Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Not-So-Evil Day Job (#work #passion #amwriting)

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I complain a lot. Anyone who's been in touch with me lately has heard about how I'm busier this term than I've ever been; how I'm teaching two brand new courses and don't have time to breathe with all the preparation, let alone write; how I leave at 9:00 AM and don't get home until 9:30 PM some nights; how I feel like Alice in Through the Looking Glass- I have to run as fast as I can just to stay in one place.

You might assume, listening to me, that I hate my work and would rather be writing every day. Indeed, for many writers, that's the ideal: to make enough money from book sales that you can quite your ordinary, boring day job and write full time.

Honestly, I don't feel that way. Perhaps that suggests that I'm not a “serious” writer. So be it. Despite the stress I sometimes feel – especially when I try to balance the demands of writing and marketing with the requirements of my public profession – I'd never want to give up my “real world” job.

My work requires a huge investment of time and energy, but it also provides great rewards. I don't mean financial rewards – I make just enough to meet my needs – but I've never aspired to wealth . I'm talking about less tangible benefits: the opportunity to be creative, the freedom to try new approaches, the respect of my colleagues and (sometimes, at least) my students, the satisfaction that comes from knowing that I've been a positive influence on the lives of at least a few young people every year. I also enjoy the fact that I'm able to use my long years of study and experience in positive and productive ways. And finally, my day job is just plain fun.

Writing is fun too, of course. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it. (I think the secret of happiness may be to only do what you enjoy, or conversely, to enjoy whatever you do.) One reason I don't have much of a desire to make my living off my writing is that I suspect that might kill the joy. If I were forced to write, day after day, I strongly suspect that the stress would leach away any creativity I can claim now.

I believe that I could support myself, at least at a basic level, by writing erotic romance or BDSM smut. I think I know what sells, and I could churn that out if I had to. I write quickly and my first drafts are generally in a lot better shape than many authors. I could put out one or two 15-20K novellas a month, if I had to.

I really would rather not. In fact, I find myself deliberately choosing to write genres and styles that don't sell as well, out of a kind of perversity, I guess. My M/M books have outsold anything else I've written, by several times. I find myself shying away from writing more because I don't want to make money my object.

Plus I hate stress. I can function when the chips are down. I can make tight deadlines if I have to. But the pressure takes its toll, draining me of psychic energy and basically making me miserable. Yes, my day job is stressful, too, but it provides enough variety to keep me excited. It also includes natural breaks, for midterm and final exams, vacation periods and so on. If I were writing full time, none of that would be true. I know authors who support themselves with their work, and you really can't take much of a break. You have to produce that three or four or five thousand words per day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, or you'll fall behind. You'll miss deadlines. You'll lose readers.

My husband tells me that much of the stress is of my own making. I think there's some truth in that. Probably I need to learn how to say no. Maybe my unwillingness to refuse requests can be traced back to my submissive nature. Hard to say!

In any case, I'm not a wage slave. I'm not oppressed by my employer. I work long hours, but not at some repetitive, meaningless occupation. I'm incredibly lucky.

I tell my students that money will not make them happy. The first key to happiness (according to what I've learned in more than six decades of life on earth) is having a partner whom you love and whose company you enjoy. The second key, almost as important, is finding work that feeds your soul, work that ignites your passion. I'm fortunate to have succeeded in both these areas. Really, I have no right at all to complain.

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