Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a different kind of hunger

At the time of this writing, I've got one novel finished, one novel very close to finished, one novel in pieces, one novel just beginning, and one novel in the idea phase. Additionally, I've got two nonfiction book ideas. And I want to work on all of them. Right now. I want them finished by tomorrow.

How does one do it? How do those in any creative endeavor practice their craft and make a living at the same time?

I witnessed my brothers live in shit apartments, have to wash dishes in bathroom sinks, scrounge five dollars in loose change to put gas in their car (that wouldn't get them around the block these days), and take menial jobs that worked around their music gigs. And their music gigs included playing in wedding and bar mitzvah bands, boat "cruises" that circled the Sound, college campuses (when bands played at colleges), etc. Not exactly their idealized dream. One brother worked as a mechanic and hated the cold; one gave guitar lessons to tone-deaf kids; one eventually quit the music business and now has a lucrative job in computer IT support industry (and I'm probably demoting him quite a bit, as he always tells me I do when I try to describe his job). I've heard of actors who do the stereotypical bartending/wait-staffing. Stephen King worked in a laundromat. Cormac McCarthy lived out of cars at one time, I think. Artists starve for their craft. And they hunger for other things, I suppose. We all do.

And me? I teach college writing. I have an apartment w/ a swimming pool and central air and dishwasher and washer/dryer hookup. I have benefits. And I wanna keep it all. But where does that leave me time to work on my five projects? How do I prioritize?

Late last year I was making inquiries about going back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. The degree would do absolutely nothing to bolster my career--despite the fact that it's a terminal degree, I'd likely wind up in another non-tenure-track position teaching first-year writing, especially since Creative Writing teaching positions are far and few between. I wanted to do it primarily so I could write full-time and be part of a writing community. I also thought it might help me network in circles I'm not currently privy to. I visited one school, and the advisor talked to me for hours, finally saying, "There are a lot of good reasons to do it, and there are just as many good reasons not to do it."

I had decided to apply to the program, based on the rationale that if I was financially independent, I would do it. I've often made such decisions, and was never disappointed. I was also a lot younger when I'd made those decisions. I see it in my friends in their forties and fifties, especially. Security makes their decisions. I used to think they were operating under a lack of trust. Now I understand perfectly. I'm operating from the same place. There were other factors that contributed to my decision; but ultimately, I decided not to apply and not to pursue the degree.

Don't get me wrong-- I love my work. But teaching is time-consuming, especially out of the classroom, and it's no longer what I want to devote my time to. I want to be a full-time writer and I want to maintain the comforts I worked so hard to get (and I still don't make enough to own my own home). I wonder if I'm lacking the discipline or tenacity to become a self-supporting writer, if I'm not networking in the right places, if I have a fear of failure, or maybe a fear of success, even. I don't know. All I know is that I'm not willing to give up what I already have, and I don't know how to acquire what I don't.

In the meantime, my writing projects sit on the shelf, give or take a few pages saved when inspiration hits every now and then. Hell, my first book took four years to get it to finished. How long will the others take? It scares me.

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