For most of middle school and high school, I thought I was going to be a doctor.
Everything I did in school – the classes I took, the clubs I attended, the way I discussed my future plans – was influenced by my assumption that I would be pre-med at university. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I started thinking back to my childhood dream of writing books and seriously considering pursuing writing.
I have always liked to write. Stories have always been a source of comfort and pleasure for me. But they were never more than a hobby – writing seemed unsustainable as a possible career.
I needed to find a job that paid the bills. Because I was doing well in school and because it seemed to be the most esteemed, best paid and most fulfilling choice, I thought medicine might be a good fit for me.
My reason for returning to writing in my freshman year was pretty superficial: I wanted to boost my college application. My plan was to write some short stories and hopefully get them published in small, student-run publications, the ones that were decent but still doable.
Through this process of writing and submitting to magazines (which resulted in two publications), I reconfirmed two things for myself. First, I like to write a lot. And two, there’s so much more I need to do to grow as a writer. Realizing these two things sent me into a spiral that eventually led me to drop out of the pre-medical and writing major seminars at Hopkins.
Fast forward to now, where I’m sitting in a fictional workshop, listening to other students tear up my short story.
A guy says he likes the ending, but the dialogue rings kind of cringe and needs to be reworked.
Another disagrees and thinks the opposite is true.
And a third person keeps saying how much they don’t like one of the characters, to the point that I’m starting to wonder if they have a personal vendetta against this fictional person.
Yet I jot it all down in my notebook and mentally note who said what. Later I will filter my notes, keeping what I like and crossing out what I don’t like, and the comments that come through will form the basis of my edits.
Time is the most essential mechanism by which my writing improves – spending time reading and writing gradually cultivates better work – and the workshops support this process by providing guidance and inspiration. They may not be the most essential part of writing, but they certainly are important.
In my shop classes at Hopkins, I have an unhealthy habit of sizing people up. I look around at other students and consider many things: the quality of writing each person publishes, whether or not they specialize in writing seminars, and if so, what they plan to do with his degree after graduation. .
Many of the other writing seminar majors are much more hands-on than me. They double their major to expand their career options. They plan to write adjacent professions like marketing and advertising. They quickly abandon their lofty dreams to write the next great American novel.
That doesn’t mean I’m completely impractical. I know I need to get a job, and writing full time is a pipe dream that takes years to come to fruition. I want to work in publishing, journalism, or teaching (all lower-paying fields), and I know that means I will live humbly.
Writing is a source of anxiety and comfort for me. I need to eat, and writing doesn’t always put food on the table. I worry a lot about my future career prospects and my ability to support myself.
Yet, time and time again, I come back to writing. I write stories and poems for the classroom and for publication. I write my thoughts in a journal. I write articles for the newspaper. Writing has become a natural rhythm of my life. I can’t imagine a day without putting a few words to paper.
In a way, I write as a form of embodiment, a way for me to make real the things I can’t outwardly express. Writing is no longer something I want but something I need. I need it, just as much as I need water or shoes.
Aliza Li is a junior from Houston, Texas studying writing seminars. She is the voice writer for The News-Letter. Her column discusses her journey as a writer and how words have transformed her life.