by Laura McCune-Poplin
When I was fifteen, my father diagnosed me as a “jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none.” Although I didn’t enjoy having my mediocrity acknowledged by my paterfamilias, he wasn’t wrong. I can do many things well enough. I was a good enough volleyball player to have articles written about me in the local newspaper, but I did not earn any athletic scholarships. I was a good enough actress to be nominated for a regional theatre competition, but I did not win. I was a good enough pianist to play Bach with abandon in the privacy of my living room, but never in front of an audience. Part of the problem was that I loved sports and theatre and music equally. I refused to sacrifice one passion in pursuit of another. But that was only part of my problem.
My genuine interest in multiple subjects made university difficult. And joyous. I ended up with undergraduate degrees in both French literature and zoology by way of fencing, cello, German, pottery, karate, and botany. My only regret was not taking classes in filmmaking. I was too scared to apply to the program. Unlike the other film students, who had been writing and directing home movies since they were five, I had no impressive portfolio to submit, and I lacked the confidence to try.
There, I said it—the other part of my problem. The real reason I have spent most of my life in the shelter of mediocrity is that I was too scared to do otherwise. Since I have always done things well enough, I never got comfortable with failure or rejection or risk. I never loved any of my so-called passions more than my fragile ego. At least not until I started writing.
Becoming a writer has been disastrous for my ego, but I have finally discovered a passion I love more than myself. A passion worth failing at. My spreadsheet of rejections is queen-sized. I originally pursued a master’s degree in creative writing because it was the one discipline that would allow me to indulge all my other interests. History, science, language, art—I could write stories about them all. Yet while it remains true that I can write about filmmaking and photography and traveling, in the current publishing industry, I must also become a filmmaker and photographer and travel agent, and also advertiser, designer, lawyer, accountant, and performer.
In preparation for the publication of my first novel, Fatechanger, I have had to learn Photoshop and ad design. I have learned how to target a specific audience and how to reach them through social media platforms and online retailers. I have made a book trailer, which has taught me about sound editing and filmmaking. I have learned how to use filters and hashtags to promote my photography, which means I’ve also had to learn photography. Before becoming a writer, I was too scared to call a restaurant for takeout. Now I am calling bookstores and libraries and public schools to schedule book-signings and readings and multi-media presentations, and wondering exactly who I have become.
When I set out to become a writer, I expected to do nothing but write, preferably in a quiet room surrounded by books and open windows to let in sunshine and fresh air and sounds of birds chirping. And while a small part of me still wishes that were true, I am a better person because it is not. I don’t pretend that I will ever become a proficient, or even a “good enough” ad designer or filmmaker, but my love of writing is such that I am willing to try. Writing has taught me that a risk of failure is also a risk of success. Writing has encouraged me to pursue my varied interests, not vicariously or literarily as I had supposed, but literally. Now that I’m no longer afraid of failing, I can focus on becoming.
When she’s not writing or traveling or riding her bike, L. M. Poplin can be found teaching classes in writing and literature at Berklee College of Music. She has also co-founded, with two of her favorite authors, L’ATELIER Writers—a non-profit literary retreat and workshop based in France. Born and raised in California, she now lives in a triple-decker in Boston with her husband and son and cat.
Check out her book trailer here: