Monday, May 24, 2010

When Did You Know?

stack-of-sharpened-pencils When I was a teenager and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I often shrugged (I was a big shrugger back then). Maybe an inventor. Or an engineer. Or maybe I'd like to own my own business. (This is in contrast to my brother who wanted to be a bear when he grew up. In his defense, he was only about four years old when he said it.) Beyond those generalities, though, I didn't have much of a clue. And I have to admit, those were merely vague ideas. A lot of things interested me, but I couldn't really pinpoint any one that I wanted to devote my career to.

So I went to college and majored in mechanical engineering, figuring that would keep me on track for any of my career choices (besides, I was always good with math and science). Four years later, I had my degree and took a job in manufacturing, as an engineer on the management track.

Ho hum. The jobs were mostly boring; a smattering of interesting things here and there kept them from being full-out terrible. But after a few years of moving around the country, supervising assembly workers in factories, I'd had enough.

So I went to business school. I could still become an inventor and I could still start my own business.

Two years later, MBA in hand, I found myself back in the working world, toiling at jobs that were mostly boring, scintillating parts few and far between. Ho ho hum.

So I quit and started my own newsletter company, writing and editing environmental newsletters (called, strangely enough, Environmental Newsletters, Inc.). That held my interest for eight years or so, but with the coming of the Internet, my business model was changing fast. I could tell that charging for information, with so much free stuff coming on-line, was going to be a tough sell.

So I sold the business, and now, years later, I find myself writing fiction.

If you told me I'd be writing fiction when I was in high school, I would have looked at you funny (right before I snorted milk out my nose). Writing? I hated English class. I hated reading all those "classic" books. I hated discussing themes and character motivations and just about anything else writing-related. Sure, I liked reading science fiction novels, but that was about it.

I always envied those people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives, professionally, since high school. They always sounded so positive, so confident, in their choices. How could they know what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives? I barely knew what I wanted for lunch.

I guess life is just one big story with plenty of surprising twists.

Just like my books, I hope.

What about you, writers? When did you know you wanted to write when you grew up?




Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Once I started school there was never a time I didn't write. I guess I didn't "grow up" until this last year when I finally said "now or never." I've never been happier doing something.
Giggles and Guns

Anonymous said...

I mostly knew from the youngest age that I wanted to write. (I remember thinking I wanted a job that was "easy" and where I didn't have to stand up a lot.) I'd been writing for enjoyment since middle school that I can recall, but I never dared to consider it a possible profession until I was an adult with a family. Even now I hope to make that happen (though the "easy" part is still elusive).

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I knew as early as grade school I wanted to write novels. When I told my parents, they laughed. I would even go to the library and look up in the card catalog where one day I was sure my name would be. But even so, I never made a serious commitment to follow my dream until my early forties. Does that mean I'm now grown up?

Keith Raffel said...

I'm like you, Alan. Always been a big reader, but no plans to be a writer. Never took a creative writing course in high school or college. My writing career - it just happened.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, in 4th grade. It's just about the only thing I can do! Wish I had all the abilities you do, Alan.

Darrell James said...

Spooky, Alan. This could have been my post (really). I started out as an engineer. Bored to tears, I tried everything over the years on the side--music, acting,owned a couple of businesses... Maybe writing is the "universal salvation". What do you think?

Ingrid King said...

I've been writing in some shape or form all my life, but never considered myself a writer, or writing professionally, until I started publishing a newsletter to market my Reiki business a few years ago. I realized I loved writing for more than just my own eyes, and started to embrace being a writer. Now I can't imagine doing anything else.

Alan Orloff said...

Maribeth - Yeah, I hit that "now or never" point. Kinda wish I'd hit it earlier.

Paul - At an early age, I wanted to be a pro golfer. But 18-handicaps don't last long on tour.

Sue Ann - What the heck is a card catalog? :) Nah, none of us who write fiction are grown up.

Keith - Stuff happens. Hopefully, it's good stuff.

Elizabeth - Wow, fourth grade. I was busy playing dodgeball while you were writing novels.

Darrell - Universal salvation? Maybe. What people do who don't want to "work" in an "office." Probably.

Ingrid - I can't imagine doing anything else either (although, if I work on my putting...).

Keith Raffel said...

Alan, Maybe an 18 handicap would work. See

Alan Orloff said...

Well, I can't fully commit to golf either, so...I guess I'll keep writing, for now.

Beth Groundwater said...

I started writing stories in 5th/6th grade and took an independent study for English my senior year of high school, where a college professor in English bled red ink all over my attempts at writing stories, poetry, etc. But, I was also very interested in how the human mind works and how that compared to how computers work, which led to a college double major in Psychology and Computer Science and a career as a software engineer that included research in Artificial Intelligence. Now, I use my psychology background to develop my characters.

Alice Loweecey said...

Age 9. I wrote a back-to-school poem and realized what a rush it was to create.

Sheila Deeth said...

I wanted to be a trapeze artist, but I guess that was never going to work out. Then I wanted to write and did math instead.

Julia Buckley said...

I always wanted to write--always loved pens and paper. I went to a Catholic grade school and rode my bike to school. One day in the early grades I wrote a four stanza poem called "God is in my basket."

That was the start for me. I was writing little novels by fifth grade.

Deborah Sharp said...

I wanted to be a psychologist, after watching the first Bob Newhart show, and actually pursued it all the way through grad school. I only found my way to journalism (and ultimately, to mystery writing) because the vending machines in the Psych. Dept. ran out of candy. I ventured across the quad to Journalism, and fell in love (with words).