A Writer Or Father: A Fork In My Road

When I entered the classroom to begin another semester of workshopping my fiction, I felt a gentle warmth in my body. I smiled, which I rarely do. I said hi to a classmate from the prior semester, which I don’t ever do. What I was feeling was love. I felt like I was at home. I felt like that was the room in which I would do my life’s work. I was in the company of like-minded individuals with whom I shared a particular talent and passion. And, as anyone who knows of my novel would know, this was one rare moment in my life that I did not feel lonely. I was content, happy.

As my twenty-eighth birthday sneers at me from behind several pages of the calendar, I come to a point in my life in which I must make certain commitments. I believe that I made the commitment to be a writer five years ago. Since then, I can say with absolute confidence that I have grown as a writer. I have begun walking the path to the mastery of certain techniques and parts the writer’s craft. As committed as I am to the craft of writing as it pertains to my goal of writing my novel, I still have yet to make that final commitment. That is, I haven’t yet made the decision to, as Steven Pressfield said in The War of Art, to “go pro.”

I have great concerns about committing myself to the life of an artist. Such a lifestyle is not conducive to the raising of a family. Nobody becomes an artist for the money: there is no money. And without money, you can’t exactly raise a family. Pressfield said that at the age of forty-two, he found himself divorced and childless, with nothing to show for his efforts but a “real failure.” And that’s exactly what terrifies me.

Am I willing to risk it all to chase this silly dream? The answer is no. The comfort of making sixty to seventy thousand dollars as a sales professional is attractive. It means that I can pay a mortgage. It means that I can take care of my wife. It means that I can ensure my children don’t have to go hungry, that they will have clothes. To me, the goal of becoming a writer is not compatible with my goal of becoming a father. I must make a choice: do I pursue a stable career to ensure that I can provide for my children; or do I pursue the lofty dream of becoming a writer? I have never been a gambler, so the choice seems easy enough to make. Yet, there is that part of me that tells me that writing is my calling. I am torn between the conventional life of a responsible adult and the reckless life of a dreamer. 

I have tried to imagine a middle ground. But it is not revealing itself to me. I have never been good at half-measures. I have always been one who goes all in or nothing at all. I can imagine that if I dedicate myself to becoming a father, I will always have that nagging regret over the path not chosen. What, then, shall I do? I know first-hand that the distractions of normal daily life can hinder a creative work indefinitely. When will I have the time or energy to access my creative center? I’ll be thinking about meeting my sales quota, about whether or not my kids are getting the right education, about keeping my wife happy. Finishing my novel would be nearly impossible. I know that some people can work on such things on a “part-time” basis. I, for one, cannot. After spending all these years writing, I know myself well enough: it takes me about two hours of writing just to get the gears grinding. Only then can I start generating truly new and creative content. I can only manage to do that for about two hours before I get exhausted. In those two hours, I’d be lucky if I can get 2,000 words out. And then there’s the whole editing process…

I’m not sure what exactly I will do. Pressfield says that things that you never imagined could happen to you will happen once you throw yourself into the fray. But in this oversaturated day and age of marketing-oriented publishing, it’s far too easy to see a future in which I too am forty-two and childless—I’d consider myself lucky if I get divorced.