Monday, May 2, 2011

A different take on following the writing dream

Last week I read a very interesting, inspiring post from Sarah Ockler about following one's writing dreams, here. "Don't Plan B your dreams," she says. Don't listen to the people who say you can't make any money doing it, or who say it's a hobby not a career, etc.

I entirely agree. I discovered there was a fire for storytelling in my soul, and once I gave it fuel, there was no stopping it.


1. I didn't make this discovery until I was 29 years old
2. The reason my writing dream has been realized is because of what I experienced before I started writing - my travels overseas, and my Ph.D. study which helped me in both content and writing technique.

The conclusion I draw from this is that you can benefit greatly from having something else. Call it what you will - an alternate interest, a backup plan, a money-making career, or just writing research - but find something that you are good at, that you have a passion for besides writing, and dive deep into it. If it can serve as a backup plan and money-maker, so much the better. But it will certainly help you in a writing career.


I traveled a very long way down the road toward an academic career, studying Japanese, Anthropology, Linguistics, Discourse Analysis, etc. My writing reflects this. Part of what they talk to you about when they ("they") discuss getting published is standing out from the rest of the writing that is going on out there - and the fact is, what makes you unique is your own experience. The things you've learned, the books you've read, the people you've met; everything contributes. My world of Varin started with a very simple fantasy premise, but grew into something totally different because of the way I started using my academic experience to feed it. I have a different take on Japan-related stories because I have lived in Japan and read Japanese literature and gone to Noh plays and visited tons and tons of shrines and temples (I love shrines and temples!). I am a published author today not simply because I felt dissatisfied with a Star Trek premise (Darmok) and wanted to have my own take on it, but because I was able to reduce that premise to its components, build an entirely different society around it, and take it in a new direction. That is all thanks to the things I did before I knew I was a writer.

What if you already know you are a writer?

Well of course, you write. Of course, you refuse to listen to those people who tell you it's not an activity worth pursuing - and you pursue it, and do all those great things that you need to do to improve yourself and get closer to the realization of your dream of writing marvels.

But don't forget personal and professional development. Read widely. Go places. Meet people. If you're headed to a job, keep your writer's eye open, because you can learn a lot about character and dialogue from personal interactions you see. You can also learn a lot about institutions and how they work. Take your personal experiences and try to look at them on the meta-level so they can work for you.

Make sure to keep aware of what feeds your energy and what saps it. If you're in a job that makes you scream and exhausts your brain so you have nothing left for the page at the end of the day, try to cultivate something else.

Your writing dream is worth pursuing. So much worth pursuing, in fact, that it's worth making the other parts of your life contribute to it - and worth pursuing things besides writing in order to make your writing richer, and get you closer to realizing your dream.


  1. I agree. I took another educational tract and I regretted it. I'm old now, and guess what...came back to what I love. I say go for it.

  2. I agree with this.

    I'm 28 now, but when I was 18, I already knew I wanted to write. But...I also knew I didn't have the experience to do so with the depth I wanted it to have. I could place my commas correctly, but I didn't understand half of the life experiences my characters needed to have to come alive. So I waited. I've bounced around a lot of jobs since then--I had to eat, so I had to do something in the meantime--and without those jobs I wouldn't have some of the experiences I have now.

    In my reading experience, the most interesting stories are the ones that teach you something. And if you haven't experienced life, you have nothing to teach as a writer. :)

  3. E. Arroyo, I'm so glad you're now doing what you love. That is awesome.

    D.M. Domini, it sounds like you've done a lot of living and kept your writing going through all of it. Well done! And good luck with future writing.

  4. Couldn't agree more. Nothing's been better for my writing than my PhD; it helped me polish my writing skills and clarify and streamline my entire thought process.

  5. I had a long side-track into the biological sciences and health care, all the while fighting for time to write. In retrospect, becoming proficient at something else has served me extremely well on many different levels. It taught me how to work hard and what excellence is, it brought me into contact with people who had lives very different from mine, and it still provides a rich resource of cool stuff to write about.

    I agree with the advice to not study writing in college. Instead, study history and geography, one or three foreign languages (preferably one that doesn't use our own alphabet), chemistry and economics, religion and modern dance, anthropology and physics and karate and music. In other words, learn about the natural and human world, the cosmos and the psyche.

  6. Rik, thanks for your comment. I find my Ph.D. helped me with the whole "kill your darlings" thing, as when my advisor said, "Okay now go rewrite all of Chapter 4" and I said, "(gulp) Okay!"

    Deborah, good advice. We should take advantage of critical opportunities to learn the things that go into writing, not just the technical aspects of writing itself. Thanks for the comment!