The hardest thing about being a writer is knowing that my parents didn’t want me to be one.
That’s not to say that they’re not proud of me, but I suppose there is less certainty in novel writing than there is another career path. Growing up, I wanted to be almost everything. I wanted to be a teacher, a psychologist, a mechanic, a scientist, a police officer, a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist—you name it, I probably considered the course at university or Technical and Further Education. Ha. Literally.
When I graduated High School, I went into University with the intention of becoming a journalist. I’d always enjoyed writing and English, and I thought that the only way to write and get paid for it was to be a journalist. So I signed up for a Communications course and started on my path towards that career. I did take one Literature elective in my first semester though, Children’s Literature. It only took that one class to change my major to a double of Literature and Communications.
In the three years of my undergraduate degree, I had the best in both worlds. I had a great (and covert) hobby in fiction writing, and my parents were happy because they could tell people that I was going to be a journalist. In my final semester for my course, I did an internship as a journalist at one of the leading state newspapers. It was the first time that I was ever published for an audience. I enjoyed the writing and researching, but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. So, by the time I graduated, I decided that journalism wasn’t for me. Understandably, my parents were a little upset and surprised, but I had a backup plan. I decided that since I loved books and reading so much that I would do more studies to become a High School Teacher.
So I told my parents that I was going to be a teacher. They were thrilled. I enjoyed the theory of education, and I even enjoyed parts of the practice. However, as a self-conscious young adult, I found some of the harsh realities and politics of teaching very difficult. I struggled a bit with it, but I was determined to finish because I had no backup plan if teaching didn’t turn out. I felt like I couldn’t tell my parents that I didn’t want to be something else that would make them proud. Regardless, I graduated and made up my mind that I wouldn’t pursue it. I told my parents, and even to this day they have not accepted that I’m not going ever go back to teaching. Never say never, I suppose.
Through it all, the one consistency in my life was my writing. I never stopped writing my books on the side, even if I only considered it a hobby and kept my fictional world to myself. When I started building my portfolio and sending out manuscripts, I finally felt like I was on the right path, even if it wasn’t a conventional one. When I got published, I felt like everything was finally coming together. I have never been happier than since I’ve made writing the focus in my life. To me, that is success.
The point of me writing this is to tell people that it is okay if what you want out of life isn’t the same as what other people want for you. I understand the pressures and types of expectations that are put on teenagers. I even had a conversation with my parents not long ago, and they said that they were proud of my achievements as a writer (four books published and two more signed, FYI), but were still a little disappointed that I never pursued journalism or teaching. So yes, I find that difficult to hear and live with sometimes, but I can’t stop now.
Even so, I don’t regret any of the choices that I made to get here. I cherish my Literature and Communication studies because they taught me a lot about finding a voice, theory and words—beautiful words. I am also thankful for my teaching training because it helped me understand the deconstruction a novel—something that is most useful when constructing one. It also offered me experience in standing up in front of a classroom of students, which is something that I’ve done more as an author and guest speaker than a teacher.
After one of my guest talks at my former High School, one of the students contacted me and asked me how I keep writing when my family didn’t understand it. She told me that she was passionate about arts and writing, but her parents wanted her to study business. This was my reply:
“Yes, it’s tough when your family has other ideas in mind for you. Even if you do end up going to study business, don’t forget that writing is brilliant because you can fit it in any time. Catching the bus with a pen and paper, or typing notes on your phone, that’s all it takes. I think that parents just get worried because they want the best for you and most just want you to have the opportunities that they didn’t have. It can be hard for them to hear that those ideas don’t match your own. If it’s something that you’re really passionate about though, try and have a talk to them and let them know—or if you don’t want to do that, consider doing a double degree at uni. There are still possibilities, so don’t worry. I truly believe that you tend to end up where you’re supposed to, even if life makes you learn other lessons along the way. Just keep at it. If I’ve learnt anything over the years, it’s that persistence pays off!”
Always live up to your own expectations.
Claire Merchant is a talented young author from Western Australia. She began writing in high school as a means of commenting on her surroundings, which soon developed into a passion for storytelling and character building, and so created a world where the characters in her head were able to breathe and move. She has written several stories surrounding the residents of the fictional South Coast, in themes ranging from fantasy and supernatural fiction, to adventure, action, drama and romance.