I have always wanted to write books. I’ve had this desire at least since the first grade, when my mother went to Back to School Night and saw that my little “About Me” sheet said my fondest wish was just that. Since then, the dream hasn’t dimmed … if anything, in fact, it’s intensified.
Which, all things considered, is really saying something. Since leaving college and trying my hand at writing in earnest, I’ve started about ten books, finished two, and published none. My journalism degree so far hasn’t helped matters (though it’s certainly earned me a day job I like much better). Strangely, though most other major failures in my life have convinced me to move on in relatively short order, my lack of authorial success has so far deterred me not at all.
Recently I’ve been thinking about this more than usual, probably because I am about to attend a writers’ conference to pitch my novel – and am therefore suffering a greatly exaggerated amount of nerves/self-doubt/fear of disappointing myself and everyone who has ever loved me. Why is it, I asked myself, that I’ve continued down this path that has so far offered me no proof of success?
This question is difficult to answer, doubly hard because my normal source for such questing – Google – was mysteriously silent on the subject. I first searched “the science of passion,” but quickly realized that the mistake in word choice only led to research on intimacy. I tried again. “Science of career goals” wasn’t much more help, and “psychology of goals” mostly produced articles about why shooting for the stars was an inherent setup for failure.
None of this was really helpful, to say the least. So then I took some personality tests, like this ripoff of the classic Myers Briggs. (The real one costs almost $40 to take unless administered by a high school guidance counselor, which I’m currently lacking.) It pretty much told me what I already knew: that I’m introverted and tend to trust my emotions over rational thought. Sounds like an author all right, but not very helpful.
When all was said and done, I had a remarkably hard time getting to the bottom of the matter, which was simply: why the heck do I want to do this thing? Eventually, frustrated, I typed in “why do we like what we like?” and was finally rewarded with something approaching sense.
But not much. This NPR transcript of a discussion between Ira Flatow and Yale professor of psychology Paul Bloom sheds a little bit of light on our preferences and our ideas of pleasure, which are not as cut and dry as we might think. Bloom uses the example of a world-class violin player, who entrances people at the Boston Symphony one night and the next earns an average amount of money playing in a subway. Why?
“When we get pleasure from something, it's not merely based on what we see or what we hear or what we feel,” explains Bloom. “Rather, it's based on what we believe that thing to be.”
I, for instance, love chocolate, but I do not love all chocolate equally. Bloom would say that although taste plays in for me, so do other factors, psychological ones: how naughty I’m being at the time, how expensive the chocolate is, where I’m eating it and why I deserve it. Eating expensive chocolate in celebration is bound to be much more delicious than eating cheap chocolate at home for no reason, even if they are the exact same chocolate.
So how does that apply to my dream of dreams? Hard to say, really. Perhaps my burning passion is nothing more than just that: I won’t be happy until I write a novel. Or perhaps I just think being an author sounds glamorous, and in light of how much respect novelists garner in our society, I’d simply like to be one. Or the money sounds good. Or I hate offices. Or …
Really, the list goes on and on. But as far as I can tell, the simple truth may be that I have a dream for deep reasons and shallow reasons both. I guess if I were purely shallow, I would by now have found some other way to make money and seem glamorous. And I guess if I were purely deep I would have self-published those words I really needed to say and left it at that. I guess I’m a mix, just like my passion.
Photo credit: Jorge Royan