What if I could be a writer?

Sigh.

I’ve started this post twice already over the past year and change. I’ve been trying to write a post describing several major changes in my life, and I keep starting and not quite finishing.

There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that some of these changes come with some heavy (negative) emotional baggage that I both do and don’t want to air out in pubic, so I err on the side of caution.

But on the flip side, the tiny optimist that’s still living somewhere inside me sees these changes as an opportunity and wants to talk about them and actively work to keep making them happen.

But back on the other flip side, talking about these changes and trying to make them work for me (by talking about them here on the blog) leaves me feeling vulnerable. What if I talk about what I want to do, what I want my life to be, what if I try to make these changes happen, and then they just… don’t?

But enough vagueblogging.

Here’s the footnotes version:

  • I got my Ph.D in 2016.
  • Then I got a two-year postdoc.
  • Then I went on the (absolutely excruciating) job market again and received precisely zero job offers.
  • My husband got an offer for a postdoc in Luxembourg. He took it, and we moved.
  • I continued to work as an adjunct and an online tutor.
  • This summer, I lost one of the adjunct gigs for the time being, and the other didn’t offer any fall work. SO:
  • I am a quasi-ex-academic currently without any adjunct work.
  • I have picked up a few semi-steady freelance writing and consulting gigs.
  • But otherwise, I have a bit more “free time” than I used to, thanks to this “quasi-ex” status.
  • I have been using this “free time” to write. Quite a bit.

And I remember how much I love it. I used to write a lot. Pretty much from the time I could use a pencil, I wrote things, and if I wasn’t writing things, I was reading them and thinking about writing things. I wrote poems, stories–I even wrote an entire YA novel one summer while I was in college about gender-bending royalty, my twist on ye fairy tales of olde about how gender roles are bogus. After I graduated college and spent a year splitting my time between retail and tutoring, I turned to television and movie scripts. But still, I wrote a lot .

Until I entered grad school in 2009. Then I was still writing a lot, but it was all academic stuff. I don’t think I wrote any fiction from that fall 2009 until the first full summer of my postdoc, right before I was set to enter the job market for a second time. Then I wrote, like a few chapters of a mystery novel and then stopped again until, basically, this year (2019).

For reference, that’s roughly a decade with hardly any fiction writing. Sheesh.

Sometimes I get really mad at myself for not trying to keep writing fiction while in grad school, because think of how much I could have written. I’d probably be published by now, right? Except then I get mad at academia for being so utterly exhausting that I didn’t have the time or energy to write fiction. It’s not that I didn’t have any hobbies while in grad school, just that it took up so much B R A I N that writing fiction barely ever crossed my mind.

But now I’m back at it! In the less-than-a-year since we moved to Luxembourg, I’ve written almost 40,000 words of a mystery novel, roughly sketched out a setting for another, written and started a handful of original short fiction pieces, two of which are currently in review at lit magazines (one for the third time–fingers crossed), and written almost 20,000 words of fanfic that I’m slowly letting out into the world bit by bit.

What if I could do that thing I’ve wanted to do for, like most of my life, could actually happen? What if I could be a writer?

I mean, I am. Like I said, I’ve written close to 100,000 words of fiction in the past nine months, and that’s nothing to say of the freelance writing, editing, and consulting I’ve done for actual money or the homebrew D&D adventures I’ve written. I am a writer–I am one who writes.

But the real question, of course, the one I’ve dismissed basically since failing to get into an MFA program the first time I applied to grad schools (and graduating college into a recession), is whether I could use writing to pay the bills.

Right now, the answer is decidedly, no. But I also happen to be in a different place financially than I was back when I first pivoted away from professional fiction writing. My husband makes enough to pay most of our bills, and my online tutoring gig makes me enough to pay the rest–and only takes up about 20 hours a week.

So here I go, trying to figure out how to make writing pay the bills. Fingers crossed!

 

 

It always takes longer than it takes.

My spring break began today.

Well, technically, my institutions’ spring break starts on Monday, but my spring break began today. I’m taking a few extra days to visit my long distance partner, who will also be on spring break next week.

We’re both academics, which means we’ll spend a bit of time goofing off, but we’ll also still work several days of the “break.” Before I left, I spent some time thinking about what I could reasonably expect myself to accomplish while traveling. I took a look at the research & writing calendar I’d made up for myself mid-February… and laughed.

I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be, and I probably won’t accomplish much in the way of research over spring break. I have access to some of my data, but I work best with printed materials, and I wasn’t about to load a bunch of transcripts or journal articles into my already over-packed personal item (my trusty LL Bean backpack). So I’ll probably spend some time working on research while I’m here, but more than likely I’ll work on teaching–grading, giving feedback, planning upcoming classes and revamping courses for next fall. The research and writing will likely wait until the following week.

I’m disappointed, but I built in some extra time into the calendar because of something my dissertation director always told me–something her late husband always told her. “Writing always takes longer than it takes.” And if that isn’t the truest depiction of writing processes, I’ll eat my hat.

A Coping Mechanism

I have a problem.

I’m not good at confrontation. Actually, I’m terrible at it, but that’s a subject for another post.

I’m not good at confrontation, and it’s that point in the academic job market season where my colleagues keep asking me to update them on my search, perfectly well-meaning people who want nothing but the best for me and my career, and the angriest part of me wants to look them straight in the eyes and tell them I have no offers and no more prospects for an offer this year. With no smile. Part of me wants to watch them squirm. To watch them try to come up with some words of comfort. To watch them try decide if they’re going to ask me if I know what I’ll be doing next year or if that’s too delicate a question to ask. To watch them tell me to try again next year.

But as I said, I’m not good at confrontation, and it’s not their fault the market is crap, and I don’t really want to have this interaction with people, mostly. So far, I’ve used two strategies. With colleagues I don’t know as well, I’ve avoided the issue by telling people I’m still waiting to hear from some schools; with mentors and friends, I’ve told them what my plans are for next year (and there are plans), with assurances that I’m actually pretty excited about the unexpected turn things are taking. And I really am. These plans aren’t yet available for public broadcasting, so I’m not including them here. Don’t worry; I’ll be plenty insufferable about them later.

I think one of the cruelest parts of the job market is the emotional labor involved in telling other people I have no offers. As a friend (also on the market this year, also with no offers) said today, “Who haven’t I told yet that I’m a failure?”

I don’t blame people for asking. Hell, I want to know how everyone else is doing, too. And I sincerely hope they’re doing better than me. It’s just so exhausting to put a smile on your face and make reassurances to other people when you just want to scream just a tiny little bit.

Like I said, I actually am really excited about what’s in store for next year, but I’m also mad. I’m mad that academia over-relies on contingent labor; I’m mad that graduate programs both continue to pay their graduates a pittance and continue to accept and graduate students at the same rates despite an already-crap market getting even crappier. I’m mad that tenure-track faculty are being asked to do more and more labor with fewer and fewer resources and stagnating pay. I’m mad at the ways in which academia continues to reproduce whiteness while paying lip service towards diversity and the ways in which it continues to ask more of femme academics while also devaluing labor it considers feminine.

So yeah, I’m mad. And a tiny part of me wants to act on that anger by watching people squirm. But I won’t. I’m just going to blog about it. That’s what writing is for, right?

Resurrecting a Blog

This is my first post on this blog in almost nine years.

The last thing I posted on this blog was a 1700-word thinkpiece on True Blood on August 25, 2009. No, you cannot read it. I took it down. It was… not insufferable, but it certainly thought it was a lot smarter than it was. I literally prefaced the piece by noting that I had “been searching for an educated forum on True Blood to post to that might actually stimulate intellectual comment on the show rather than just verbal cyber-throwdowns between the Bill and Eric camps.” I have no memory of scouring True Blood fan forums, hoping to find like-minded grad-school aspirants with whom to wax poetic about the portrayal of Southern culture on the silver screen. Perhaps I blocked it out.

At any rate, it’s been nine years, and here I am making an earnest attempt to return to blogging. We’ll see how it goes.

I was going to say that I have a discipline problem when it comes to writing, kind of like my discipline problem when it comes to running, but I don’t really like the word “discipline” because it carries with it an implicit moral judgement, and I also realized that it’s not really true. Or, at least, it’s not the problem.

I don’t have much of a writing routine, which many writers swear by. Writers with prolific outputs and published works, including self-help books for other writers, swear that if you can only set your alarm clock an hour earlier and just sit down and write, you, too, can finally finish and publish that novel. It worked for them, so clearly, it’s The Correct Way to Do Things.

I don’t have a regular writing schedule, but I did manage to write a 45,000-word dissertation. And then I managed to turn that dissertation into two (forthcoming) articles, one 6,000 words and one 10,000, so clearly, I do have the ability for output, even without a regular writing schedule.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make time to write, or that you should only write when the desire strikes you, just that, with those pieces, I managed to write them without waking up an hour early and without writing at the same time every day.

But what did I do? And how can I apply those strategies to my blogging fiction writing, which I’m trying to pick back up again. Those are the big questions.

For one, I had a fellowship the Fall semester before I defended my dissertation, so I had a lot of time to write. I didn’t have no other obligations, but I didn’t have to teach that semester, which gave me a lot of time to devote to writing. Writing that dissertation was my primary job every day that semester.

But when I wrote my articles, I did have to teach. Those semesters, I made sure to carve out a few chunks of writing time each week. I generally prefer large-ish blocks of time to an hour here and an hour there. I write at the same time every day, or even for the same amount of time every day, or even every day at that. But I did schedule two to three (sometimes four, if I was lucky) big chunks of time for writing every week. I set goals for those chunks, but I cut myself some slack if I didn’t meet those goals. I reassessed them and moved the target.

I don’t currently have a ton of extra time to devote to blogging or fiction writing, but I think if I can just get a few small writing sessions on the calendar every week, I can make some progress. And progress is what matters.