Bad News: I Want To Be A Writer

By Sophie Grossman

I began my first year as an undergrad certain that I wanted to major in biology and begin a comfortably linear trajectory through college and grad school that would conclude with me becoming a veterinarian with a six-figure income. After a semester of general chemistry, it became apparent that this was about as feasible a prospect as a mysterious, Daddy Warbucks-type benefactor appearing and paying off all my student loan debt.

So there I was, having just finished my freshman year of college, confronted with a terrifying prospect: actually pursuing the thing I was “passionate” about. I loved books. I had produced pieces of writing and art my whole life (and subsequently hidden them away, embarrassed by my own imagination the way most kids suddenly become around age twelve or thirteen), but it had never occurred to me to be an English major. What did English majors even do? Become writers? A.k.a. people who wore peasant blouses and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and slept on futons well into their mid-thirties? As far as I was concerned, the only difference between an artist and a bum was that bums were less pretentious. But despite my doubts, the delusion I had been nurturing for so long, that I was a person capable of pursuing a practical, linear career path (or that, more precisely, I was someone who wanted to pursue a practical, linear career path), was forever shattered.  

I found my way to Lit Fest with vague creative aspirations and youthful idealism shadowed by a self-aware cynicism. “Alright,” I thought to myself, “prove to me that writers are real people, and that it is possible for me to do this writing thing—as something more than just a hobby that will eventually be consumed by that ravenous, insatiable monster called Adult Responsibilities.” Within the span of my first day as an intern at Lighthouse, I was forced to make my first concession: yes, indeed, writers are real people. They walk among us, ethereal beings disguised in human suits. Everyone I spoke to, from Lighthouse employees to members to teachers and visiting authors, glowed with a palpable enthusiasm, a desire to read and be read that fizzed through the house as an almost physical presence. I felt as though I had been admitted into a cult, but not one of those terrifying sex cults that live in yurts in the desert and only speak to one another in a language of their own invention. Admittedly, people in this cult did seem to speak to one another in their own language—the language of “craft” and “voice” and “soma(tic) poetry rituals” (courtesy of visiting author CAConrad, who gifted everyone working in the admin office with one of their arrestingly beautiful chapbooks halfway through Lit Fest)—but it was a language that I wanted to learn to speak.

During Lit Fest, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a business panel called “Quit Your Day Job.” The two literary agents on the panel proceeded, early in the discussion, to clarify that they would not, in fact, advise their clients to quit their day jobs, that even the most brilliant and critically acclaimed authors struggled financially. Even George Saunders probably fishes around in his couch for loose change. I think there were several people, including myself, who felt a bit deflated at this; we had come here to be reassured, and hearing that literary agents occasionally have to wire money to their destitute clients was far from reassuring. “This is some B.S.,” I thought, indignantly, “Just as I was coming to terms with my creative aspirations, shedding the shackles of societally imposed normative ideals of success, you tell me that I have to get, like, a real job? Preposterous.”

The “day jobs” that writers had to support themselves, I was finding, were a wild patchwork of the mundane and the absurd. Throughout Lit Fest, I caught accounts of everything from professorships to rural mail delivery routes, and it was both scary and heartening to hear the vast number of possibilities that lay before me. I could no longer cling to the life preserver of a linear career trajectory like my pre-med or pre-something-else-with-actual-job-security peers. And maybe that’s why a place like Lighthouse is so important; even with my limited life experience, it’s become apparent that the pursuit of creative passion is a bumpy, winding, and many-forked road, peppered with misleading signs and plenty of ditches to get stuck in. It takes exceptional courage and feelings of self-belief (or lack of common sense, depending who you ask) to pursue life as a writer or artist, and a community (or cult, depending who you ask) like Lighthouse is nothing if not inspiring of these feelings.

Sophie Grossman is a summer intern at Lighthouse.