The unwinnable fight, or a long response to “How are you?”

OF cover

The other side of my life

good teacher

A first-day-of-school gift










Dear E:

You’re probably going to be sorry you asked how I am, but since I know you have an empathetic heart, I’m going to tell you. Because I took these photos within 48 hours of each other, I’ve been thinking about these sides of my life. And they consume about 75% of the answer to a question like “how are you?”

Before I start, let’s acknowledge my privilege: I can write this post because I’m white (more white people are published than people of color, as we know), I’m employed, and I’m educated.  Also acknowledged: many people would love to have my problem.  Of all the kinds of battles in the world, this one is a blessing of a fight. People may also say this post is just whining, or me feeling sorry for myself.  OK.  But lots of us are in this fight, and since I need to start blogging again, I might as well keep it real.  For better or worse.

Today starts the second week of my semester. As you know, I teach at a community and tech college.  The photo on the left was a gift from a student’s daughter last week–she came with her mom to class, and made it with the markers I shared with her. A total honor from a sweet girl.

You know I love teaching, and I teach at a place where I know I make a difference.  I LOVE my students–love the variety of their life experiences, love helping them be more confident.  I love using words, stories, writing, and speaking to help people make better lives for themselves. Teaching has perks, too–summers and flexible schedules–plus I have smart, interesting, funny co-workers.  What’s not to enjoy? It’s *tons* of work, but a good gig.

Up above on the right, there’s the ARC of Original Fake (equal credit to the book’s amazing illustrator, E. Eero Johnson). It comes out in April, but the galley arrived last week.  SO EXCITING. This week I should be working on publicity, and then I should put down some words on my WIP, which is intense and hard (the story, not just the writing).  It’s going to challenge me in ways I don’t even know yet, but I’m 45 pages gone and in love.  Completely.

And herein lies my unwinnable fight, E.

I spend a lot of time on students because they’re how I make my living.  But focusing on teaching takes away from what I want to be doing, which is writing more books. But I can’t abandon my students, and I can’t suck as a teacher.  I couldn’t respect myself if I did that.

But then my writing suffers, because it’s done in crevices of time, and some days all my creativity goes into my classroom, so there’s none left when I start the second shift (after supper/chatting with my family, and sometimes the second shift is taken up with school work). And sometimes it means there are errors and stupid mistakes, like a HUGE stupid mistake my editor found in June.  Had I not been hurrying to hit her deadline in April, I would have caught the flub.  But her deadlines and school deadlines collided, so I didn’t read my work as closely as I should have. And then I was super embarrassed when she found my plot hole. I’m sure writers with full-time jobs cause all editors to use many curse words. : (

I want SO MUCH to get better at writing. But it’s a challenge to get better when you don’t have sustained time to practice. And I don’t, because the majority of my life is school.

The money is another battle, of course (one all writers know).  Since I started getting paid for my writing in 2008, I’ve made *slightly more than half of one year’s salary*–in *7 years*, *over the course of 5 books* (3 YA novels, 2 nonfiction YAs).  That’s a big “nope” to quitting the day job.

Plus, no matter how good our stories are, if nobody buys them, we’re cut loose.  If I had more time, I’d be a better writer (and marketer), and better writers/marketers sell more books and have more chances of getting new contracts.

How do I find a way to do less homework and more writing without short-changing my students, E?  And if I short my students and write, my work will improve, but my teaching will suffer. I make my money teaching, so I owe my students my best.  But what do I owe my editor? My best, of course.

I also want to do right by me.  I need less stress in my life, and I’d like to get rid of the guilt I feel when I choose one side over the other.  I’d even like to feel OK about taking a break.  And I want to do right by my family. This post is too long already, or I’d tell you about that guilt, too.  It’s enormous. The last time I cried about my family?  This morning.

Many, many writers with day jobs (especially writer-teachers) fight this same battle.  Tons of us look at full-time writers and think, “damn, I want that life.”  Then we look at our students/coworkers and say, “but I love you too!” And the love on both sides of the fight sinks its claws into our hearts and we hurt and feel like assholes, no matter which job we’re doing, because we’re not doing the other one.

I’ll feel less panicked at some point–I’m sure of it–but right now, I’m a paralyzed mess of anxious mush.  That’s how I am. It’s shaping up to be the most conflicted school year yet (which I thought was last year, but whoops, wrong again). Let me say it again: it’s a great blessing to have this fight.  But it’s still an unwinnable battle.

I know you’re out there cheering for me, even when I screw up.  I know you’ll remind me I don’t have to be perfect all the time–or even some of the time.

Sending you and yours a heap of love, E. Thanks for being you, and for asking. Sorry if this was more than you bargained for.


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