Writing this last blog post feels a bit like a victory lap, and yet it also coincides with the final realization that I’ll be leaving Ann Arbor and the university, a place where I not only discovered myself but also found fulfillment. Just two days ago, I found out that I will be moving to New York City to write for Business Insider’s tech section as a reporter. It’s a big deal for me, for beyond the security of having a job when I graduate (which I never really expected), living in NYC has always been the goal, specifically for its creative environment. And yet, I don’t want to leave this little creative environment found in Ann Arbor. Who knows, maybe I’m crazy. I swear I’m not ungrateful, just afraid to leave a place that values and encourages writing to the extent that Michigan does.
I’ve done a good deal of creative writing in the past few months: I’ve written two short stories for my English 423 workshop and I’ve finally penned the first chapter to the novel that I’ve been working on for the capstone. Writing has always brought a deep and satisfying fulfillment, but I’ve found that even this creative pleasure has been tainted to some extent by the thought of leaving Ann Arbor. Stereotypical “I’ve-changed-so-much” college talk aside, I can wholeheartedly say that I am almost the opposite of the person that first moved into his UM dorm four years ago. I feel better off for it, but the transformation (both of character, writing ability, beliefs, and habits) was so condensed and drastic that it still leaves me wondering and worrying, for I’m still a bit unsure in my new skin. So much of my happiness seems to be tied to Ann Arbor, so much so that even with the promise of a similar culture and energy in Manhattan (or likely Brooklyn since I’ll be living on a budget), I’m still worried that I’ll fall out of love with writing, or even more worrisome, that I’ll let the sizable competition and disarray of the publishing industry scare me off from after a few rejection letters. This cannot be the case.
My writer’s evolution essay touched on how I’ve come to realize that professional writing and creative writing can both exist without one eliminating the other, but there’s nothing like the feeling that, “Well, it’s time to prove it.”
Don’t get me wrong, I spent the last summer in NYC and I absolutely loved it, but I always had the comforting thought that I could return to Ann Arbor in the fall and enjoy another year where I truly felt at home. At the end of the day, I know that I’m simply experiencing the growing pains that everyone gets when they make a big life transition, but I can’t help but realize that the last big transition (moving from high school to college), transformed me and fundamentally changed my personality as well as how I glean fulfillment from the world. I guess this could all be boiled down to say: I don’t know if I want to change anymore at this moment, and I’m afraid of what will be discarded after this next transition.
Thankfully, while I’m still thinking through such troubling questions, I also feel far more assured in myself than I did when I set out for UM. I also realize that many people grow into themselves through college, and much of the change happens during those four years, and perhaps a slower rate of change occurs in the years following graduation. Even though that I fear that I could somehow lose my drive to leave a creative imprint in some way, another part of me feels like that is a core desire that should follow me for the foreseeable future. Being prudent, I also have set out to figure out a way to make sure I don’t lose that drive. I started by looking at what structures were in place these last four years that will help me stay motivated and thinking/writing creatively.
Free time. So it’s no secret that as long as you’re not working a full-time job during college, you’re probably going to have a decent amount of free time on your hands. Discounting the hours of Netflix and wasted revelry, a lot of that free time allowed me to think through some of the bigger questions such as the path I wanted to take in life, the mark I wanted to leave, the people I wanted to surround myself with. My takeaway from this realization is that for creativity to be fostered, and especially for the imagination to be set free, human beings need downtime to let their minds wonder (and isn’t that when the good ideas hit?). Some of that is tied to some of my weirder habits, such as putting on some headphones and walking around at night, letting my mind wander as I think through different stories or characters or settings. Luckily, I did a good amount of that last summer in NYC, so I should be good there.
I also have come to realize that I, like many writers, much prefer thinking about writing rather than actually writing. It’s been my classes that have forced me to turn thought into story, and those deadlines are certainly a blessing in disguise. So, I’ll be in New York, and what deadlines creatively will I have? Sure, I’ll have work deadlines requiring a very different style of writing, but I won’t have a professor telling me when he needs my short story by. One way to combat this is by realizing that I’ll never have more time to write than I do now. I don’t have a family, I don’t have a girlfriend, my work hours aren’t that crazy, and there’s really no excuse.
Further mulling this problem over, I’ve also decided to stay in touch with one of my best friends here at Michigan, John, who has read every story I’ve written while here…and even more valuable, he gives me a no-nonsense, no-fluff critique of every work. I’ve always know this is valuable, but for anyone looking to pursue any sort of success in creative writing, I’ve found his bluntness so incredibly helpful that I’d encourage everyone to find a friend-editor with a similar honesty. Hopefully, by staying in contact with John, who will be pursuing his own writing in his remaining years here, I’ll be reminded to keep writing. If not, I know John, and he’ll nag me about it, which is just what I need.
Finally, I’ve also come to realize that creativity deserves the same sleep-deprived treatment we give to other things in life (such as enjoying ourselves and hitting the town or cramming to meet a deadline). Without a firm writing deadline for my fiction in place, I still plan on keeping the boldness of the college attitude towards late-nights and furious typing…if I’m feeling creative, the sleep can wait. There’s something special about those moments when the ideas are tumbling forth faster than you can keep track, and you take another drag of coffee or whatever else you consume to stay awake. That kind of lifestyle almost feels immature, but how many fun creative works were created in a boring, mature fashion? Looking back, those were the moments when the best stories came forth, and I don’t plan on letting some job get in the way of that—that’s what personal days are for, aren’t they?
I think that’s the answer to maintaining the creative spirit I discovered here in Ann Arbor: keep the same creative habits. Sure, there’s going to be many more distractions in New York, and I look forward to many of those distractions, but I think even planning ahead just a little for the drastic change that will likely take place will help me retain that drive and continue to grow creatively. It won’t hurt that I’ll probably see or hear about others pursuing their passions, and I plan to use any jealousy as further motivation. There also has to be some sort of fiction workshops that exist in the city, and I plan on hunting them down and finding some other like-minded people to keep me on my toes.
Things are changing, and at the close of this chapter, my main goal is to make sure that my love of writing is something that will not change, regardless of environment or commercial success. Otherwise, my transformation here will feel like it was for nothing, and I know that there’s no way that’s really the case. I guess it’s time to stop worrying and just go do something, and at the end of the day I’m excited about that.