Major Regret

I loved this quote when I was a teenag­er; I believe I had it hang­ing above my desk, along with dozens of oth­er quotes of vary­ing inspi­ra­tional qual­i­ty. Yet despite the fact that I loved this quote enough to com­mit it to mem­o­ry, I evi­dent­ly failed to see it as applic­a­ble to me, at least after I switched from my unten­able dream of a career in music to some­thing I was actu­al­ly good at: words.

Writ­ers, I insist­ed at the age of eigh­teen, were born, not made, and while I was undoubt­ed­ly going to major in Eng­lish at the Uni­ver­si­ty of St. Thomas, I was not going to take a sin­gle writ­ing class if I could pos­si­bly avoid it. Instead, I would steep myself in the study of great lit­er­a­ture for four years and, learn­ing from these time­less exem­plars, I would emerge at the end with my degree, ready to unleash a tor­rent of deriv­a­tive fic­tion on a world that would no doubt be eager to receive it.

I stuck to my plan. I care­ful­ly fol­lowed the lit­er­a­ture track of the Eng­lish major, eschewed writ­ing cours­es, and grew deeply enam­oured of the aca­d­e­m­ic world. Along the way I grad­u­al­ly learned that I was not the writer I thought I was; despite my best efforts my fic­tion lan­guished, my frus­tra­tion grew, and then, grad­u­al­ly, the dust began to gath­er on the man­u­scripts.

My plan had the dis­ad­van­tage of being arro­gant, utter­ly mis­guid­ed, and deeply flawed from begin­ning to end. Also a fac­tor was not only my gross over-esti­ma­tion of my own raw tal­ent, but my total misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion of said tal­ent. And I gave myself no real oppor­tu­ni­ty to be guid­ed, influ­enced, or cor­rect­ed, either by peers or pro­fes­sors.

So I emerged from four years of col­lege with a degree, still con­fi­dent that I was a writer, but also still believ­ing that writ­ing meant fic­tion, blind to the fact that while my unin­spired and uno­rig­i­nal nov­el-in-progress seemed per­ma­nent­ly blocked at the end of Chap­ter Four (despite three rewrites of those chap­ters), I was pro­duc­ing — with rel­a­tive ease and a great deal of per­son­al enjoy­ment — a grow­ing body of essays on var­i­ous top­ics which were being read by a sur­pris­ing­ly-wide audi­ence and receiv­ing con­sis­tent­ly-pos­i­tive feed­back from a diverse read­er­ship. But who wants to be an essay­ist? Cer­tain­ly not twen­ty-two-year-old Bean­er, not when I could still cling to the idea of being a nov­el­ist instead.

Mod­esty aside, I do have some tal­ent for writ­ing; just not for the sort of writ­ing I focused all my ener­gies on for too long. Now, look­ing back, for the first time I am able to say: I should have been a writ­ing major. I am still com­fort­able call­ing myself a writer, but I feel a dilet­tante if not a hack among so many who work hard at their writ­ing, who are in the midst of advanced degrees in writ­ing, who are dai­ly occu­pied in, well, writ­ing. I am a mere hob­by­ist, and I am so because I was too arro­gant, because I lacked the fore­sight and humil­i­ty to set myself on a path were I could have grown as an artist, rather than spend four years prac­tis­ing third-rate aca­d­e­m­ic the­o­ry.

Is it too late for me? Cer­tain­ly it is too late to change my under­grad­u­ate major; the diplo­ma is on the wall (or will be, if I ever get a frame for it), so that chap­ter is closed. But I do not want to resign myself to being a life-long dab­bler, either. I real­ly believe I am a writer, I have just been very undis­ci­plined in ascer­tain­ing what sort of writer I am, what sort of writ­ing I am most capa­ble of pro­duc­ing, and what sort of things I tru­ly want and need to say. They say admit­ting your igno­rance is the first step to knowl­edge. Well, there you have it. Now what is my step 2?

4 Comments

  1. Nev­er too late for any­thing, my friend. I was just read­ing an arti­cle today by some­one who was say­ing (not for the first time) that it is the rare writer who is capa­ble of pro­duc­ing a sig­nif­i­cant nov­el before they hit their 30s. Don’t spend time think­ing about what kind of writer you are or what you want to say. That’s time you could have been writ­ing. Just write what you care about and write a lot and then when you go back and look at it you’ll be able to say, ‘so that’s what I’m try­ing to get at.’ It is only through the process of writ­ing that you can dis­cov­er what you are real­ly writ­ing about, and then you can decide what kind of writer that makes you.

  2. Many peo­ple say that too much study kills spon­tane­ity in music, but although study may kill a small tal­ent, it is a must to devel­op a big one.” -George Gersh­win

    My google skills, at least, are very well devel­oped…

  3. Hey Brady, thanks for the com­ments. I am real­is­ing (with a lit­tle help from my friends) that I have a debil­i­tat­ing ten­den­cy to put the cart before the horse and wor­ry about the end of the road long before I even start walk­ing.

    So I am sim­ply writ­ing like I have not done in many many months. I have spilled more ink in the past few days then I have the whole rest of the year so far, I think. I am writ­ing, writ­ing, writ­ing (as well as read­ing again), and I will try to sim­ply fol­low the jour­ney where it goes, with­out wor­ry­ing (too much) about labels and des­ti­na­tions.

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