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.

Writing Goals

Writing goals is hard. Also, writing goals are hard.

Put another way: The act of writing goals is hard. Also, writing goals–goals related to writing–are hard to write.

I don’t like count-based goals, in writing or in other pursuits. Write 1,000 words per day. Run a half marathon in a year. Lose ten pounds by June. Goals like these, for me, are recipes for disaster. I usually start with a small success streak, but if I break that streak, then the break itself turns into a streak, and suddenly a month goes by, and I’m no closer to achieving my goals.

I prefer habit-based goals–goals designed to help me develop a habit. I’m not great at habits, but I’m always starting and then restarting them, so it’s not a total loss. I’ve learned this about myself the hard way, and I’ve learned (also the hard way) that beating myself up over dropping a habit is not helpful. It’s not that there are no negative feelings associated with dropping a habit (there are); it’s just that I’m learning to experience the negative feelings for what they are (feelings) rather than what they’re not (a definitive confirmation of my total failure).

In writing my new year’s resolutions, I decided to focus on two words: consistency and resiliency. These two concepts may seem mutually exclusive, but I think they’re synergistic. I want to develop consistency in working toward particular goals, but I also want to develop resiliency when I inevitably become inconsistent. Knowing that I can just pick back up where I left off means that I’m more likely to become consistent on a macro level (e.g., over the course of a year), even if I’m not that great on a micro level (e.g., over the course of a week). Resiliency leads to longevity, or so I hope.

To that end, I’d like to set some writing-habit goals. I’d like to write for about an hour a day most days of the week. Maybe two hours on weekends.

“Writing” may include one or more of the following:

  • Invention work, including, but not limited to:
    • Musing/daydreaming
    • Notetaking
    • Doodling/diagramming
    • Researching
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing

Projects may include:

  • Fiction writing
  • Freelance professional/technical writing & editing
  • Blogging
  • Literally anything except my academic writing. That’s what my day job is for.

So there you have it. Writing goals is hard, and writing goals are hard. Now it’s time to go forth and meet them.