First, try to be something, anything, else.
— Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer”
More specifically, it didn’t work again.
Three years ago, when I was stuck on the rewrite of my first novel, I was worried about my future employment prospects. In the long run, my day job has no upward mobility, and when my personal situation changes (i.e. marriage, family, etc.), frankly, I’ll need more income.
So, after I tried a Hollywood internship to see if I wanted to work my way back into the film business, I determined that definitely was not the way to go and I just needed to reverse course.
But did I learn my lesson? Not quite.
I started marketing my book at the height of the Great Recession, when agents and publishers only wanted to accept sure bets. My story, with a suicidal protagonist, was anything but certain. I always knew that. I wrote the book because I believed in the characters and the conflict. I still do. However, after another few years, my writing still isn’t finding recognition, and the future employment concern crept up again.
Attempting a change
For which other jobs was I qualified? Middle management, for sure. Not very exciting, though.
The idea that kept returning was teaching writing courses. My MFA could allow me to get some extra cash helping others learn the craft at the university level, but without formal teaching experience and zero published novels to date, that would be a problem. So, I started an MA program in literature to work as a teaching assistant.
Immediately, my writing output completely stopped in order to manage all the homework my classes required. I was not a happy writer. At. All.
So, for various reasons, I jumped off that train before it wrecked.
On this second lengthy trip back to the beginning, I confirmed more than ever that I was made to write and nothing else. I love learning and I love education, but I’m not an academic. I understood the concepts being taught, but their application was the complete opposite to how a writer constructs a novel.
Critical theory is all about reading and interpretation, not creation. Some argue that such knowledge will help a writer open doors to understanding story and structure. I can’t completely disagree with that. Our modern reading experience is permeated with such ideas of close reading as established by New Criticism and form as content from Structuralism—despite the fact that only their influence and not their practices are felt today.
On the flip side, academics cannot argue with how I returned to drafting my second book, and how I crafted wonderful scenes that have nothing to do with literary theory.
I haven’t closed the door to teaching in the future; I still enjoy training students at my current job. The second master’s just wasn’t the right path.
While the future employment question remains unanswered, the only thing I know for certain right now is that I need and want to write. Working to become a professional novelist is difficult, but since when has anything worthwhile been easy? I won’t be satisfied unless I know that I put 100% of myself behind making this career happen.
So, as Lorrie Moore instructs, I tried to be something, anything, other than a writer. It’s just not for me.