As a freshman in college, I was pretty sure I had things figured out. I was majoring in philosophy and minoring in literature; I wanted to take creative writing but I was told I had to go through the paces of literature first before I could do creative writing exclusively. That was frustrating, but not really that big of a deal--I wanted to major in philosophy and go to law school. I didn’t really want to be a lawyer, but my dad always told me law school was an excellent education, and it sounded like an interesting challenge (clearly, I wasn’t half as smart as I thought I was). I was a hell of a debater in high school, great at public speaking and thinking on my feet. If at some point I wanted to be a lawyer, I was always pretty convinced I’d be good at it (cough, arrogance, cough).
Writing was something that I considered to be part of me. Since I was a little girl I was an obsessive writer, with the notebook collection to prove it. It was stress relief, entertainment, escapism and my idea of a fun night all rolled into one. I woke up early to write; I stayed up late after parties or studying. I wrote during classes. Every spare thought in my mind was about stories.
But I was convinced that writing would never be a viable career. Specifically because I had been told this in no uncertain terms. My advisor, my brother, the media at large. My parents never told me it wouldn’t work--only that I couldn’t expect to ever make money at it. I told myself that I was a writer in my core and nothing had stopped me thus far, nor did I need any additional money or validation. I wrote for me, and that was that.
But then I went to Scotland in my junior year. The teachers I had there spoke about literature like it was love; amid the damp Scottish winds, the bright yellow gorse against the gray clouded skies and the roses that bloomed through late December, there was a different attitude about life than anything I had encountered in the US. The cobblestones and centuries-old buildings whispered to me that life is short, but limitless in its shine and potential. The people there laughed at my American sense of capitalism, my notion that money should have anything to do with my career.
St. Andrews, Scotland was the site of a religious mecca, and then a place of religious persecution. It hosted raids and attacks, housed the bones of a saint, and welcomed to its shores princes and scholars and scientists. At my college in the US, I felt like life was a candle in a hurricane lamp--small, essential, and contained. In Scotland, I felt like the glass covering was removed and I could step close to the candle, curl my fingers around its light and feel the heat through my hands. It inspired the greatest passion and the greatest commitment to that passion that I’ve ever felt.
Life may be short, but it’s wondrous and dazzling and you can feel that by living your passions, committing to your dreams. I think that’s the difference between a writer and an author. A writer is someone who can use her words well, but an author is a writer with a vocation. A calling. A commitment. I ended up living for almost four years in Scotland, and I learned how to leave doubt behind. I learned how to be an author, and not just a writer.
A.C. Gaughen has been a concierge, a personal shopper, a handbag saleswoman, a wrapper (often and understandably confused with the homonym without a “w”), a call center phone-line answerer, a tour guide for the Commonwealth, a blogger, a writer of research articles like “How to Grind with a Boy”, and, most memorably, someone who couldn’t hang a shirt on a hanger correctly. Through all of these, however, she’s also been the young adult author of SCARLET and LADY THIEF, with Bloomsbury/Walker.