Letters from the dorm: Aspiring novelist, lawyer or both?


Is it possible to reconcile a desire to be creative with a need to be precise?

April Xiaoyi Xu |

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Have you ever felt an itch that you really wished to scratch?

For me, this itch has always been writing. It can be traced back to my childhood, when I would sit in the back seat of a car, as my parents took me to explore more than 20 countries. Those trips, while absolutely brilliant, were exhausting – my workaholic father Frank would start driving us early in the morning; I would ask thousands of questions in the car, and sing songs from Phantom of the Opera and Sound of Music until my mother Amy cajoled me into taking a break; she’d say “for the sake of your voice”.

My 13-year-old ambition was to publish a book titled Around the Globe: Travel Writings of an Elementary School Student. I confess: I failed.

Now, at 23, as a second-year law student at Harvard, I keep dreaming. Ever since I had the pleasure of escorting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor around Pomona College, I have dreamt of a career in the law. I also dream of writing my first book – a legal thriller-romance novel.

How a dream journal helped Hong Kong student Chloe Lo improve her creativity and writing skills

At Pomona, I focused on academic writing in political science, Spanish, and freelance writing on the side. I also grew increasingly interested in law, loving every aspect of my editing work for the Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy during college. Thanks to my Pomona-grown liberal arts spirit, I keep up with my creative side through theatre and English classes.

Last week, I met the renowned author of legal thrillers, John Grisham, and the celebrated writer Bill Bryson. As many fans know, Grisham is a lawyer by training, while Bryson is known for his travel writing. Both writers kindly answered my question: how can I reconcile my free-flowing, passionate prose with the painstakingly precise legal writing that I have embraced? Bryson quickly replied, “you can’t”. Grisham said that I need to write at least a page a day. No excuses.

Although I fear that law will stifle my creative tendencies, what it has taught me, as I stroll across sunlit Marston Quad, greeting each well-fed squirrel with a smile, is that liberal artsy individuals can have multiple dimensions. For now, I’m working on my dream of becoming a lawyer and a writer. I promise not to let my 13-year-old self down. You will be pleased to hear the liberal arts spirit in me lives on.