In my last post I explained the biggest transition that happened in my life: how over the course of a year my passions changed from math to fiction writing. I would now like to continue on with what I said in that post. As I explained, my passions changed at least in part because of how love searching for and obtaining truth. Mathematics in its pure form was an interest since early childhood because of this. The truth of math was readily apparent and I didn’t need to have great mathematical maturity in order to appreciate it and its beauty. Fiction writing, on the other hand, only became a great passion thus taking over math in only the last year and a half because appreciation its truth requires one (at least in my case) to have experience of the world around them.
So right after fiction writing took over, I really had to wonder what do about it all. The pursuit of fiction writing is different from the pursuit of academia. You go at it alone. And at the end of it all, the chances of making a living out of it are slim at best. So from a practical perspective at least, it seemed like no decision really had to be made. I’d continue on with academia and continue with fiction writing as something I do on the side and hope for the best. And in a way, while I have chosen to continue on with academia (at least for the time being), the reasons why have less to do with the practical perspective and more to do what I’m interested in writing.
And what am I interested in writing? Well, before fiction writing took over the math, I wanted to write mystery novels. But when fiction writing took over math that changed. It’s not as if I was thinking “I love to write fiction. I absolutely dislike academia now.” I wouldn’t have chosen to go to graduate school if I had thought like that. In truth I still liked academia. It’s just that I decided that I liked fiction writing more. Yet I wanted to keep math and philosophy in my life. (Of course, the practical perspective is rolling its eyes now and saying, “What’s your problem? That’s your day job as a writer. Almost every writer has one of those.”). So how did I want to do this? Well, when I became interested in philosophy, I thought about combining math and philosophy and going into the philosophy of math. Combining math and philosophy with fiction writing? Write novels about math and philosophy! Write science fiction novels that involve deep pure mathematics and deep ideas in philosophy. And since I also like mystery I could throw in a mystery in each novel to boot.
But here’s the catch: if I wanted to write novels about these kinds of things, I wanted to know a lot about math and philosophy in order to write them. Well, that’s easy enough, I thought. Two PhDs, one in math and one in philosophy, should do the trick.
And this is the number one reason I’m in graduate school. So I can do this kind of thing.
Now, I have both the passion and practical sides shouting how absurd this plan is. Passion: Do you really want to pursue all these years of school and then have to climb up to tenure to take over so much time in your life when you could be writing? Practical: You’ve just made your chances of success even worse. Math-phobia is pretty much widespread and to attempt to explain deep math in a novel that a reader is supposed to enjoy and at least somewhat understand in his spare time and that which a publisher is supposed to find engaging as he goes through his slush pile of manuscripts is pure insanity. Not to mention you may be overdoing your resume when you apply for a “day job” as an academic.
Both of these positions have certainly swayed me. For example, last term was a nightmare and as a result really made me question my plans. Maybe it would just be better to read about math in my spare time. Although now that everything is better academically, I’ve still decided to stick with this plan. Besides engaging with actual professors and other students is probably the best way since I will then get a lot of guidance toward learning math and engaging in research. As well, I haven’t found very many mathematical novels. I haven’t read a lot of science fiction, but in looking at blurbs on websites and bookstores, I can really tell that it’s a very uncommon genre.
So why do I choose to stick with this plan? Because of the huge passion it generates within me. I’ve found my dream and have chosen to go along with it. That might sound a bit too simple and a bit corny and cliché, but it is true. A heavy cost with little chance of success comes with it, but so what? At least given how highly strange this path is I have the comfort of knowing how strong I am in not letting the pressures from society tempt me otherwise.
And I think that’s a skill a writer should acquire anyway.
I can choose between two attitudes. The first is to complain how I have totally unmarketable ideas and how my dream will be laughed at not only by publishers, but society at large. Or I can take the attitude the uniqueness of my ideas is what makes them special and how I’m so lucky to have such wonderful ideas. Who knows? Maybe I’ll explode the genre of mathematical fiction and increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of math.
But it’s scary. I really have no idea what the future holds in store for me. And one can only speculate so much about it. I also have fears if I fail. I worry about how much fiction writing passion will drive me and how much of other aspects of my life I will end up sacrificing for it. This is probably my biggest fear. But while I can speculate on my success until the cows come home, any aspiring writer should just sit down and write the damn book.
A post on another blog that portrays my feelings exactly is the following: Starving For More. It’s by another aspiring writer and how she describes how it’s her dream of becoming a writer and how her fate is so uncertain and if she’ll end up joining all of the starving writers and artists out there who are dying penniless. I especially love the last line.
“And maybe I’ll never be awarded my own turn, but that’s OK. As long as I’m starving, at least I know I’m hungry for something more.”
I know what I’m hungry for. The truth. And like her and every other aspiring fiction writer out there, I await my fate.