Friday, February 26, 2010

On Saying No

I find it quite hard to.

In particular, I find it a constant struggle to turn down or step away from offers of employment. Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Look at the unemployment situation out there! Why would anyone turn down work, especially when it's teaching work at the college level? At the best of times these jobs are hard to get. And now that's even more so. When I accepted the Associate Professor job at Cal State Fresno a few years back it was in an attempt to take a bite of that security pie.

Problem was, my family wasn't happy in Fresno. They wanted back to our house in the woods in Western Massachusetts. It was hard for me to leave the job for a variety of reasons, but when I did it was with plans to return to a near-fulltime writing life. That's what I headed toward in late June...

But by late July I'd accepted offers that meant I was doing as much teaching work as before. (I was even getting less money for it - though we were back in our chosen home, so that counts for a lot.) Instead of making daily progress on Acacia 3 I was only nibbling at it, and spending the bulk of my work life reading, critiquing, planning lectures, grading, etc. Don't get me wrong. Teaching is very good work. In particular, I enjoy the teaching I do for the Stonecoast MFA Program. That could easily be part of my life for a long time. Problem is that I'd added other stuff to that and allowed it become the center of my work life, instead of a just a component of it. How'd that happen?

Several things. There's the old notion that I still have to build my resume, get more credentials, more respectability. There's the dire economy. There are fears about the future of publishing. There's the understanding that as a writer I have very little control over my publishing prospects. (So, so much of it is out of the writer's hands. This is something I know aspiring writers don't understand.) There's the quantifiable numbers on a contract, compared to the ever changing mystery of royalty statements. There's the lingering desire to do right by my mother. As much as she supported my writing, she herself leaned toward steady, dependable employment. There are a lot reasons. I can see and understand how it happened, and I can recognize the virtues of it.

Thing is, I didn't become a writer to secure a teaching job. I became a writer to write and to be read by an audience of readers. The thing is... the longer one doesn't write, the more doubt creeps in that one ever will write again. That's not acceptable.

So I recently said no to a new offer of employment. No. It means I'm scaling back the teaching a bit, and hopefully pushing forward on the writing throttle. (By the way Stonecoasters, this changes nothing about my relationship with the Stonecoast MFA Program. That I'm quite happy with.)

Do you approve?



Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

Yes, in that you're keeping a balance. One must balance goals with responsibilities. I work full time. I'd *love* to write full time but I don't have a finished manuscript. Now, it may not be such a problem if I decided to stay single, live in a box and eat Ramen until I *made it big* in publishing industry.

But instead I decided to get married, and while my wife supports my goals, I also owe her my best too.

So for me, I find I have to work on my manuscript in my free time, while being a good husband/provider full time.

But that's the choice I made. And that's totally okay, because that's how my life balances for me. I'm taking a slow approach.

So you gotta ask yourself: does this decision keep my life balanced in the way that I want/need it to be?

Good luck, we as fans are behind you regardless. ;)

8:03 PM  
Blogger Greyweather said...

Do I approve of the notion that you are committed to finishing the Acacia trilogy and that you plan to continue writing?

Absolutely. I love your work and the notion of more of it fills me with unqualified joy.

Do I approve of how you've chosen to manage your career?

I can't say that I feel I have any right to judge that decision. Neil Gaiman expressed my attitude on the matter best when he said, "For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don't really care what it takes to produce that."

9:24 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

You know, it's funny...when I first started writing, I was all artsy about it. I always said I'd never do things like allow the movie rights to one of my books to be sold. Or, in Rowling fashion, I'd ensure that I maintained enough control over the process to maintain my original vision, if not my original story verbatim. I became even more against the idea of selling the rights when I saw movies like Eragon (which I think you've mentioned before), wherein Hollywood stripped away everything even remotely resembling a story. Even recently, I saw the Percy Jackson movie. I don't know if you've read the books, but Chris Columbus, the scriptwriters, the entire team stripped away the quirky, angsty, smartass Percy character and replaced him with a dead-behind-the-eyes Jonas brother wanna-be. Um...I digress..
The point is, the more I read comments from authors such as you, David, the more I realized that I'd do anything--ANYTHING--to ensure that I can devote as much time to my writing as possible. If that meant selling off movie rights to get a few more bucks to put away, then so be it.
The point is, you have to manage both your writing and your family. All I can say is I wish you the best, but remember, for every one of us who is devoted to you and your work, we know that you are one million times more devoted to your story. Hell, I'm sure it's like another child to you. But I'd rather wait ten years to read the next book in any series by an author I love than to hear that the author strained himself financially to finish it. So whatever you do, good luck, and we'll all support you.
PS That kinda sounds like I'm saying you made a bad choice by not taking the job. I'm not. Obviously you know how important it is to leave enough of time to focus on your passions, because let's face it, if you didn't, you'd go crazy. I know I would.

1:05 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I saw Percy Jackson yesterday. My kids tore it up. They spent most of last night and good bit of this morning citing differences with the books and being dumbfounded by the filmmaker's decisions.

It reminded me a bit of when I looked at the screenplay for Acacia. Lots of cuts, of course, but also lots of additions of stuff that had me scratching my head a bit. But... I'd still have been overjoyed if they had gone forward with it. I might later have had regrets, but the cash from that would have funded several years worth of writing time. That's worth so much in so many ways.

10:10 AM  

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