Auntie SparkNotes: Do Real Artists Know From Birth What They Want To Be?
Literature has been a life-long passion of mine. And although I've always been an avid reader, I was often a reluctant writer. Why, you ask? Well, the idea of exposing myself emotionally terrified me. I tried writing poetry to keep private, but then I realized that being vulnerable with myself was difficult too. So I abandoned the whole thing.
My senior year in high school came and I felt the need to try my hand at writing again. I can't explain the change-of-heart except that I felt a tension growing restless in my chest that needed a creative release. The whole process of writing still baffles and terrifies me on some level, but now when I finish a piece I feel a strong impulse to share it.
I've realized that I want to explore creative writing, and, who knows, see if it's something I'd like to take a stab at professionally. Now, this may seem silly, but I feel discouraged about even seriously exploring writing because all of the people I know who are immersed in creative careers seem to have known from birth that they wanted that life and have been creating since childhood. I'm eighteen and never, due to the aforementioned fears, entertained the idea of being a writer until recently.
As someone who makes a living out of writing, would you mind giving a glimpse into how you realized that writing is what you wanted to devote yourself to? Do you think a latecomer like me stands a good chance? Or do you think artists inevitably know early on?
This question made me laugh, and in a moment, you'll see why... because here, more or less, is how I ended up becoming a writer:
One night, long ago, I left my job at a PR firm in Manhattan, rode the subway to Brooklyn, picked up a slice of pizza on my way home, and then decided—on a whim, and even though I hadn't written fiction since high school—to kill the rest of the evening by writing a short story.
Which turned into first chapter.
Which turned into a 277-page novel.
Which is now sitting on shelves in various bookstores as we speak.
And about midway through the five years that passed between penning that first sentence and having the book published (i.e. right around the time I picked up my very first freelance gig right here at SparkLife), I realized that I wanted to be a writer... even though, at the time, I had already achieved the horrifyingly advanced age of twenty-six. (Did you scream in horror? I'LL BET YOU DID.)
So, to answer your question: no, I do not think artists inevitably know from the get-go that artists are where they're going to be. I don't think art is a game where seniority rules and latecomers struggle. And I don't think it's the mark of a creative mind to settle on a single course of action early on.
And sure, of course, there are always a few people out there who know—seemingly from birth—what they want to be when they grow up. But the thing they have in common isn't creativity; it's that they have enough self-awareness to make a reasonable guess about their future career at age five, and enough stupid luck to have that guess line up with their ambitions twenty years later. And having accurately predicted your eventual career in response to the "What do you want to be?" question doesn't make you more sure, or more driven, or more destined for greatness than the kid who said he wanted to be a rhinoceros when he grew up. There's nothing inherently inferior about a decision you come to with the benefit of thought, experience, self-discovery, and a few early missteps. If anything, the kid who wanted to be a rhinoceros has done more, learned more, and earned more confidence in his decision to be something else—because he came to the question with no preconceptions and an open mind.
But here's what I do think: I think that artists have always loved art, even if it was abstractly or tentatively or from a great distance. I also think that some people need to live and learn and dig, longer and more deeply than others, before they tap into the place that lets them bloom creatively. And you have that, darling. You've always had language and literature deep in your bones; you've told me as much. It's just that until now, you've been too cautious to bare your skeleton, too afraid to crack it open and scoop out the marrow and not shy away from how dark and rich and strange it tastes.
But you're not anymore. You're ready to write, vulnerable though it makes you. You're ready to explore the possibilities, intimidating as they are. You're ready to give it a shot, which is the most that anyone can give. And though it took you more time to be ready for this than the guy who's been scribbling stories since nursery school, that doesn't make you less of a writer, or less likely to become one. It just means that, like a lot of people, you had to grow up... before you really knew what you wanted to be when you did.
Have you always known what you wanted to be when you grew up, or are you still dig-dig-digging? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.