In 1000 Words or Less….

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Why I Chose to Be a Writer

If I’m being honest, I don’t know if it was really a choice.  Part of me believes I am destined to be a writer, that this is my calling in life.  When I was a child my best friends were books and I would lose myself in imaginary worlds that others had created.  I excelled at playing pretend and my Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch kids can certainly provide ample testimony to my imagination and creativity.  But as a child, any time I tried to write a story I never got very far.  Sure, I could come up with the idea, the characters, the plot, and so on, and frankly, I thought they were pretty dang good.  I just couldn’t get that to translate into prose.  So I quit writing my stories, time and time again.

When I was in high school, I rarely, if ever, got called out for writing.  Instead, I would slump in my chair as my teachers marveled over short stories and poems by my fellow classmates.  I can still remember one student being praised for her story of a teacher taking students on a field trip to the World Trade Center the day it was bombed in 1993 or another student who wrote a poem about starving children in Africa and their “petri dish bellies.”  Where these students drew inspiration from was beyond me and I felt wholly inadequate by what I was writing in comparison.

There was one lone exception in my writing history.  My senior year in high school I took a creative writing composition class under the guidance of Mrs. Carole S. Bush.  In that class, one of the assignments was to write a children’s story and I received laughter and praise for my Thanksgiving story about a little boy, his father, and their steadfast basset hound, who go turkey hunting every year only to be thwarted by a wily turkey.

I enjoyed every aspect of writing this story, and as I wrote it I could see the illustrations in my head.  Not being naturally gifted with drawing ability they still remain in my imagination to this day, but the story flowed effortlessly.  The same thing happened when I took an Introduction to Children’s Literature class the spring semester my freshman year in college.  We had to write a fairy tale and my story of The Apple Tree came to life in my mind and all but jumped on to the page for me.  I earned an A+ and a written comment of, “This is the best fairy tale a student has ever written in this class.”

But in all my investigations and research into college (pre-internet days, mind you), it seemed like writing and publishing were elite fields and every English major I knew ended up working at restaurants or department stores.  So, I didn’t consider writing a realistic profession and instead declared myself a psychology major.  By the time I graduated with a 3.93, I had been named Outstanding Psychology Major my junior and senior years, won an institutional research grant of over $2000 for my honors thesis, and presented this research at a national conference.  I was offered multiple assistantships or fellowships at almost every graduate school I applied to and soon I was on my way to earning a Ph.D. in quantitative psychology.

Eight long years later, I found myself with a doctoral degree and a tenure-track assistant professor position at a private university in the Midwest.  At first, I enjoyed teaching.  But then I became frustrated with myself and with my students and I felt that no one, including me, was getting anything out of my classes.  I was physically sick, mentally tired, and I woke up one day thinking, There has got to be more to life.  Then, in one of the greatest gifts I ever received, I applied for and was given a full-year sabbatical with two-thirds of my salary.

During that year I moved away from the Midwest and rejoined my friends and family in Chapel Hill, NC.  I focused on my physical and mental health.  I started meditating every day, sometimes twice a day.  I had a near-death experience.  I started working on a novel.  I went to group therapy.  I took a spirituality course in conscious living at a local church.

Then it hit me – I didn’t miss teaching at all.  I began to envision myself living a different life.  One where I felt fulfilled creatively and professionally and every time it centered on me being a writer.  Could I really do this? I asked myself.  Give up a well-paying job?  Tenure?  Benefits?  More vacation time than the average person ever gets? 

I debated about possibly doing both.  But I realized that not only was I doing a disservice to my students by staying in a job I no longer felt called to do, I was also doing a disservice to myself.  I am well aware how difficult it is to make a living as a writer.  I have heard countless pieces of advice not to make it your day job, to do anything else while you try to be a writer.  But I’m not trying anymore.  I just am.  I am a writer and so this is what I am now doing.  I don’t know how it’s going to work out.  The only thing I am certain of is I get more joy and satisfaction from writing, particularly children’s stories, than I ever have in my 39 years of life.  So this is what I’m going to do.  I appreciate your love and support on this journey.   I am excited (and terrified) to see what happens next.