... I have never been altogether sure whether the decisions I have been made as an adult have been made through positive desire or through fear of not being the person I invented. The insistence with which I pitched travel articles, say, or booked plane tickets, or went barreling up mountains, was a neurotic and a frenetic one. It was not that I wanted to go, say, to Armenia, or to Iran. It was that I wanted to be the person who did all those things. I did not know how to want, period, outside of the drive to be.
Emphasis mine, as those were the words that stopped me in my tracks.
When I talk to people who want to be writers, or engage in any other creative work, I always try to suss out their motives. Some people are bursting with stories they want to tell; some are aching to be the kind of person that tells stories; some just want to be able to speak of themselves as "a writer".
I enumerated all those in roughly descending order of desirability. But that doesn't mean people who start off that journey with nothing more than a thought of "yeah, I could do that too; it would be neat to be A Writer" are committing a sin. What matters is whether they confront such things and transcend them, and learn to climb the ladder of motivation.
Some of this is projection, I guess. I started off wanting to be A Writer, and a lot of what I produced under that self-absorbed spell was sub-postmodern trash. It was a game that I might well have learned to be very good at playing if I had found a receptive audience and avuncular mentorship for such work. But somewhere inside, I knew I didn't really care about the work itself; I cared about how I could use it to get people to think of me as Smart and Cultured and Visionary. I was trying to invent this persona that had little or nothing to do with the things I was actually interested in. I didn't even like reading that postmodern fribble in the first place — although I sure liked being thought of as someone who did! Why try to become a player in a game I had contempt for?
Eventually, I came to care about the work itself, and with that I found the stories I was genuinely drawn to — the stuff I could work on for a year or more without getting bored or feeling like I was wasting my time.
Artists are in a tough spot. They have to push their work outwards in order to do much of anything with it at all — in other words, find and cultivate an audience. But they can't do that by trying to become the person they imagine their audience wants. They can only do it by being only the person they can be. Which is freakin' hard enough work as it is!