Why I Became A Writer

At twenty years old, I rarely ask myself, how did I get here? I never really take the time to reflect on the decisions, people, victories and catastrophes, small or immense, insignificant or momentous, that constructed my present worldview, this current version of myself. I don’t think this lack of contemplation comes from indifference or laziness, but rather from the deep-rooted belief that I am perpetually unfinished. And that’s perhaps why thinking about the answer to “why I became a writer” seems too premature at this time in my life – in my mind, I’m not yet a writer; or, at least, not one with a story worth sharing. And, to be honest, everything that has steered me towards writing could have also steered me in a myriad of contrasting directions. I guess, if I really think about it, I became a writer because I couldn’t possibly become anything else.

When I was in second grade, all I wanted to do was win. Whether it was finishing more multiplication problems than my classmates or the annual spelling bee or the Pacer Test in gym class, I was committed to, if not absolutely obsessed with, being first. I was the type of kid who stressed about college applications in middle school and finished Algebra and Geometry before high school even started. I loved school. But I loved school not because I loved learning (I didn’t really understand how to love learning before college), but because I loved being great at something. Writing was the same way for me. It’s easy to fall in love with something that comes easily, something that earned me A+’s and won me contests and got me into the top public university in the country. At least in the beginning, writing was as effortless as speaking, and therefore, I structured my whole life around it.

I wrote my college essays about my intention to become a prominent journalist and “participate in the global conversation” or something equally as ambitious and precocious. I entered my freshman year and declared the same majors that I’ve continued to work towards throughout my college career. That’s uncommon, to be so sure about your path and your dreams that it is unshakeable even during the weirdest, most uncomfortable transition periods. But I never questioned my enthusiasm for writing; not when I was strongly encouraged to apply to business school, not when I received a less-than-satisfactory grade on my first COMM 101 paper, not when I was told again and again that journalism is a “dying field.”

Regardless of the lack of jobs or the uninspiring classes, I always knew that I wanted to write because I always wanted to be great at what I did. It wasn’t until November of my freshman year that I realized that writing isn’t just something I’m good at, like baking unnaturally soft cookies or reciting Eminem lyrics. I was doing homework in a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop on the edge of campus, the kind of homework that’s only given to ensure you don’t have too much free time, and I decided to reward myself with a well-deserved break. And instead of watching a few Friends episodes on Netflix or swiping through social media (again), I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote.

And, that night, I uploaded a deeply intimate, almost embarrassingly so, personal essay to Her Campus, sipped my latte, and waited. I watched on while tens, then hundreds of people “liked” and shared my work, commenting that they were “inspired,” “moved,” and even impacted to make a change in their own lives. I never revisited my homework that night, but what I learned was far more important than its lesson. Writing became more than a hobby, more than an academic skill; it became a part of me. It became a purpose, a goal that was challenging yet intoxicating; writing became the most fun “work” I’ve ever done, and the only work I can imagine doing. My writing became a proof of my existence and a celebration of my perspective – it became an extremely important extension of myself, and without which I could never be truly, unapologetically me.

And that realization, that moment I understood that I was devoted to, bound to, this identity as a writer was both electrifying and paralyzing. It all felt more tangible – the very real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make any money, the fact that my career path and lifestyle will most likely be worlds apart from my peers’, who will spend their four years studying business or math or engineering or something with a finish line. Writing has no finish line. I worried that I would simply run out of things to say, or that I would realize, after everything, that I just wasn’t any good at this. But that was the point, right?

I was good at this, I always have been. So, I continued. I continued to write for the online publication that gave me the freedom to spew seemingly unimportant thoughts out onto the internet and people actually liked it. I interned at a few publications without pay and I still showed up to work every morning in my peep-toe pumps and conservative black skirts. I sent my writing around to countless magazines, newspapers and websites, messaged executive editors, HR department heads, and recruiters hoping to entice someone, anyone, to read my stuff. And eventually, they did. Even when my byline started to pop up on the most seemingly unreachable publications, even after being published and promoted on a platform with over 207 million unique monthly viewers, I still didn’t feel validated. Yeah, I published some writing, but I’m not really a writer.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever really feel like one. It’s tough to be a newcomer in a field that is so heavily rooted in identity. I felt as though declaring myself a writer would say more about me than just my discipline – that the label would define my personality, my way of life, my appearance. Aren’t writers supposed to be artsy? Aren’t journalists supposed to be pushy? I felt like a poser – I identified with my writing but I didn’t have the confidence to let it identify me.

I have so much yet to accomplish; a horde of unwritten, unborn words in my head and a resume with too much blank space. When I write a bestselling novel, or publish a personal narrative in The New Yorker, I will share my story. But I have yet to amble down my road to success before I’m able to reminisce about it, before I’m able to claim success at all.

Most of all, I’m uncertain about my writer-ness because I’m unwaveringly confident, optimistic, self-assured about my future – and not because I think I’m the most talented person to pick up a pencil, but because I am transported to another world when I do. Although I am hesitant to accept the “writer” label, I’m certainly a person who writes. A lot. And it’s something that I don’t think I could function without; I write to interpret the absurdly unfair, dizzyingly gorgeous world around me. I write to declutter my untidy mind, to remember feelings and moments as they are when I experience them. I write to relate to people, I write to get A’s, I write to entertain, I write to educate.

But most importantly, I write because who the hell am I not to? Who am I to discard my passion, to write it off as a juvenile hobby and pursue a desk job at a colorless company with an unscratchable itch to document life through words? Who am I to discover what sets my soul on fire and to sit back and watch someone else do it?

I am a writer, as I am myself, because I simply could not be anyone else.


Image courtesy of: The Odyssey