When I turned eighteen, I decided to pursue writing as a profession. I enrolled as a film major at university with the intention to learn screenwriting, but transferred into the English department in my second year. For me, university was simply a means to read and absorb as much literature as possible in an effort to become a better writer. Halfway through my bachelors, I began submitting stories to literary journals and contests. I stopped writing fantasy stories in favor of creating what I assumed to be serious literature. Though I had written two novel-length narratives as a child, I began my first “real” novel when I was twenty-one. To my parents chagrin, I invested no time or effort into pursuing a vocation. In my mind, I was already doing so.
At twenty-two I experienced a minor breakthrough when the Toronto Star published a short story I had submitted to their annual short story contest. This early success validated my ambition, and I dedicated myself completely to becoming a professional writer. After graduating from university, I chose to work mostly odd jobs rather than pursue a career. I published a few more short stories and submitted query letters to publishers. I was optimistic and hopeful, but my hope and optimism faded as my early successes disintegrated into a ceaseless parade of rejection slips from book publishers and literary magazines. For a year or two I considered writing purely for money and contemplated creating material I knew I could sell, but something prevented me from doing so. In my mind, there was no point to writing if I was not writing what I truly wanted to write.
Working odd jobs instead of pursuing a career had seemed like the proper thing to do when I was in my twenties, but as I approached thirty my decision to forgo a career in favor of pursuing my romantic writer dreams suddenly struck me as foolish. I married at twenty-nine, set my writing ambitions aside, and dedicated myself to becoming an educator. I chose to become a teacher because I had hoped to continue writing, especially in the summers, but over the next decade I wrote very little and pretty much filed my writing ambitions away as a noble attempt that had ultimately ended in failure. Though I tried not to think about it too much, my failed ambition left a bitter aftertaste, and I soured not just on becoming a writer, but on writing in general.
For reasons I cannot explain, I returned to writing before I turned forty. No longer possessed by any burning ambition to make it as a writer, I wrote simply for the enjoyment of it. The feeling of intense concentration and seriousness returned, and before I knew it, I had written a full-length novel. I made no attempt to submit it to publishers, but instead self-published it through Amazon. For a couple of years I experienced a duller version of the ambition that had possessed me in my twenties, and I made some attempts to market my novel, but these attempts yielded little results. During this time, I experienced the same sort of bitterness I had felt when I abandoned my writing dreams at the age of thirty. Rather than wallow in them, I examined the source of these feelings. Once I discovered where the bitterness stemmed from, I realized these negative feelings had nothing to do with writing and everything to do with my limited beliefs about success.
As I draw closer to fifty, I find myself in the same place I was when I was eleven. A laptop has replaced the Smith Corona electric typewriter, but once again, I am writing primarily because I enjoy it. The hours I spend writing these days are some of the happiest of my life, filled with what I can only describe as pure playfulness disciplined by the kind of intense seriousness and concentration children display when they discover something they love to do.
As ridiculous and insincere as it sounds, I now understand my current “success” in writing is rooted in my previous failed attempts to “become” a writer. Though I cannot know for sure, I suspect I would have failed as a writer if I had succeeded in “becoming” one.
Of course, that will not make much sense to most, but it makes perfect sense to me.