Over the past few weeks, I've had a series of conversations that have challenged, discouraged, inspired, uplifted, and motivated me.
The first was with a National Geographic photographer named Mattias Klum. I met him while working at the Kauffman Center; my supervisor Kristin invited me to go along to the KCUR studio for his interview. While in the car, Kristin and I peppered him with all the questions we could think of-- I mean, how often do you meet a NatGeo photographer? Klum is kind, humble, and his twinkling blue eyes reveal the genuine joy he gets out of his work. The day before, he had done a meet-and-greet session at the Kansas City Zoo. He told us that a teenage girl and her parents approached him. The parents said that their daughter had an interest in writing, photography, and was interested in some kind of journalistic career. But, they said, how can she ever make any money doing that? Klum turned to the daughter and told her, "If that is what you love, if that is what you want, if that is what brings you joy, then you will find a way to make it lucrative." He said her furrowed brow relaxed and her whole face lit up. Klum told us, "I could tell she went from thinking it was totally impossible to suddenly having all this hope!"
The next conversation was with a Kansas City writer who has been published in many prominent publications. I'll leave names out of it. I appreciated the time he took to meet with me, but our conversation left my head spinning. When I said I'd like to hear his advice on being a writer, he first told me, "Don't do it." He told me my blog wouldn't work because it wasn't specific enough. "Think 'space technology for kittens,'" he said. In referring to my favorite magazine, my absolute dream, he said, "They're perfect. You just have to be better." At one point, he also offered this suggestion with a shrug: "I mean, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this, but sex and drugs always worked for me." I saw him exactly four nights later at an event, and he apologized for being too harsh on me. He said he felt bad, and then said he's met young people who say they want to be writers, but when he asks for them to write 500 words on ________, they never get around to it. Clearly, they don't want it. "So," he continued. "How's it going specifying your blog?" My brain was screaming IT'S A TRAP! but my mouth couldn't keep up. "Uh, um, well," I stammered. "I'm still working on it. I don't know. I'm thinking about it."
"Hm," he said, with a knowing look and sharp nod. When we parted ways I felt queasy and humiliated. This guy thinks I'm a fake. He's a big deal and he thinks I'm totally full of it. He thinks I'm not hungry for it.
In the midst of this mental meltdown, I knew he was on to something. I remembered back to our original conversation, when he brought up these haunting ideas: What would you think if you knew someone who wanted to run marathons, but never went out running? How do you know a runner is a runner? Is it because they tell you? Or is it because they go out and run every day? Would you know I was a writer without me telling you? Can I even call myself a writer when I don't write every day?
The third conversation was with a colleague from Kauffman Center. When I told her of the conversation above, she looked at me dumbfounded. "You don't have to get specific," she said. "You're twenty-two years old. You don't even know what your voice is yet." She reiterated that, yes, if I am ever going to be any good, I have to write. every. day. "You can't plan out what you're going to write for the rest of your life," she said, "but you can decide what you're going to write today." She encouraged me to find ways to do what I love when I'm currently not in a job that even remotely involves those passions. "Some day, you'll have a job where your boss will tell you, 'I want this many words about this exact thing and I want you to include these certain ideas and avoid these certain words and I need it by tomorrow.' So enjoy the time you have now when you can write whatever you want!" And yes, maybe some day I'll look at my blog and realize I talk about some things more than other things, but for now, I have to actually talk about things.
How this is all going to play out, I'm not sure. This first-born perfectionist wants to have everything planned out, but it may be better to just jump in. I'm getting rid of the rules. Maybe I'll post on Fridays, maybe I won't. Maybe it'll be 500 words long, or maybe I'll have a series of snippets throughout the day. Something has to change-- I can't keep dreaming without the work to back it up.
So please, stick with me in this journey. I probably won't post to Facebook every time I write, so bookmark this page now.
Let the overhaul begin.