I dread first days of school. Teachers—and later, professors—ask their students to go around the room and give a “fun fact” about themselves or describe their hobbies. For an introverted human with any kind of social anxiety, this is petrifying. However, I’ve perfected these answers, however. My fun fact is that “I hate this question,” and I get away with saying as little about myself as possible.
A personal statement like this is essentially the adult version of the “fun fact” question, only longer, and with far more pressure attached. It’s asking Who Are You? Who do you want to be? Why should we admit you? What makes you special?
Well, nothing. And everything. I’m one of a million aspiring writers. You know the rumor/statistic that there are more students in law school now than there are lawyers practicing? I’m in an even worse boat. The chances of supporting myself writing might as well be akin to being struck by lightning. I know this. I accept this. Here I am, aspiring anyway.
Why do I want to be a writer? Good fucking question. If she wasn’t so famous and wonderfully talented, I’d turn this personal statement into “Nine Beginnings” by Margaret Atwood—you know the saying, “good writers copy, but great writers steal.” I want to be a writer because it’s the only thing that gets my heart racing in the this-is-what-I’m-meant-to-do kind of way. There’s a voice inside your soul that starts to speak when you write something worth writing. When you know you’re on a roll and what you’re writing is good, that it means something. Even sitting in a room all by yourself, you feel a little more connected to the world. I know that I love it because I’ve had extensive writing and editing experience in the editorial industry. I’ve interned and written freelance for magazines and had short stories published. There’s very little that’s as satisfying as having a publication want to showcase your work. As writers, we shouldn’t crave the validation, but wow, is it so sweet. I wrote an Honors Thesis—a collection of fiction and creative nonfiction pieces with themes of mental illness and sexuality— and I am prouder of it than any other work I’ve done.
But writing is hard. It’s staring at the blinking Word document, hating yourself for choosing this career. Writing is pretending that thinking about a story in the shower is the same as writing. Writing is finding anything else to do besides write. Writing is draft after draft after draft, never sure that it’ll be good enough.
It’s lonely and scary. It’s hard to remember that you have something to say, and no one can say it like you. What if you get it on the page, and it’s nothing like you planned? What if it’s terrible? What if you show it to someone and they pity-praise it and you never get published and you live in a cardboard box forever? Hemingway nailed it: writing is sitting at a computer and bleeding. You pour your heart and soul into a piece, into characters, into commas. You face your fears, heartbreaks, mistakes, and regrets all by yourself, and for what? Why?
There is no cure for writing, thank God. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. My heart longs to be surrounded by fellow writers. I want them to read and critique my work and make it better. I want my peers to leave their personal stamp on it, and I want to leave mine on theirs. I want to be harsh and driven and ask the Big Questions of our pieces. I want to chase the high of writing with others. Eventually, I’d like to be an editor at a publishing company and a writer. That’s the Big Dream, and hopefully, there will be lots of Small Dreams along the way.
Ultimately, I write because my characters teach me things; I learn new lessons each time I finish a story. I want to write like Raymond Carver when he says, “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.” I want to write that human noise. I want to articulate the things very few people can, the things that make us up.