This post is Part One of a three-part series written by Emma Uebele, an alumnus of American University Chi Alpha. Emma lives fully, embracing art, stories and people as she seeks to know more about God, herself, and the world.
Let me tell you a story. I began college as a wide-eyed print journalism major. After structured writing classes that didn't suit my over-imaginative fancy, I jumped ship. Film and media arts was the en vogue communications field so that was my next harbor. I enjoyed the creative potential but not the minutiae of digital editing. I'm a big picture girl through and through. Finally, I wound up in international communications: a lovely hybrid of global perspective and interpersonal relationships. This was the degree I ended with and along the way I continued to dabble. I took fiction writing and poetry and drawing and printmaking. I believe it's important to nurture your creative side. We all have one. Even you, economists and math majors. It's one of those common denominators of the Homo sapien.
My education was wonderful. Invaluable really. But I'm learning there's a lot it didn't teach me. Sure I learned the mechanics of writing. The inverted triangle metric for journalistic work. How to show and not tell in fiction. How to experiment with punctuation and the pricelessness of the em dash in poetry. How to research for international relations case studies. How to craft policy briefs and memos. How to pass notes in class in the most encrypted and abbreviated language possible.
But I never learned how to BE a writer. I've discovered that it is something totally other than simply writing. It is a way of synthesizing the world. A way of becoming. Perhaps an art of becoming. An art that no amount of reading, lectures, or class discussion illuminated for me over the last four years.
Regardless of what you want to be you cannot just will it upon yourself. It doesn't matter how badly you want it. How well suited you are for it. How distinctly (or indistinctly) you've heard from God on the subject. You must work for it.
We are not entitled to excellence. It must be earned. The same goes for writing. College did not make me a writer. I become a writer in the early mornings and late nights when I release words onto the page. When I find images in the confusion. When I search for my voice in the empty places and find it. When I put perfection and pride on the shelf and write anyway, with all that is in me, because I have something to say.
I don't mean to suggest that my education wasn't part of my becoming a writer (which I'm still working out). Of course it was. A huge part actually, but it cannot stop there. I've found a gap between learning and doing. Maybe that's stating the obvious, but it has been a much more significant transition that I expected. So much of college is riding on the excellence and achievement of others as you learn and grow and develop yourself. Then all that excellence stops carrying you and you are left to build from the ground up. This takes effort. And time and discipline. This is where a new phase of the becoming starts.
This becoming, whatever it is you are becoming, takes flexibility. Flexibility looks like walking forward with your chin up when you find yourself living a life other than the one you were anticipating. This doesn't lead to complacency or settling. But rather perseverance, much more valuable.
Perhaps you don't conceive of yourself as a writer. Your calling lies elsewhere. This is good. Maybe you bring us something to write about. Either way, this letter is not about how to be a writer. I can't answer that for you. This is about the art, the toil, of becoming.
Find something you love and work at it. Not for a grade. Not for your résumé. For the sake of excellence. Because what you bring to this world matters. Don't just learn about it, do it. Rise up and work at becoming who you were created to be. Writer, artist, mathematician, economist, athlete, musician, teacher, poet, politician, scientist, accountant, priest.
Go become more.