The Sheer Force of Will

My entire life, I’ve wanted to be a famous novelist. I’d look at J.K. Rowling as I read The Order of the Phoenix in third grade, and I’d said, “I’m going to be that universally beloved someday.” I read Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger and say, “I’m going to write something this beautiful and meaningful when I’m older.” I quickly read John Green’s bibliography and watched his video blogs and said, “I’ll have that life.”

As I got older, I realized how unrealistic that was. I read stories that I knew were fantastic and deserved fame, but I also knew that the authors who wrote them would never achieve that. I was confronted with the harsh reality that just because I’d really like my life to be a certain way didn’t mean it would work out that way. It sounds like a pretty obvious thing now, but for people who set their goals so high and grow up believing that everything is achievable, it’s a kind of revelation.

Except that that wasn’t a revelation I had. Yeah, I did realize that my reality would never match my expectations, and that the goals ingrained in my brain since I started writing Harry Potter fan fiction as a seven-year-old were a stretch. But even if I did mentally know that, I didn’t really feel that hopeless. I never had that sinking feeling that oh shit, no way am I good enough a writer, no way could I ever be famous or even published. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I said “I want to be an author,” because I had to be modest for people to like me, and because I have no way of knowing whether I’ll actually be successful. But inside, I always said “I’m going to be an author.”

I know that that sounds cocky, and maybe it is. But so many other facets of my life have seemed so undefined and scary. Would I ever feel extraordinary passion and love for somebody else who would actually feel that same burning adoration when they looked at me? Would I ever make it into my dream college? When I did go to college, would I actually keep my friends, or would I gradually abandon them in favor of new friends? Would I even make new friends to begin with? I still don’t have the answers to some of those questions. The one answer I always had was that yes, ultimately, my dreams were going to come true. In the times when I’d moan about how some girl didn’t like me back or how I missed the comfort of old friends, I’d take solace in the fact that eventually, I would grow up and write for a living and be happy with it. There was no logical basis for the assumption, but I stuck with it, and I have ever since.

At my college orientation, I saw a guy named Daniel and thought, “Man, that guy is cool. I’d love to be his friend.” He’d mentioned his fascination with electronic music, and he’d told everyone how he was interested the science of liking things. Why did people like things, he asked, and why did people wonder about things? The thought blew my mind, and as I faintly mused, “We’re wondering about wondering,” I couldn’t help but think of a time when Daniel and I could be good friends.

A week into college, I was sitting in my room with my door open, hoping that somebody would wander by and extend their friendship to me, and two guys ran into my room with a cake. The first one, tall and blond, didn’t say much. The second one, also tall, with curly brown hair and an orange beanie, panted and explained that they were hiding a birthday cake for their friend, whose birthday they were celebrating. That was Daniel.

Daniel and I briefly talked and learned that we were each interested in creative writing, so we vowed to talk more about it in the future. Months later, Daniel is now in my creative writing class, and we eat dinner together each Tuesday night. We discuss the pretentious way that some writers act, and we discuss the people we remember from our orientation. I tell him, “I thought you were so cool then, because you were wondering about wondering.”

I made another friend at orientation, a kid with dark hair, glasses, and a knack for nerdy golf jokes. I’d randomly sat by him at lunch, and I’d realized that since he wasn’t in honors housing, it wasn’t likely that I’d talk to him much after orientation. I didn’t even know his name, and there were hundreds of incoming freshmen that came each day for orientation, so by the time I was finally starting to recognize some faces at my date, I’d be immediately overwhelmed by the thousands of faces I would never know. The golf joke kid came to symbolize all the kind, funny people I would meet and never speak to again.

I later found out that the kid’s name was Josh, and he also lived in my dorm, placed randomly there despite his non-honors standing. Now, Josh and I are pretty good friends.

The fact that Daniel and Josh were both put in my dorm doesn’t mean that everything I ever hope for will come true, of course. They were just two examples. But in a way, it seemed to me, life was throwing me a bone. It seemed like sheer force of will was giving me what I wanted, like I could negotiate with life, like every time I experienced heartache I would get something nice back to make up for it. I knew that that was something incredibly fortunate, as there are so many people who go through the worst struggles and only wake up to have more piled on. So I didn’t take that for granted. I recognized that I lived a privileged life in which most of my feats weren’t the result of incredibly hard work, but patience, mindless hope, and willpower.

I’m not a religious or particularly spiritual person, and I know that thinking “I want to be a famous author” really hard won’t get me there alone. But as somebody who doesn’t believe in God or fate, this is the one element of superstition I’ve allowed myself. I’ve allowed myself to believe that if I want something enough, it’ll come.

Of course, hard work is a huge element, too. I’m not just going to sit back and wait for it to come to me. I’m going to go out there and write and write and write, and learn as much as I can and meet as many people as I can, and that whole time, I’m going to keep in mind that if I want something bad enough, there’s a good chance I’ll get it. It’s silly, and illogical, but it’s what keeps me from exploding when people ask me “What do you want to do for a living?” It’s what gives me hope when I worry about every muddled uncertainty in my life. It’s what keeps me writing. TC mark

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