You asked me how I decided to become a creative writer. The four of us were sitting outside finishing our lunch, the chill creeping in, and your question caught me by surprise. It shouldn’t have, since I’m sure you’re in the throes of deciding what to do next with your life and it makes sense to ask others how they decided about theirs.
Although I’ve been asked this question often enough, I fumbled my answer, telling you I was already out of college, working in a bar, and started writing in a journal as a form of self-discovery and expression. I’d had some success already as a writer, as noted in My Brilliant Career. In elementary school, I wrote a play about kids who kidnap Santa Claus and my class produced it. I wrote a “book” about Nazi Germany, which won first prize in the history category in my class (it was the only entry in that category). There was also the story about a hot dog that comes to life and runs away to avoid being eaten. It was a real page-turner. In high school, I took independent study English classes with a teacher I admired, who assigned me great novels to read which I then wrote about.
After college, when I was still searching for direction and purpose, I became infatuated with a woman and I tried writing her letters in a romantic attempt to win her over. It worked! She said I was a great writer. Of course, I believed her. I felt like I had a magic pen. I’m a little embarrassed to say this was my real launching point as a writer. Soon enough, the relationship crashed hard, but my writing accelerated. In those letters I’d written to her, I might have fabricated and exaggerated a point here and there, took factual liberties with a sentence or two, and so I thought maybe I had a knack for making things up. In other words: fiction.
I got permission from a professor to audit his college creative writing class and I began writing story after story. I read all the great short story writers. I imitated one and then the other as I developed my own writing voice. The professor told me I had talent and he encouraged me to keep going. I announced I’d decided to make writing my career. He immediately doused that idea, telling me never expect to make a viable living writing fiction—very few people did.
Okay, fine. But I would prove him wrong. I’d found my raison d’etre.
Graduate school followed, with a master’s degree in English and creative writing, which left me largely unemployable. I took restaurant jobs, reporting assignments, and teaching gigs to make money while focusing on my creative writing. I switched from writing short stories to writing novels, and I started picking up marketing and corporate writing contracts to help support my family, and I liked doing that as well. I kept writing novels, and it took years, but I finally got that publishing deal that allowed me to say I was making real money writing fiction. First STASH, then CLEAN BREAK. Kind of a dream come true.
It didn’t last. My novels didn’t sell enough copies, my publisher pretended they didn’t know me, but I kept writing and my agent keeps pitching other novels I’ve written. Now I’m writing occasional poems and prose poems, short stories again, these blog posts, ghost articles for others, technical content, marketing fluff—and I realize almost all writing is creative writing. It all takes imagination, research, instinct, thinking, revising, agonizing, revising, demon-fighting, fearlessness, revising, and confidence.
So you can see, there was no plan. Only one turn and then another. Would I make the same decision again to become a writer? Absolutely yes, unless the answer is no. Milan Kundera, from THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING: “We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”
I hope this is a better answer to your question.