I’ve never been a great writer. This is not false modesty, as a quick read-through of this blog will demonstrate. My prose is fairly unimaginative. My vocabulary is limited, especially given my level of educational attainment. I have a tendency to ramble, to fall into familiar traps, to rely on certain crutches (the list of three, for instance). I’d like to think that I’m a fairly effective writer though, certainly a functional one. But given the nature of what I generally produce, it does seem a tad ironic that so much of my life has come to revolve around the written word.
I have been prone to a fair amount of self-reflection lately, evidenced by the last few entries. This is due to a number of factors, including my presence in Japan, the impending occurrence of my 31st birthday, and several other life developments. Regardless, I was being introspective the other day when the question that will likely define my life suddenly became quite apparent to me. I suppose I had long known the broad contours of the query, but the simplicity and clarity with which it exposed itself in that moment was quite striking, and unlike anything I had ever experienced.
The question is thus: “What can I write about that will allow me to support myself?”
I currently write for a myriad of reasons. I write as an outlet. I write aspirationally. I write professionally. The act of writing itself is irrelevant insofar as it is omnipresent in my life. The problem is that the reasons for which I write have been utterly disconnected as they pertain to what I have produced so far.
I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned this before – a revealing silence – but I am an academic by trade. I spent over seven years in graduate school for political science, completing a near 300-page dissertation about the institutions that govern nuclear weapons. It is often assumed that either extraordinary passion for or intellectual interest in the given subject are prerequisites for such an undertaking, though I would argue that a dissertation – like anything else in school, at any level – can be treated rather like homework; the only distinction being scope and motivation.
Regardless, I have managed to be a somewhat effective academic writer.* This is not insignificant, as few career paths related to the PhD do not include a substantial written element; thus, the ‘publish or perish’ refrain. There are books, articles, grant applications, and research proposals, ad infinitum. Alternatives might include government jobs as a policy analyst, research-based positions at thinktanks or NGOs, consulting work at a number of firms. The style of the writing might vary, but the substance for me likely would not.
*Not necessarily a successful one. My future past August is entirely up in the air.
I write also in my spare time, satiating my creative interests. I have blogged on and off for over a decade now, with past endeavors not too far removed from this current iteration. Still, it’s difficult to envision it being anything more than a hobby. I do not have the desire, perhaps the discipline, to blog regularly. I am of the Julie Powell mindset (“I could have a blog. I have thoughts”) but have not developed anything resembling her focus or mission. No, I prefer to write generally, at my convenience. And all external obstacles aside, such an approach is not conducive to being a full-time blogger.
In the last couple of years, I have taken to writing via the Twitter format. I utilize my account almost exclusively as a comedic outlet – writing primarily to amuse myself. While I harbor no delusions, I do hope, of course, that my content will reach beyond my small group of followers, that mine will become more than a grain of sand lost among the site’s infinite expanses. I strive for this, even as 1) the amount of white noise on Twitter makes that possibility nearly unfathomable, and 2) I remain quite wary of the irreverent nature of my online persona bleeding into my professional life.
Essentially, this is my life then. The answer to the defining question will not be settled in the short term. But this last year has made me all too aware OF the question, and of the need to try and answer it. The conundrum is simple: I write about everything else because I enjoy it. I write about nuclear weapons because I have been effective at it. But that market may not be there beyond August. And even putting that aside, that the market has dictated my career so far, my life, may not be good enough anymore. I’ve got an in-progress screenplay to prove it.