Seeing what’s ahead

There are times in life that just seem to race ahead of the others. In the past few months (almost a year, really), I have gone through a long phase of trying to figure out for myself what will be my long-term path in terms of work and a career. I am working fulltime now but know that this is just a temporary step and not a career, and have given notice to leave at the end of my contract at the end of May, so the search is on.

After applying half-heartedly to jobs I have little interest in, putting effort into starting a small business that seemed interesting but that I knew I would find little joy in the manufacturing side of, and exploring a wide range of PhD programs while feeling a growing aversion to the lifestyle of an academic, it was hard sometimes not to feel more than a little lost – something I never thought I would be grappling towards the ends of my 20s, with so much education and experience under my belt (relatively speaking of course).

And yet, for some reason I never seemed to feel that anxious – I kept telling myself and those who were closest to me that I have faith that the next step in my life will appear organically, as it always has in my life. That may sound a bit naïve (sometimes it does to me too!), but I don’t think it’s blind faith either. While I didn’t know exactly what I would decide to do, I do know what would guide my decisions, as and in general what guides my life. Through striving to identify and learn about my talents and abilities, it became a rich process of reflection and exploration of new and exciting thing. Through thinking about how what I can do will benefit others beyond myself or simply collecting a paycheck, it avoids an over-emphasis on the self and gives value to a search for meaningful and fulfilling work. And finally, by making efforts and see what doors did or didn’t open before me, try to develop my perception of what I think God wants for me or doesn’t, and where I am being confirmed – and when I am not!

I have learned a lot in the process, about all of those things, and that alone I think has value. Life is more than my career, and although my career will occupy vast amounts of my time, focus, and energy, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact of my purpose.

And so, through all of these efforts, I finally realized what was right in front of me all along – that what I love to do, and have done in every avenue of my education, work and service, is to write. The idea seemed so elusive though – what does a “writer” do every day?? Having devoted time to working on a book over the past couple of years, as well as the odd short story and one-act play every now and then, I realized the impracticality of the idea that requires vast amounts of investment with only the possibility of pay-off, quite later down the line.

But this is where doors started to open. I started to research about ways that writers can earn a living in other markets, and as soon as I started to talk to people about this idea, suddenly opportunities came out of the woodwork – Can you help me write a mission statement for my non-profit organization? Can we hire you to overhaul the content on our website? Can we recommend you as to this client who is asking for a copywriter? Can we hire you as a blogger for our design company?

And thus my career as a freelance writer was born.

My experience is still so limited, and I’m aware of that. I feel a bit like I am at the top of a roller coaster, and there is a voice in my head that is saying to me, “are you SURE this was a good idea?!” But that voice is nowhere near as present as the excitement and opportunity I feel unfolding before me.

I am not blind to the challenges either: I have had to be selective of the opportunities that I say yes to, realistic of what I do and don’t know how to do at this point, researching and teaching myself along the way, and cognizant that I still do an excellent job at my fulltime employment. But it is the glimmerings of something that I think will grow quickly as my time increases to dedicate the space to it, as I learn and make every effort.

And hence the feeling that this time of life is racing ahead of all that has been accomplished in the long months of soul-search that preceded it – and led me here.

I’ve learned to take advantage of these busy times, even if I know they are not sustainable in the long term, because within them I will often grow more quickly and in unexpected ways that will set the patterns for later on.

 

I’d love to hear from those of you who write about your thoughts on the process I’ve just described:

How did you decide that you wanted to write? What is the biggest thing that you’ve learned since you started, that you wish you’d known earlier?

What We Don’t Know that We Know

Before she started her writing career, Amy Tan sat down and wrote a story about a little girl who plays chess. Amy Tan didn’t play chess herself, and so clearly this wasn’t a story about her, right? But as she wrote, what unfolded was an intricate and intimate account of the struggle for power between a mother and a daughter, which Amy was shocked to realize

So, did she write what she knew, or what she imagined?

My take on the whole “write what you know” vs. “write what you don’t know” debate in fiction is that is sets up a dichotomy between supposed “authenticity” and “pure fiction” that is, in fact, artificial.

A writer could write a piece of fiction about someone far away from the writers’ experience – perhaps in another time, or world, or perhaps just leading a completely different life with entirely different motivations than the author. Yet her very ability to put herself in another’s vantage point, to imagine the thoughts and emotions of another being in another world, depends on exposing some truth known to the author through her own world.

“Imagination is the closest thing to compassion,” Amy Tan once said. And I think this is the crux at which the line blurs between truth and fiction.

Of course we can do express what we imagine well or we can express it poorly, and it is often in the details where the authenticity of the voice can begin to unravel.  That’s where the benefit of writing from one’s lived experience can come in, or the need to immerse oneself so deeply in learning about another time and place that ultimately becomes part of us. It becomes our experience.

Tennyson once wrote: “I am part of all that I have met.” We project ourselves into our experiences in order to make meaning to what would otherwise appear to be a random collection of isolated experiences. It is through thinking, reasoning, and meaning-making that the conceptual construct of a process is borne. And in turn, all that we have met becomes a part of us.