At a family reunion last summer, my grandmother gleefully presented me with a manila folder. Inside were several sheets of paper, all different sizes, each filled with my childish scrawl. They were stories I had started — and never finished, to her dismay — while staying at her house over the years. I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old when I wrote most of them; likely they were parts of make-believe games I had started with myself before getting called to dinner. But regardless of how old I was, I knew even then that I wanted to be a writer.
The books I read and movies I watched clearly influenced my writing, whether it was a story about a girl befriending a wild tiger due to my obsession with “Free Willy” or a full-length movie script set in a wizarding school that was eerily similar to Hogwarts. Writing came to me easily as a kid because I loved it. It was this love that first drew me to the University of Michigan. In fourth grade, a classmate’s parent who worked at the University gave my class a presentation about the school, which is how I first learned that I could study creative writing in college.
As I got older, the stories I wanted to write became less fantastical and more rooted in my personal experiences. I wrote down almost every idea I had in my diary, alongside boy troubles and frustration with my parents. I brainstormed a coming-of-age story about a group of middle school friends, inspired by the girls in my own friend group. When I struggled with anxiety and depression, I wanted to write a character that faced those same struggles and overcame them. I had started to recognize the power of words and how they could make a difference in the lives of many.
But when it came time to go to college, my attitude suddenly changed.
I was a bit pretentious when I first started looking into colleges. Originally, I wanted to go to NYU (yeah, I know). The University of Michigan then returned to its top spot, more for its reputation as a top university than for its creative writing program. But by the time I graduated high school, I was enrolled at a completely different university, planning to pursue a degree in psychology and become a therapist. I don’t exactly remember how I left behind my original dream, but my end goal was the same: I wanted to help people since I could connect with them. The idea of being an author still remained in the back of my mind, waiting in the wings until I realized, in 2020, that I couldn’t handle the emotional strain that would come with being a therapist for the next 50 years or so. Psychology was interesting to me, but I needed creativity in my life.
I’m lucky enough to have a family that has always encouraged any career path I might take. My parents were understanding when I wanted to change my major. Yet whenever they asked me what I wanted to do instead and the thought of writing inevitably popped up again, it terrified me to say it out loud. Being an author would mean a different kind of stress than being a therapist — it would mean a life of unpredictability, which I’ve never been hardwired to handle. So why couldn’t I let the idea go?
We’re all familiar with the idea of the “starving artist.” A career in the arts is highly cutthroat regardless of which path you take: a writer, an actor, an artist. We’ll face more rejections than we can count. We have to take day jobs to support ourselves through that grueling process of our work just being acknowledged, and even if we are lucky enough to land a deal, it probably doesn’t pay very well. Once it’s time to enter the “real world,” our answers to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” don’t matter as much as how we’ll support ourselves. Why is money more important than happiness? On a practical level, I understand the answer to this question, but I hate feeling like my passion matters less as I get older. I hate how much of a risk it has to be to go after what I want.
The day I admitted to one of my closest friends what I really wanted to do with my life, I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders. It hasn’t been without its challenges, including a nasty sense of perfectionism — since the competitiveness of the industry has me falsely convinced that I have to get it right on the first draft if I want to “make it” as a writer — which couples dangerously with my horrible habit of quitting anytime I can’t figure out a plot hole. But it has its blessings, because it brought me here to The Daily, where I not only have the opportunity to build a portfolio but am surrounded by people who want the same things I do.
Now that I have returned to my dream of being a writer, I still find myself giving “disclaimers” whenever people ask me what my plans are once I graduate. “I want to write,” I say, “but right now I’m looking for a way to support myself while I do that.” Even as I write this article, I had to stop myself from writing “I had the courage to go back”; if this were a more technical career I was pursuing, I wouldn’t be called courageous or have to assuage family members that I promise, I have a plan. I want this path and all the stresses that come with it because it will make me happy. Days spent typing and deleting the same paragraph over and over again might not be the path to financial freedom, and landing a book deal might not catapult me to fame. But that’s okay with me, because the possibility of even one person reading my books and connecting with them matters more. That can only happen if I try.
Senior Arts Editor Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at email@example.com.