When I was in the fifth grade, I knew I wanted to grow up to be a writer. Prior to that moment, I had been dead set on either becoming an artist (I had excellent tracing skills) or an actress (which was less about acting and more of just wanting to go to the Oscars). I had a creative writing class that same year most of my classmates dreaded but it was my favorite course. In grade school, I used to walk around my parents’ house telling myself stories aloud, pacing back and forth throughout the halls. The older I got, the less acceptable I realized that would be to do in public so I learned how to sit still and tell the stories quietly inside of my head. But I quickly became miserable with all of those characters trapped inside. That creative writing course was the first of many classes that would unleash the floodgates to setting my ideas free to roam and leap around on paper. For many years, throughout middle and high school, I had all of these notebooks and Word documents with stories inside of them. They weren’t very well written – more like really, really angsty – but they got out of me which was good because half-baked characters and story angles made room for better three dimensional ones.
Post high school, I knew I was going to go to college. I had wanted to major in journalism, but it almost didn’t happen. As you can probably tell from the careers I mentioned above, I never once had a dream job that included a regular paycheck. My parents wanted me to major in business because of the stability. I felt horribly pressured to hurry up and register at the community college that semester so I caved and went to register for business classes. On the drive home, I stared at my class receipt. Macroeconomics. Microeconomics. It was a language I didn’t know and just looking at the paper, I knew I was going to fail all of the classes I had just convinced myself to sign up for. I burst into tears, startling my mom, “I can’t do this!” I remember sobbing, “We have to go back and cancel everything! This is not my major!”
She didn’t actually take me back the same day since the registrar’s office hours were closed. I went back to the campus the next morning, dropped everything, and registered again for mass communications with an emphasis in journalism courses. That was my defining moment when I knew journalism was not only just my major but that writing as a whole was the only means for how I could ever live my life.
Here is the best way I can describe how writing makes me feel. There is a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician and author, who said, “The brain, once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.” It’s a wonder my brain is still contained in my head at this point from all the stretching and reshaping that has been going on in there. But I understood where he was coming from. Writers have a love/hate relationship with the craft. Any writer who tells me they don’t I’m convinced is lying. There are the days where the ideas are flowing, the sentences are all structuring together just so, and the facts are falling into place from credible sources. And then there are the days where everything you write sounds so incredibly basic and stupid, when the facts are nothing more than somebody using a #breakingnews hashtag at the wrong time, and you wonder if all the world really wants to read about are the 15 best ‘90s movies to reminisce about during brunch.
I graduated from college three years ago and it still bothers me how communications tends to get a bad rap as the “easy” major to pick if you don’t know what you want to do. I won’t lie – it’s a weird time to major in journalism. There’s more information than ever before out there, but that also equates to a lot more mistakes being made too. Pretty much anyone can be a writer by setting up a blog, but there’s no AP Stylebook in place for blogging and the Internet is littered with the remains of thousands of blogs that petered out after four or five posts because they weren’t enormously successful from the start. And that’s another thing about journalism today. A writer must also keep up appearances on social platforms with your influence is measured by how many people follow you on Twitter or the amount of hearts your Tumblr posts receive. But the thing about influence is that it’s also quite fleeting and numbers are easy to manipulate across the board so beware the job listing that stresses your social media following before looking at your writing portfolio first.
Being a writer, despite all modern advances in technology, is also very hard no matter whether you’re freelancing or on a staff at a publication. There’s so much that goes into play across the board from the pay you receive (or don’t) to the criticism and praise from the Internet and oh yes, penning an SEO friendly headline that snatches the eyeball up and drives traffic to the website through clicks. Why would anyone want this life, this kind of stress, this world where so many sites churn out articles for the sake of quantity and not quality?
Because. Writing is what ultimately sustains the writer.
A writer is at the core a storyteller. Sometimes the stories are fiction and occur in fantastical worlds you can only see within your mind’s eye. Other times they’re hard news and happening all around us and the plight of the person, place, or thing they’re happening to must be told. The public must be informed. Fiction or not, there is an insatiable need the writer to get these stories out and to share them with others, who in turn will pass them down to the generations. A writer will write or type or scrawl on a napkin these stories, share them, and work from there on creating or telling new ones. Their progression in writing becomes documented and within it, the longer a writer keeps writing, one can begin to see an evolution in their work, through the tone and style. You won’t ever write something today in the exact same voice you did last year because your brain has been stretched since. This is both beautiful and frightening because these are the moments you have or lose. The choice is all up to you.
In closing, I end with one more quote from Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, “When in doubt, do it.” If you want to pursue journalism, you grab on and don’t lose your grip. But the thing is that a writer reading this knows this is no ending to an article.
This is just an invitation to a beginning.
Image courtesy of shutterstock.com.