A couple of realizations and events have started me thinking about a possible change of life direction. It’s not a huge shift… really just a subtle shift that I’ve wanted to try for a while.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved to read and write. In junior and senior high school, I was always the student winning the writing prizes at my school and in my local area. I had short stories published in student literary newspapers, and even read one of them on our local NPR station. In college I was drawn to a career in academia because of writing (specifically the challenge of academic writing), and I currently spend most of my time at work writing or reviewing others’ written work. I blog when I have the free time (obviously!). In sum, I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve been reasonably good at it for quite some time.
I still love to write, but my enthusiasm for academic writing has slowly waned over the years, starting in grad school. As a grad student, it depressed and bothered me that I could feel a little bit of creativity disappear for every professional writing skill I mastered. But, one of the major points of graduate training is to learn the formula for one’s chosen discipline, and once a student masters that particular recipe for writing, they are able to produce bland academic texts. Academic writing is formulaic (i.e., every article follows the same general format, and I even use the same phrases over and over again in all of my publications). I mastered my two grad advisors’ shared recipe so well that when the three of us write together, we can no longer tell who produced any particular passages of text. There’s very little room for true creativity; peer reviewers will justifiably reject articles that deviate from the accepted writing formula. I’ve done this myself as a reviewer on multiple occasions. Overall, as I’ve become more competent with accumulated experience, academic writing has become less challenging. I enjoy it less because I’m able to do it better, but doing academic writing well means having zero imagination. This kills me.
For years I’ve wanted to write a novel. I jotted down lots of ideas for storylines during my grad school days, and have kept notes on others that have come to mind since then. I just have never had the time to follow through on any of my ideas. All of my time has always been dedicated to getting ahead at work, which has meant grinding out publications as quickly as possible, but I’ve never really felt like I was truly on the right path. It’s almost like I’ve been living in a room painted beige, and even pretending to like it, when I knew I wanted the walls to be bright red.
I’m thrilled that I now feel situated to paint at least half of the room red. In fact, I think the best, healthiest thing for me it to start doing this as soon as possible.
Here’s why: A couple of months ago I turned in my first semester binder for evaluation. This binder included a written report of my progress in teaching, research and scholarship, as well as my teaching evaluations, published articles, documentation of service, and so forth. This is how the department chair and various committees and “higher ups” make determinations about tenure, promotions, raises, and firings. I’ve now received my feedback on my first semester’s progress at my new institution, and it was unanimously excellent. I am exactly where I should be for teaching and service at this point, and I’m performing far above where I need to be for research productivity (in fact, I produced about 50% more in one semester than most of my colleagues produced during a full academic year). After 10+ years running full-speed like a hamster in a wheel, I can finally relax a little bit. Quite simply, I don’t have to keep working as hard as I’ve been working in order to do well enough at my institution. I can scale back my research, do more of my teaching & service during the normal school day (time I usually spend on research), and thus have my evenings and weekends free for doing things I really want to do.
What I really want to do is write something fun. I’m good at it and enjoy it. I deserve it. Even if it doesn’t ‘go anywhere,’ it will be worth it to me to feel like my creative self again.
These last few months I’ve been drained, and it’s been making me miserable. I’ve been on spring break this past week and have been too tired to even put away the clean laundry that’s been piling up for over 2 months. I’m just too dead. The highlight of my week was reading the entire Twilight series from start to finish (my new favorite; Melissa, thanks for recommending it to me!). But, reading Stephenie Meyer’s emotionally-charged writing and feeling so excited about it has motivated me to start thinking toward my other goals, which really *are* compatible with my professional direction. I hope that this will have a carry-over effect: If I’m happier in my free time, then maybe the beige walls of academia will be even more tolerable.
A part of me is terrified… so many worries. What if this is just an “ADD moment” of impulsive decision-making? Can I really balance it all without going crazy? Am I just trying to escape a slightly imperfect career fit? What if I’m truly unable to be creative now that my I’m such a practiced academic writer? What if I end up being the cliched academic who tries to turn novelist and fails enormously? What if I start working on this story idea and then it all falls apart? What if I only have the one story in me?
Perhaps worst of all, what if I never try and always regret it?
I think it’s finally time to take the plunge. As I stand at the end of the springboard and stare down into the pool below, I couldn’t be happier that I’m about to jump…