Refuse to be classified.
Once upon a time, when I was a young lad of 16, I set my sights on being a Science Fiction author. I’d been writing stories since the 2nd grade, but when I was 16 I was on a beach in California, wandering up and down the shore, barefoot, writing a story in my head.
The whole thing came to me in a rush. I went back to the apartment, whipped out my trusty Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, sharpened it to a razor point (which immediately broke), and scribbled down 50 college-ruled binder pages of the best stuff I’d ever written.
I spent the better part of that month typing it out, rewriting and refining, and finally popped it into a manila envelope (with a properly stamped, self-addressed return envelope) and sent it off to a science fiction magazine.
It got rejected. Of course.
But the kind editor, George H. Scithers, wrote me a nice letter telling me what was wrong, and how to fix it, and encouraged me to keep writing. Because, he could tell — it was rather obvious — I was a young teenager.
That was it. For the next umpteen years I was dead set to become a successful Science Fiction author. That’s what I concentrated on. That was my only vision of success.
In college, I wrote on the college paper — but I didn’t want to be a journalist, so I didn’t care. I was a Science Fiction Writer.
After college, I wrote computer software manuals and articles for tech magazines, but I didn’t care. I was a Science Fiction Writer.
I wrote articles for photography magazines. I wrote speeches for upper management presentations. I wrote instructions on how to repair escalators. But, I didn’t care … I was a Science Fiction Writer.
So when I got my big break, and an actual New York publisher accepted one of my manuscript to be published, I was ecstatic. I’d made it. Sure, I’d had some short stories published before, but this was a book. This was the real deal.
Yeah, it happened. And then nothing happened.
Life went on. I was a Science Fiction Writer, but so what? It led to nothing. Years of focus, of heartache, of sacrifice, and … nothing. Nobody cared. And the worst part of all, neither did I. After the thrill of it happening, there was an emptiness that lingered, and I wondered just how much of my life did I waste?
It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t writing Science Fiction that made me happy in life. It was creating. Anything. The act of being creative.
So, I began creating anything that interested me. I wrote and created videos. I built websites and wrote blogs. I reviewed beer, and tech, and wrote articles about lizards. I wrote about childhood adventures that I didn’t realize were special, until someone pointed out to me that I had a very different childhood. I became an “Online Content Creator” rather than a “Science Fiction Author.”
And that has led to much more happiness and fullfillment.
So that’s my takeaway from this article. I would advise young-up-and-coming creatives to diversify what you work on. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself. Do what interests you and gives you joy, sure, but mix it up a bit. Write, make videos, take pictures, draw cartoons, create things that bring you satisfaction.
This is exactly what I would have told my angst-ridden 16-year-old geeky teenage self if I had a time portal. I’d say, “Don’t just write Science Fiction.”
I’d tell myself: “Follow all of your dreams.”
And don’t wait until you’re in your 40’s.