“Do what you love.”
This is what my father told me my junior year in high school, over a steak dinner at the fancy restaurant where I was usually the server, and not the served.
I was struggling to figure out what career to pursue. What to do with the rest of my life. I’d floundered through majors in biology/pre-veterinary medicine, statistics, and sociology because I thought those made sense, even though I wasn’t all that good at them. Eventually, I settled on English, but not without testing the waters first. I even audited my first creative writing course – poetry, with Kyoko Mori – because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hack it as a writer. Besides, English – writing – seemed so impractical. So non-prescriptive. Sure, it was fun, and I loved it. And I found out I was good enough at it to take the classes instead of auditing them. But what would I do with it?
So I mostly ignored my dad’s advice. I moved to Washington, DC for an internship in public relations. Came back and worked as a stringer for a couple of small newspapers. I moved back home, studied for the LSAT and applied to law school, all while working at my dad’s law firm.
The attorney I worked for would ask me to write a brief, and I’d deliver him a story – narrative in style, with flowy prose and description galore. “No,” he’d say. “Take these examples. Model yours after them.”
Those examples were boring.
I found myself longing for creativity. To let my words loose to play on the page.
And so, on a whim, I applied to a brand-new MFA program at Northern Michigan University. I went. And I wrote. Fiction and non-fiction and poetry. I emerged from the program with a thesis representing an almost-completed novel.
The key there is almost. In between graduating from my MFA and publishing my first book, Miracle Beach, eight long years went by. I was lucky to pay the bills with stints that I loved – working as a speechwriter for a sitting governor, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and communications director for a state Supreme Court campaign.
I never forgot my dad’s sage advice, though, delivered in four short words: “Do what you love.” I kept writing. I kept chipping away at that novel. Late at night when friends were out for dinner or drinks. Saturday mornings when I could’ve been doing most anything else. Lunch hours and sometimes, early mornings.
It paid off. I did what I loved, in secret, on my own time, and I found a path toward doing it publically and professionally.
Now, when I’m not working on my own writing, I get to teach what I love to college students, like the young me, who are in love with ideas and words and combining them to make people think things they might not have otherwise thought, experience worlds they might not have otherwise known, or feel things they might not have known they could feel.
And when they come to me, in my office, asking for advice I tell them that being a writer is not easy, that it takes a lot of work and perseverance, and sometimes it takes a good long while, too. But it is so worth it.
And then I give to them those four all-important words that my dad gave to me, that allowed me to venture forward, even when the path wasn’t clear: “Do what you love.”
You can read more about Erin on her bio page.
And please join Erin as she hosts Bloom this week.