For most of middle school and high school, I thought I was going to be a doctor.
Everything I did in school — the classes I chose, the clubs I participated in, the way I discussed my future plans — was influenced by my assumption that I’d be pre-med in college. It was only during my junior year of high school that I began to think back to my childhood dream of authoring books and seriously consider pursuing writing.
I’ve always loved writing. Stories have always been a source of comfort and enjoyment for me. But they were never anything more than a hobby — writing seemed unsustainable as a possible career.
I needed to find a job that paid the bills. Because I did well in school and because it seemed like the most esteemed, well-paying, fulfilling choice out there, I thought medicine might be right for me.
My reason for returning to writing in my junior year was fairly shallow: I wanted to boost my college application. My plan was to write a few short stories and hopefully get them published in small student-run publications, ones that were decent but still attainable.
Through this process of writing and submitting to magazines (which yielded two publications), I reconfirmed two things for myself. One, I really really like writing. And two, there is so much more I need to do to grow as a writer. The realization of these two things sent me down a spiral that eventually led me to give up on pre-med and major in Writing Seminars at Hopkins.
Fast forward to now, where I’m sitting in a fiction workshop, listening to other students tear into my short story.
One guy says he likes the ending, but the dialogue sounds kind of cringe and needs reworking.
Another disagrees and believes the opposite to be true.
And a third person keeps bringing up how much they dislike one of the characters, to the point that I’ve begun to wonder if they have a personal vendetta against this fictional person.
Still, I jot all of this down in my notebook and make mental notes of who said what. Later I’ll filter through my notes, keeping what I like and crossing out what I don’t, and the comments that make it through will form the basis of my edits.
Time is the most essential mechanism through which my writing improves — spending time reading and writing gradually cultivates better work — and workshops support this process by providing guidance and inspiration. They might not be the most essential component to writing, but they are definitely important.
In my workshop classes at Hopkins, I have the unhealthy habit of sizing people up. I look around the room at the other students and consider many things: the quality of writing that each person is putting out, whether or not they’re majoring in Writing Seminars and if so, what they plan to do with their degree post-graduation.
Many of the other Writing Seminars majors are much more practical than I am. They double major to widen their career options. They consider writing adjacent professions like marketing and advertising. They quickly give up on their lofty dreams to write the next great American novel.
That’s not to say that I’m completely impractical. I know I need to get a job and that full-time authoring is a pipe dream that takes years to move towards. I want to work in publishing, journalism or teaching (all fields that don’t pay that well), and I know that means I’ll be living humbly.
Writing is a source of both anxiety and comfort for me. I need to eat, and writing doesn’t always put food on the table. I worry a lot over my future career prospects and if I’ll be able to support myself.
Still, time and time again, I turn back to writing. I write stories and poems for class and for publication. I write my thoughts in a journal. I write articles for the paper. Writing has become a natural rhythm of my life. I can’t imagine a day without putting some words to paper.
In some sense, I write as a form of embodiment, a way for me to make real the things I cannot express outwardly. Writing is no longer something I want but something I need. I need it, just as much as I need water or shoes.
Aliza Li is a junior from Houston, Texas studying Writing Seminars. She is the Voices Editor for The News-Letter. Her column discusses her journey as a writer and how words have transformed her life.