailed.
When I was 27, I took the first job offer that came along.
I learned something from my experience, however. The writing life wasn’t going to look like my ideal vision. Julia says lots of people figure that out, too.
Those long sabbaticals everyone lusts after so they can be truly productive seldom yield the promised result. Too often the yawning vistas of time yield self-involved work that yawns on the page. Writers writing about what to write are writers for whom something isn’t right.
So, when I was 28, I decided to find a full-time job that would be conducive to part-time writing. Because as Julia says, “Writing benefits from other commitments.” I began with what seemed most obvious.
I worked in full-time vocational ministry at a church, then a Christian college, and found that the same part of me that was energized to spend time with people was what I would normally draw from to write. And after a day with people, there was nothing left for putting words on the page.
Then, I began a graduate program so that I could teach writing, imaging holidays and summers filled with productive writing time. But again, the schedule and pace of the academic calendar left me empty and dull by the end of a rigorous semester. It would take the entire break just to recover and be ready for another semester.
When I was 32, I ended up back at the company I had left six years earlier to be a writer. I work with numbers and queries and formulas and lists all day for eight hours. Nothing at all to do with writing or people, really.
Yet, finally, I have found my writing “roots,” as Julia calls them.
Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing.
Now, I am 39, and it doesn’t look at all like what I imagined, but I am living a writing life at last.
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