I was recently asked who told me I could be a writer. It wasn’t a sarcastic question, just someone who was curious about whether, if at some point, a teacher, professor, author, etc. had pulled me aside and said, “You can do this.”

No. And there’s good reason for that. I was not the child who knew he wanted to write. I liked reading, I liked scary movies, I liked telling stories. But writing? No, that’s not something I ever considered. Until I did.

So I guess that’s why I have a problem with the premise that an “anointed one” bestowed upon me the conviction to go down this road.

It didn’t work like that at all.

I wrote because I felt compelled, because somewhere along the way–I think college–I decided that I could write stories. All points suggested I was crazy. Even a professor, who after I made an offhand comment to about writing said, “Oh, you’ll have time for that later.”

Clearly I ignored her.

I do know where she was coming from, though. I understand limitations. I was objective enough to realize I have skills with language, having a masters in English education. I did not think: Surgeon, or Engineer, or Actor. But at the same time, I believe we need to allow ourselves the freedom to decide what we’d like out of our own lives.

I never asked anyone for permission to become a parent. And parenting is a far more daunting task than writing a novel.

Therefore, if you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way. If it’s through more education, or a career change, or an entre paradigm shift in your life, you will find the road. And once you do, I guarantee that people will laugh at you.

And you will second guess yourself.

That’s why I didn’t talk to anyone about writing. I didn’t want to hear the comments. I’m stubborn enough that I just plowed ahead, rejection after rejection, but also sensitive enough to know that those “outsider” comments were all the criticism I could handle.

This isn’t to say it was easy, that is didn’t hurt, that I didn’t want to quit a thousand times over. But I never did. Because I envisioned what my life would be like if I suddenly didn’t write. If I suddenly had this void. That did the trick.

Had I been reliant on someone else’s approval, though, had I forged this path because of his or her advice, I can see how that conversation would have been different: Maybe this person was wrong. It’s not my fault. I’m too _____________ to make this happen (fill in the blank as needed).

I see this defeatist proposition with my students as they’re preparing to graduate and head off to college. They don’t know what they want. They don’t know who they are. And as much as they claim independence, they’d love nothing more than someone to take them by the hand and say, “Here, this way.”

And that frightens me. Because it’s not only them.

I want people to behave as ignorantly as I have. I want them to choose themselves and go forth. I don’t want them to wait to be chosen. This may sound irrational, but so what? Life is irrational.

Be brave. Be unafraid to fail. Listen to yourself.

I give you permission.

2 thoughts on “Permission

  1. I’ve always wanted to have a scientific career. Even now, I’m doing a Food Science degree. That’s what I want to do.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to write in my spare time. I started writing when I was 14 and found that I enjoyed it a lot, but eventually I gave up because I thought I was putting too much effort into something that I wasn’t going to get a return from.

    When I was a couple of years older, I started writing again and realized that it doesn’t matter if this isn’t my career or that I don’t get any money from it. It doesn’t even matter if nobody likes what I write (though that would be nice, obviously), it matters that I love doing it.

    I read Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead earlier this year and that talks a lot about giving yourself permission to be a writer. It’s a really great book, and it reaffirmed to me that this is something I should keep doing, no matter what.

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