The Folly of Waiting on Destiny

When I’m up to my neck in work, as I am now with revisions for Oath of Blood, I find myself apt to lapse into fits of introspective nostalgia. Today it’s fond childhood memories of watching Sword & Sorcery movies on VHS and on late-night cable. It’s also memories of going to the used bookstore and finding the stacks of paperbacks that, thanks to the Sword & Sorcery boom that had come and gone in the ‘70s and ‘80s, fully opened up my interest in that genre.

For me, there’s little that can come close to the sense of unbridled excitement and wonder that came with discovering such things. Many pizzas were slain, many Mountain Dews quaffed, many a night spent till the wee hours of the morning engaged in the glorious ritual. I look back upon few things with as much fondness as I have for those times.

It of course followed, after so much viewing and reading, that I wanted to create my own worlds. And so I wrote. Since there were writers who made a living doing that kind of thing (or at least who had done it, back before people generally got tired of barbarians in fur diapers), it also stood to reason that I might have a chance at a career as well if I worked hard.

Which is all well and good—unless you screw it up like I did.

At some point I formed an image in my head of how things would go. The details were vague, as details in the plans of teenagers are wont to be, but essentially I would write awesomeness, find a publisher for it, and then commence a sexy adventure in which I spent the rest of my life immersed in both taking in and creating only what I wanted, homework and day jobs be damned.

Unrealistic expectations? Sure. But it was at least some kind of goal to shoot for and generally a more articulate statement of future intent than saying, “I guess I’ll go to college because that’s what you do.”

But somewhere, things stalled out. Maybe it was because I couldn’t fathom the distance between theory and execution, or because I was secretly afraid of failure, or because I went on to college because—hey, college: it’s what you do. Anyhow, the point is that while I envisioned this great writing adventure unfolding, it always remained just that: a vision.

Not a reality. Not even a plan-in-progress. Just a messy daydream that never got off the ground.

So why did I fail, for all my interest in the matter, to take the plunge? I’ve spent a long while pondering this, and in the end I feel I can really only attribute it to a simple and crippling error: I bought into the myth of the so-called writer’s destiny.

It’s an insidious little thing we may all encounter from time to time. Someone who adores our work (or maybe adores it because they adore us) slathers on the praise, tells us how good we are. They tell us we’re born to write and that we’re surely destined to be famous. And if someone else is not there to both dish out a reality check and to guide us, we may start to believe it. To feel it.

And that right there was the cardinal sin of teenage me.

Because I believed it was my immutable destiny to someday become a “real” writer (whatever that is), I felt I didn’t need to strike out on my own and slug it out, improving my skills and finding my niche. If I waited long enough, someone would recognize my genius and then swoop down and brain me with confirmation of the fact, opening up the pathway to greatness.

Except—they didn’t.

The years rolled on. Nothing happened. Hell, for most of them I didn’t even write. I was waiting, I told myself. It wasn’t my time yet. And when my patience with this was finally exhausted, I was no further along the path than I’d been at sixteen or seventeen. I had spent more than a dozen years waiting for the as-yet-unseen Writing Gods to bless me off and give me the sign, and in the meantime, I had done—absolutely nothing.

It came to me that if I’d been writing as hard as I’d been wishing all those years, I’d be phenomenally better. Probably published at least. Maybe even enjoying a little bit of that success I liked to imagine was fated to fall into my lap.

But I wasn’t. I was in a shit job and up to my eyes in crushing student debt. I felt like my life was an utter waste. And I realized in that moment that there is no such thing as a writer’s destiny. It’s a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to admit that the road is hard, the journey long.

If I could go back in time and beat one piece of sense into my own adolescent skull, it would be that there is no such thing as a born writer, a destined writer, an inevitable writer. There are stubborn ones, and hardworking ones, and—yes—occasionally lucky ones. But even the luckiest writers have a foundation to stand on, and you don’t get that hanging out, waiting for the action to come to you.

I still kick myself for those squandered years. I think of the enthusiasm that I had for the task as a kid, and then I think of all the years I sat with my thumbs in dark, damp places waiting for—I don’t even know what. I think of my current work, and I feel like there’s a million miles between the energy of then and the dogged persistence of now. I think, too, of what I wouldn’t give to bridge that gap. To have that spark back. To assail the page with youthful exuberance.

But those dozen years are an irredeemable loss. They are gone. Ash and dust on the wind.

And bearing that in mind, I say this to anyone who’s at that same crossroads that confronted me:

Don’t buy into the myth of waiting on your destiny. Avoid it at all costs. If you spend your time waiting for the holy heralds to come, you will wait forever. The road lies open, but you have to set out for yourself. No one will take your hand and coax you. No one will make it easy.

If you want to be a writer, sit your ass down and write. Write like hell and don’t stop.

Everything—everything—else is just set dressing.