In second grade, a popular children's book author visited my humble elementary school to enlighten us about his career path. Sitting cross-legged on the dirty gym floor, my second-grade self leaned forward, ears pricked, ready to hear about the joys of writing stories for a living. But surprisingly—this man, someone who could so skillfully weave the most exhilarating sentences into webs of intricate fantasies for boys and girls to curl up and read, told of a dull life. Highlights of his day included cuddling with one of his cats on his lap while he wrote. He told disappointed students how some of his best stories were never published, and editing his turned-in chapters occupied the bulk of his time.
I was dismal. Discouraged. Daunted. Never had I considered that the life of a writer could be so unglamorous. Until that moment, I'd wanted to write novels for girls like me, who sometimes yearn to just sit and escape into another fantastic reality. Yet upon leaving that gymnasium, my hopes had been squandered.
But I still read books. Ravenously. Constantly. I can't sleep at night unless I finish the latest chapter. They don't have to be adventure-filled fantasies anymore. I will pick any book, fiction or non-fiction, simply to say I've read it. Perhaps I've been searching for the perfect definition of literature. I want to be convinced that all hope is not lost. So I've followed through every work of art created by timeless authors, from Ernest Hemingway to H.L. Mencken to Hunter S. Thompson. It was when I reached Hunter S. Thompson that I stopped searching.
Reading backwards from the most popular books—Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary, Hell's Angels—I was perplexed yet oddly intrigued with this insane style of writing. By the time I'd reached The Proud Highway: The Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955–1967 I'd been expecting a 400-page rambling mess with no real distinction between fiction and reality. Alas, his letters to friends and family were surprisingly down-to-earth—charming, even. Say what you wanted about this raving lunatic, he had the ability to put down a string of words onto paper beautifully.
Most of all, he was a go-getter. Why apply to a position at a newspaper? Send your best convincing letter to the editor, and at least you can say you've given it a shot. He wasn't afraid of bluntness, truth, or complete fabrication, and this is what made a collection of 200 ordinary letters so attention-grabbing. It was this attitude present in his essays that rekindled my long-lost hopes to be a writer. The man himself couldn't have put it a better way: "As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I'm not sure that I'm going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says 'you are nothing', I will be a writer."