The 6 Secrets Every Writer Needs to Know

Me, cheerful, despite the doomsday speech.

My May 2011 commencement address was so bad, so completely depressing rather than inspiring, that it’s the only Bloomsburg speech in the past three years that isn’t posted on YouTube.

Officially, Eduardo Ochoa, the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, “discussed how Bloomsburg University has prepared students to be active and engaged participants in the global economy of the twenty-first century.”

In reality, the speech was about how, considering the economy, we would have to retrain for new career paths at least five times before retirement. Either because there weren’t enough jobs available for whatever major we were currently graduating with that day (are you getting the warm fuzzies yet?), or to get a better position, or simply because the industry we started out working in would go extinct. He talked about how we would be forced to professionally reinvent ourselves several times to stay employed; we’d have to go back to school, get master’s degrees in completely different topics, maybe even start at the bottom rung and intern in a completely different field. He talked about how our current degree would probably expire and be worthless in the next five years, but, at least, the skills we had learned in our time at Bloomsburg (this is the encouraging part) would help us as we reinvented ourselves over and over again, struggling to hold a job. The ability to learn, to ask questions, and to think–abilities we allegedly could never could have acquired without the university’s help–were the invaluable lessons Bloomsburg had gifted us.

Let’s just say that Neil Gaiman’s commencement address made me wish I had been a super-senior at the University of Pennsylvania this year instead.

For all you unemployed, underemployed, and menially employed liberal arts graduates–you English majors and Graphic Art majors; you Creative Writing, Painting, Sculpting, Music, and Interpretive Dance majors–here’s a little secret advice, from Neil Gaiman to you:

Ever since I listened to the speech a few days ago (and then re-listened a few times since then) I’ve been repeating the one part, about the mountain, over and over in my head. With each story I’m editing, each article I’m starting to write, each hour I spend on Twitter or watching reruns of Law and Order, I think “Does this take me towards or away from the mountain?”

I have two mountains in my life:

  1. Become a published author. Specifically, a published fiction author. Maybe a memoir too.
  2. Have the most awesome, friend-filled, adventure-filled, fun personal life possible.

In the arts, in writing, and,  in my opinion, in any career, if your only life goal is a professional one, you’re going to miss out on so much living. I’m starting to realize that I spend a lot of time–way too much of it–doing stuff that takes me on a steep hike in the complete opposite direction of my mountains. Mostly, I’ve got some really awesome opportunities on my plate, things that are practically a short cut to my mountains, but I’m prioritizing other things, thereby burying the good stuff at the bottom of the pile. I’m starting to carve those distracting activities out of my daily routine. And I’m suddenly having so much more fun and so much more time to create good art.