First, attend the University and declare English as your major. Take a creative-writing class and decide that you are going to be the next Hemingway. Remind your friends that one of Hemingway’s first published stories was “Up In Michigan” and that many great writers have come through Michigan. Here you will want to mention Arthur Miller, Avery Hopwood and Robert Frost.
Have existential discussions at coffee shops and parties. Nobody ever does anything in his life worth remembering but you, and you are going to be a famous writer. This may be cocky and premature, but it’s good to set your sights high early. Girls think writers are romantic, and besides, the people in your writing workshops think your stories are pretty good.
Apply to the English Honors Program and get rejected. “You are still young,” your advisor will say, “apply again next year.” You are not discouraged: All geniuses are told at some point in their lives that they are not good enough.
Spend six weeks studying through the New England Literature Program in the woods of Maine. You will have a lot of time to think, write and climb mountains. You live like Henry Thoreau and try to write like him, although this is not easy. You especially like his essay on Civil Disobedience, and you start wondering if there isn’t more to life than being an English major or a famous writer.
Back in civilization, you find yourself in the middle of a heated presidential campaign. You volunteer as an intern for John Kerry. If you can’t be a famous writer immediately, you can at least help prevent another term of George W. Bush.
Bush wins the election, but you are not discouraged. You are invigorated by your volunteer work and convinced that now, more than ever, you must save the world. In addition to your campaign work, you have begun learning about injustices in this country – injustices from which you were sheltered in your middle-America upbringing. You begin meeting with a bunch of hippy/activist types in the basement of the Union to plan how you will save the world.
Continue taking writing classes. They no longer count toward your major, but you have not forgotten about becoming a writer. One of your goals before graduation is to win a Hopwood writing award.
Reapply to the English Honors Program. Get rejected again. The chair of the program tells you that you took too many creative-writing courses. They want to see more experience in substantial analytical writing.
When you are alone, scribble hateful messages in capital letters about the Honors Program. Decide that they only want thesis-writing drones who will go on to do research on Literature (with a capital “L”) that has nothing to do with the modern world. You will do no such thing. You tell yourself that you don’t care much about Literature anyway, and that you have no desire to apply to doctoral programs in English.
You start writing for The Michigan Daily. Here you can express your ambitions to write while addressing socially relevant issues. Furthermore, you like having your picture in a little box next to your name every other week. This is good for your bruised ego.
You write many columns but stop writing as many short stories. When you get rejected from the creative-writing subconcentration, you accept the fact that you may not become the next Ernest Hemingway. However, the director of the program and other writing teachers assure you that you were very close and that you should not be discouraged.
Start facilitating creative-writing workshops for incarcerated juveniles. You discover that writing does not have to be a selfish pursuit. In your workshops, you get no little box next to your name and no cash prize for your short story. But you get the satisfaction of sharing something you love with people in bleak circumstances. You get their laughter and personal stories and gratitude. You realize that you have accomplished more than you would have in the Honors Program or the creative-writing subconcentration. This realization is important. You have the feeling that in the future you will look back on this moment as a turning point in your life.
It is the last semester of your senior year. You are glad that you do not have to spend all your time writing a thesis paper that only a handful of English Ph.D.’s will ever read. Instead, you enroll in two writing classes, a philosophy class to complete your minor and a class that helps schoolchildren explore writing and nature. During your free time, you write columns for the Daily and participate in creative workshops with incarcerated adults and juveniles. You are happy. And as you wait on applications to be a teacher for underserved children next year, you do not worry about rejection. One way or another, everything will work out.
Cravens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org