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 thoughts on “Major Regret

  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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