Part I: What do you want to be when you grow up?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I spent a lot of time as a kid trying to answer that question — not in a casual way, but with an adult-like level of seriousness and deliberation, including trips to the library to research esoteric details of my prospective careers. For example, at one point — I think I was about nine years old — I was planning to be a dog breeder, so I read up on everything from breed-specific diseases to the design and construction of kennel runs.
This continued, with an increasing sense of urgency, right up through high school. The older I got, however, the harder it was to find The One Thing, because I kept discovering new subjects to love. Did I want to be a geneticist? an actor? a psychologist? a sign language interpreter?
I don’t know if anyone ever explicitly told me that I had to pick just one thing to which I would devote my whole life, but it was certainly something I implicitly understood. I had to make a choice, and it had to be the right one, because once I went off to college for a particular major, my entire life’s path was set.
So at seventeen years old, I decided I would be a fiction writer.
This was partly because I loved to read more than anything. And partly because the universe seemed to be telling me I was exceptionally good at writing — I won a thousand dollars in a short story contest that year, among other things.
But it was also, I thought, a way to cheat. If I became a writer I wouldn’t have to pick just one thing. I could keep learning All The Things. I would call it ‘Novel Research’.
Of course you don’t usually earn a living as a fiction writer — not for years and years, if ever. I knew that in theory, but it wasn’t until after I graduated college that I learned just how hard a road I’d chosen for myself.