Why it’s okay not to achieve your dreams in the way you imagined
I can still remember the day I decided I was going to be a writer. I was ten, and my English teacher wrote in my report card “Lucy is arguably the best writer in the class, and has definitely found her niche.” And that was it for me; since then I’ve had a certainty that writing was the “thing” that I was destined to spend my life doing.
But now, at twenty-years-old and rapidly approaching my final year at university, I’m starting to doubt that I will be the next J.K Rowling or Audrey Niffenegger as I’d hoped I would be by 22.
When I got accepted onto my dream course studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, I imagined I’d spend my time writing every day until the small hours of the morning because I’d be so inspired, believing I’d have a novel published by the time I finished, a paid writing contract, or definitely a sure job in publishing or journalism so I could at least reject other people’s manuscripts if I couldn’t finish my own book. But in reality, as hard as I’ve tried, university is not that easy, and I count myself lucky to have had a few articles published in the university and the local paper.
I think pretty much anyone who wants to be a writer has a book in their head. I have tried and failed many times to start writing the novel that has been in my head since I was fifteen. But every time I started writing it, or tried to consistently add to it, something else always seemed more important. I found myself less and less inspired to keep writing it, always finding university work, or socializing, or anything else much more important. In a recent lecture at my university, my tutor told me I should be writing at least 1000 words per day if I wanted to be a successful writer. I started to question whether I was supposed to be a writer if even the prospect of a 1000 words a day seemed way too daunting.
Was I doing the right degree? Would it have been better to keep writing as a hobby I still enjoyed as opposed to saw as a chore? Should I have chosen a more realistic major? And in answer to all of these questions: YES.
I know in my heart that choosing any other degree than creative writing would have been wrong for me, because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and I would rather fail at something I love than be good at something I hate. In any job, there will always be dark days when you doubt yourself. For writers, these dark days can last months because writer’s block is a real pain. But in this time, as I questioned all of my life decisions (for example my recent impulse decision to get bangs which I already regret), I learned how to pick myself back up.
Maybe my life would have been easier if I had chosen English Literature or Drama as my major, but then I wouldn’t be me, I wouldn’t be spending my evenings in my pajamas trying relentlessly to write even 100 words towards my book or any other project. And at least writer’s block is a valid excuse to walk around town, completely sober at 3 am questioning the meaning of life. What I came to learn in these times of dire writer’s block and lack of inspiration is this: I am trying. I am writing. I write therefore I am. The moment I pick up a pen or open a word document, I AM A WRITER, even if that is a writer of things which nobody else besides me will ever read.
I’m not saying I regret any of the times I have chosen impromptu cocktail/pizza nights with my friends over a night spent writing, or deciding to get a part time job in an awesome Gin Bar despite it leaving me exhausted most of the time…because ultimately these are strengthening my friendships, shaping who I am, whilst also giving me the life experience I need in order to have anything worth writing about. What I do wish, however, is that I knew from the start that just because I am studying a writing degree, does not guarantee I will ever make a living by being a writer. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
The moment I stopped putting pressure on myself about becoming the famous novelist or journalist I envisioned I’d be, I started being proactive and thought about all the other, more likely things I could do with my life. For example, when beginning university, I never thought I’d work in a bar. I was far too timid and clumsy to be around alcohol and glass. But this past year has taught me that I can do anything, and actually, I really like bar work, not necessarily as a career choice, but for now it’s perfect, and definitely a skill that will serve my resume for life. I also found myself getting more and more into running; I would be stuck with writer’s block and instead of choosing to cry and stress-watch five episodes of The Office, I went for a run. Running, surprisingly, has been a huge influence on my writing — you wouldn’t believe the benefit of those exercise-induced endorphins rolling around your body, plus it’s a great inspiration technique (the things you see as soon as you leave your bed can actually be incredible). I recently completed my first half-marathon and it was honestly one of the best feelings imaginable!
I started making lists and charts of other things I enjoyed, and I realized poetry had been something I was neglecting in all the stress of “serious” or “university” writing. I’ve always loved poetry; I grew up reading the books my parents would leave around, poets like Adrian Henri and Keats, and later I found my own favorites in Lang Leav and Anne Boyer. For an independent project at university, I began writing poetry which I knew I wanted to somehow get published, so after a lecture at university about self-publication, I decided I wanted to publish my own poetry book, and this is something I plan to do by the end of next year using “Blurb” — a software with InDesign that allows you to effectively publish your own book without the hassle of editors and agents. (Plus, Amazon will sell it for you).
Panicking about not being the writer I planned to be also led me to a completely new career idea (with the help of 500 days of Summer): Designing cards. With a very artistic father and a very sarcastic mother, it’s hardly surprisingly that I have spent a lot of my time designing cards, sketching out pictures and coming up with terrible puns that I think would look great on a greeting card. Though making a living from designing my own cards is almost as rare a chance as being a famous writer, it is slightly more conceivable, and gives me an alternative dream to focus on. I’m one of those old romantics who still loves receiving tangible mail, so much so that my mother and I exchange funny animal cards at least once a week. I am a huge card enthusiast, so the notion of my own ridiculous catch phrases and sassy sayings being printed on a card is wonderful, and still incorporates my love of writing in a more realistic way.
Though in my heart I will always be a writer, forever with a pen behind my ear and a pretty notebook in my hand, I no longer allow myself to be defined by the word “writer” and the connotations and expectations that come with it. Of course I will continue to write as much and as well as I can in the hope that one day I will be even vaguely successful through my passion, but if that doesn’t work out there are plenty more creative industries and opportunities, and you mustn’t lose sight of this.