How to Become a Writer? Start Writing

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Heidi Younger

This column is an edited excerpt from the “Dear Sugars” podcast, an advice program hosted by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. The audio contains an extended conversation and more letters; submissions are welcome at dearsugars@nytimes.com. If you’re reading this on desktop, click the play button below to listen. Mobile readers can find “Dear Sugars” on the Podcasts app (iPhone and iPad) or Radio Public (Android and tablet).

Dear Sugars,

My career path has been shaped by fear and expectation. I had a fortunate upbringing, sheltered from financial struggles, but when I was in college, my mother went through bankruptcy and I began to understand financial insecurity. I dropped my pursuit of journalism to become a C.P.A. because seeing what my mom went through scared me. I convinced myself that I wanted to be an accountant. Isn’t it funny how we trick ourselves into seeing the silver lining? I’m not tricking myself anymore. I’m just 25, and yet I feel as though parts of myself have been obliterated: my creativity, my genuineness, my passion.

A few months ago, I had a dream that I wrote a book. The dream was so powerful that it woke me from my sleep in tears. When I have a bad day at work or feel hopeless about figuring out what’s next, I think about that dream. How do I get closer to it? Do I quit my mediocre-paying job with benefits to work as a barista and figure it out, or do I stay in it, though I feel depleted? Do I find a way to care less about work?

Career Purgatory

Cheryl Strayed I think you had that dream because writing is for you a powerful call, C. P. Listen to that. But also remember there’s a whole lot between having a dream and making it come true. Writing a book is drudgery. It requires an apprenticeship. I suggest that you begin by doing it. Sign up for a workshop or take a vacation and spend it writing. See where that leads you. You don’t have to immediately quit your job to become a writer. You need only to start writing.

Steve Almond Adam Smith talked about the invisible hand of the market. What you’re experiencing is the invisible hand of art, the desire to pursue a life of creativity. That’s beautiful. But it’s unlikely to lead to financial security, at least in the short term, which is important to you because of your mother’s experiences. So you have to do…

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