Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fitting It All In: On Respecting Your "Station" In Life

A fellow writer and friend of mine commented recently that reading my blog was engaging and enjoyable, because if anyone has followed it for awhile - especially WAY back to the original days of - they'd see, literally, the "story" of my career and the "story" of my life as a writer and dad and husband,  as I've progressed forward, step by step, little by little.  

I was gratified to hear that, because I made a decision about three years ago - when I rebooted my website - that IF I was gonna blog, I was gonna blog about ME. My life, my family, my writing, our struggles as parents of a special needs child, about being a teacher... and how all those things intersected. 

I wasn't going to try and find a "niche" market or blog about things that were "trending" or "hot" or try to do anything like build a "readership" through my blog. If I was gonna have a blog, it was gonna be like an online diary, chronicling my - and my family's - journey as, basically, a writer's family, a Christian family, a family with a special needs child, a teacher's family.  That it reads like a story tickles me to no end.

This is isn't to say that issues or conflicts I've "resolved" along the way aren't going to reappear, or come back up. That's part of the circular nature of life: we're human, after all, and even after we learn things, we often need to re-learn them, over and over, before they stick. And who knows? Because of our human nature - my human nature - maybe these lessons will NEVER totally stick, and will be something we'll always have to relearn, as long as we're toiling on this mortal coil. 

For me, that lesson is this: as a writer, where I am in life right now, in my STATION in life, I can only work on project at a time, especially during the school year.  Now, my lesson wasn't all that crippling or terrible - I didn't bail on any contracts, or miss a deadline. But, as the short story collection was out with beta readers, I didn't want to lock back into Billy the Kid, because I knew I'd have to pull out again to go over the collection's edits in a few weeks. 

So, I started tooling with an idea that had been percolating in the back of my head for a few months, and suddenly, I was 13,000 words into a novella, cruising right along. See, I'd fallen into a common trap, for me: I thought I could bang out a novella while waiting for the collection's edits  to come back, then send that to a publisher - a fine publisher that's asked to see my fiction - then bang out the collection's edits, then jump right into Billy and bang that out, and be super-uber productive.  

Problem was, my heart wasn't really into that novella. Not really. Don't get me wrong - 13,000 words is 13,000 words, and like every writer, I never throw anything away. There's some real good bits there, and I'll tuck that away until a "rainy" day. And also, a splash of realism: it was being written "on spec" (like most my work right now, honestly), unlike last June/July's project - a serial novella titled "And I Watered It, In Tears."
There was no contract, no promise of payment. If there had been, I'm sure things would've been different.

But, as it just petered right out, because really, it wasn't what I wanted to be writing, at the time. I was killing time, and deep inside, I knew it. Lesson two: I can't write anything - at least, not to the best of my ability - without being fully invested, with my total focus on it, with my whole heart in it.

And a lot of that has to do with my "station" in life.

Some blogs have popped up recently about pursuing a full-time writing career, and all the realities of that. First came Brian Keene's blog, the speech he presented at this year's Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp.  Bestsetlling author Dan Simmons had a different take on it, in his forum (you may have to refresh the page to get it, I always do, for some reason). Then, author Nate Southard offered a rebuttal, of sorts.  Far as I'm concerned, ALL of them are right, and offer valid points to consider. Something that really hit me, however, was author Mike Duran post about the myth of daily word counts, and "the respect of your (our) station in life." (paraphrased)

It made me think, honestly and hard, about my future as a writer, because here are the facts of my station in life:

1. I work full-time, teaching high school ENGLISH, which requires a good deal of job-related reading, writing, and proof-reading. Very draining, at times, and also, I don't have a lot of room left over in my head at the end of the day to do any writing. Over the summer, yes, I'm able to do more. But from September through June, not so much.

2. I have a family. I've seen a lot of things happen to a lot of people in the writing industry over the past few years, and I've got to assume that what I haven't seen is probably even worse. It's made me very protective of my family, wanting to shield them and protect them from the rigors and demands of the writing world. And, quite simply - I'm just not made of the "stuff" to shut my family away for hours, let Abby deal with the kids, while I write.

When Abby and I first met, I told her that, among other things, I wanted to be a writer someday, to be published. However, I didn't end up breaking into the field until AFTER we had kids, after we'd been married for about six years, so I've found I've had to mold my writing career AROUND my family, and not the opposite. And, let's be honest...I prefer it that way. And it's always going to be that way, for the foreseeable future. Writing is a gift, a pursuit, one of my talents.

My family is my life. Not writing. Writing enhances my life, gives me an emotional outlet, keeps me sane, and is lots of fun. But, it's not my life.

And when I first learned of Zack's diagnosis - autism - I knew that I'd radically have to reevaluate my plans, knew that I'd been called to an even higher responsibility, being his Dad, and I knew that would impact any writing career I wanted to have.

So, I get roughly two hours a day, in the wee hours of the morning, to write. Maybe an hour before bed-time at night, if I'm lucky. And that's it. I've tried to work on two or three projects at once....and I just can't.  It's something that'll never work, for me. At least, not right now.

3. I need focus. For better or for worse, as I've already mentioned, I can't seem to hold more than one project in my head at a time. I want to be completely, utterly absorbed by the story I'm writing, and that's it. I've tried juggling things, and with the exception of a few special cases, it doesn't work, and I don't like it, at all. SO, like the turtle against the hare, I'm just gonna have to plod along. Finish a project, after devoting all my energies to it, and then turn to another. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to juggle the amount of projects needed to allow me to write full time.

4. I'm not sure if I could write just for money. I say that, of course, without actually having tried it. But I just don't know if I could, at the very least, not for my supper, not to provide completely for our family...if that's even possible, anymore. I hope to someday reach a point when I'll at least bring in enough to HELP our finances. But accepting a project just because of the price tag? I really don't know if I could bend myself that way, and don't want to risk it, honestly.

5. I NEED a real job. For many reasons, one them being the freedom to be able to turn down projects I have no interest in, the freedom to write only what I'm passionate about. Also, however, I have other interests. I teach, and on some days - many days - I LOVE teaching. I definitely want to move on to the college level, enjoy a more flexible schedule, but the bottom line is, I think things would be better, safer, smarter, if I always kept a full-time teaching job, and wrote around that.

Now, of course, all this is subject to change.  Amazing things happen in the publishing industry, just as often as depressing and dream-crushing things. But for now: this is where I am. This is the place I live in, my station in life, and this is how writing fits into it. And until that changes...and even if it NEVER changes...I'm happy about that.

Because like Nate Southard said in his's the story. It's the words that matter, and what's most important is that I'm passionate about the ones I write, every day. And, like I've said time and again, I'm one of those curious fellows who simply believes things are meant to be. Right now - this is the way things are meant to be.

And I'm cool with that.

Because I have the words, and the stories. And that's what matters.