When I Grow up…

There’s a meme going around social media to the effect of, “When you grow up, no one asks what your favorite dinosaur is anymore.” Which is true, sadly, and an indication that adults have more weighty things to think about than extinct creatures, I guess. Still, I loved dinosaurs as a kid, and triceratops was always my favorite, for the record. Still is. I think they are the cutest, and I love their armor. That big shield is just an awesome sight to behold, even if only in museums now.

When I was a kid, we used to go to the drive-in theater occasionally too, which was always fun. At the one we used to go to, the screens would face each other, so us kids could lay in the back of our huge boat of a car and watch whatever was on the back screen while we were supposed to be sleeping, and the parents watched the front screen (with sound, of course). There were lots of rides to play on, and benches out in front of the cars where you could sit too, and with a speaker for each car window, you could easily hear the movie outside the car.

Movies had intermissions then, and singing hotdogs, and that’s when you’d get up, stretch your legs, get a treat and see who else had come out for the night. It was a great time, and a special night out.

So it’s fun to go out to our local drive-in now, as an adult, and see that though much has changed, so much hasn’t too. We went and saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom this weekend, mixing dinosaurs, complex ethical dilemmas and the overall drive-in experience. A natural progression, it would seem.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately too…the craft itself, specifically, and how I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16 or so. When I was young, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up (another thing no one asks anymore), and for a long time, I would answer “an astronaut”, because I was obsessed with space, space travel, and convinced that there was a scientific way to make Mars inhabitable (Issac Asimov may have had a little to do with that belief).

When I got to high school and actually looked into what was required of astronauts, I was pretty disheartened to learn that fighter pilot experience was a big plus, and I would never qualify with my incredibly poor eyesight. Not for fighter pilot school, and not for an astronaut program. So I started thinking about what it was I really wanted to do with my life, and the only thing that ever truly appealed to me, an avid reader, was writing. Writing fiction, specifically.

My parents are inherently practical people, and upon hearing my new vocational goals, they both promptly asked, “so what are you going to do for money?” and when I frowned and said “I’m going to be a writer,” they both looked at each other, looked back at me, and said, “you need a backup plan, because you need to be able to take care of yourself in case you can’t get published.”

Back then, self-publishing wasn’t an option. Ebooks weren’t even around yet. And when I said I’d publish my books myself if no one would publish me, my parents reiterated how important it was to have a job that would pay the bills because writers are “creatives” and they’re always poor.

I never really wanted to be anything else, but when I went to college and took my first formal english classes, I failed to see how those would help be become a better fiction writer. I decided to get a history degree, because I enjoyed my history classes more than anything (other than philosophy classes, which I discovered later), and I figured I could teach (until I took a semester of student teaching), or I could go get a law degree (until I looked into exactly what it would take to go on to higher education).

Long story short, I have a history degree and an inherited proficiency in IT. The latter ended up being more useful in the long run as far as supporting myself goes. But of course I was so busy in college working to pay for it that I didn’t write – I thought about it all the time, but never had the time or energy. After college, I dabbled in writing, but by that time, I had bills and a house payment and writing is, unfortunately, not one of those things that I’m just inherently quick at picking up.

You would think I’d have given up on writing by now. I have a good job that I like, and I’m pretty decent at doing it, if I do say so myself. Writing is hard, it takes a lot of time that could be spent on other things, and my brain is naturally skewed more toward the technical/realistic worldview rather than a fictional/dramatic/”creative” one, so writing is always going to be a challenge, and I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s missing in my stories (which is extremely frustrating, though I do take a baby-step forward here and there). My life would be a lot simpler and less stressful if I just gave it up, honestly.

Thing is, I’ve tried. I’ve stopped writing for months and years on end, and I always come back to it. I can’t stay away – there’s something magnetic about it that I just can’t resist, even though it slaps me down and frustrates the heck out of me on an almost daily basis. Maybe that’s why – maybe it’s the challenging aspects of it that draw me in. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t help thinking I’ll be able to “crack the code” one of these days, and end up writing something people want to read (even if it’s just by accident).

In any case, watching the movie this weekend actually got me thinking about this, because I found myself enjoying the show thoroughly, but also kind of pulling apart the story structure (which is normally something I refrain from doing) in order to see what I could learn and use to apply in my own writing later on. And I had an epiphany about structure and depth in plotting that made me very happy – not that I’ll be able to apply it right away (because figuring out how to apply it is often more difficult for me than just recognizing it), but it made me feel like another piece of the writer’s puzzle finally fell into place in my brain. A piece I’d been ransacking the whole house looking for for ages, it seems like, and this weekend I finally found it in a dark corner underneath a heavy piece of furniture (or pile of dinosaur bones, as it were).

And I wonder, as I muddle through this whole “learning to write” process, slowly, if it would have been easier to stay focused and learn these lessons when I was young. To worry less about money and more about learning how to do what I really and truly wanted to do professionally, instead of being so very practical. My life would have taken a very different path, to be sure, and I’m not all totally convinced it would have been a better one, but would I have become a better writer at a younger age? Would I have been able to make a living from writing earlier, instead of waiting until retirement (which is when it looks like I’ll have the best chance at being good enough to make money)?

No way to know now, I suppose, and I’m not unhappy that my life has gone as it has so far. But it does make one wonder. Or it makes me wonder, anyways…

So…what’s your favorite dinosaur? And what do you want to be, now that you’re all grown up?


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One comment on “When I Grow up…

  1. Carol Ward

    My favorite dinosaur is the velociraptor – they’re small, and quick, and totally badass.

    When I grow up, I want to be a velociraptor. 😀