This question stems from many years of self-doubt and a conversation at my lunch table today. It went somewhat like this:
“Hal”: I don’t know how anyone could write for a living.
“Ivan”: I plan on writing for a living. New York Times columnist.
Hal: But then you’d run out of ideas.
Ivan: A columnist won’t. A novelist will.
I could’ve said something then and there, but I stopped myself, knowing neither Hal nor Ivan quite that well to say anything.
But yet I still worry that Ivan was right, that my creativity is a well of water and that one day I will use it all up. And I fear that before that day comes, I will still not have made any significant progress on my writing career, publishing short stories for no pay and entering competitions and not win. I fear that I will not make it in the world as a creative writer because it is so hard to get into the publishing industry and there are already so many great writers out there.
Sometimes I think my ambitions are too big for myself and that even though I have seen myself not live up to my goals again and again, I still think that I will be able to one day. A part of me still daydreams about the movie based off my first (unpublished) book, still doze off thinking about the films I will go on to write and the actors I will ask to play in them. I still believe that art is essential in the world but I question every day the validity of my art.
One of my best friends constantly sways between pursuing theater as a career or getting a degree in English and teach. He would be very determined to act one day and then change his mind the next. I completely understand his point of view in whether to pursue a stable path which you know you will enjoy, or to pursue a path filled with excitement and instability. It’s a tough decision which some might deem deciding between reality and fantasy.
I want to love my job. I once asked my mother whether she enjoyed hers. What she said to me broke my heart. She told me that there is no choice in disliking her job, because it is a job that will earn us money and pay for my tuition. It is a job that trains her, that kills her mentally every day. She told me that in high school she wanted to study literature but her family told her that was not a job that could earn money. She went on to study computer programming. Yet now she is at a job that doesn’t require the least bit programming skills. The same thing happened with my cousin. Studied law now works at a desk job. Sometimes I feel ashamed when I tell my mom that I want to pursue writing, because sometimes I think that she thinks of me drifting in fantasy land and I think that she is sad, not because she didn’t get to fulfill her dreams, but that she knows I won’t get to fulfill mine.
Now, I can’t pretend to know what my mother thinks of this entire situation, and I guess my point, if I even have a point, is that there is absolutely no guarantee, for me, for my mom, for my cousin, for any other creative, to lead a fulfilling creative life. And that thought depresses me. Because how can I know whether I am good enough? How can I know if I’ll be able to earn enough money to support my family with my art when society doesn’t value art as much as science? There is no way to know. Yet I still move forward. We still write on, one word after another, one less crappy story after a crappy one. When there is no way to know, we are still doing it, aren’t we? Here’s the last line from The Great Gatsby, because Fitzgerald said it better than me:
“So we beat on, boats against current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald