Starting Over

I’ve always been a pantser. Sort of, anyway. I used to be able to sit down and pick up where I’d left off the day before, confident that my characters would guide me down exactly the right path. (Sometimes, they detoured down Really Bad Paths, though, and I’d have to turn them around.) My writing is a little different today, but I still need to “go with the flow.”

The sad thing is, I’ve been a pantser in my life as well. Go with the flow. No plans. Do this. Do that. Happy to not have a 9-5 job and still be able to support myself and my 13 cats and 6 horses.

And that’s coming back to bite me in the butt.

Because I am about to become a cliche.

I’m almost forty. My job has evaporated before my eyes and I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have roughly a month to locate Something Else To Do. I do have an emergency fund – thank you, Suze Orman! – but it’s also pretty much my life savings because my life hadn’t been about fiscal responsibility until recently.

I teach history. And Anthropology. And Geography. And American Government. At least, I used to. I used to be the most valued instructor at my school. The one you could always trust to take as many classes on as possible, to avoid having to go out and find someone else to do them. The go-to person. Now? Now I’m a used Kleenex. Not the kind you use to wipe make-up off your face, either, or the kind you use to dab at your eyes at a wedding. No. That would be okay. I’m the one full of green slime that you hold with two fingers as you drop it into the nearest trash can.

It’s not my fault, actually. It’s the fault of the Affordable Health Care Act, and colleges that are too cheap to hire more full-time instructors and/or give health insurance to at least a few valuable adjuncts. No one is complaining about my teaching. It’s circumstances.

Doesn’t matter. It still sucks.

So I’m the cliche. In middle age – God, I can’t believe I’m even writing that about myself! – I have to totally restart my life from scratch. I have a degree in history, which makes me one of the most unemployable people on earth, second only to philosophy majors (and French literature majors, so maybe I’m at #3).

And the thing is . . . I have no idea what to do. I did a year ago. Two years ago. I dreamed of what I wanted to do. Write novels. Move to England. (If anyone knows how to make a living by just living in England, let me know!) I had a lot of ideas, but now . . . now they all seem very hollow and idealistic and unrealistic. Buy and restore houses. Write novels. Become a writing coach or a copy editor.

Now? Well, here’s my list.

  1. Win the lottery.
  2. Um . . .
  3.  ???
  4.  ???

How DO you reinvent your life? I have no idea. I’ve spent the past fifteen years building the life I have now. Besides explaining the rise of Hitler, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the function of the medieval Catholic Church, and the events leading up to both the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, I don’t have many job skills. Besides creating online courses that engage students and make them start to think about things they’ve heretofore avoided thinking about, like the ozone layer and other cultures and pollution and food distribution, I don’t have a lot to put on a resume.

But at the OWFI conference last weekend, I talked to two women who were once in my current position, and instead of rolling over and dying (which, I’ll be honest, has crossed my mind more than a few times in the last few weeks), they decided to pursue their passion – writing. One woman, Callie, said she quit her job at noon, walked home and told her husband, “I’m going to be a writer.” Four years later, she was making double his annual salary, just by writing romance novels for a smaller press. She even has a full-time assistant. An assistant! Another just retired from teaching, and is currently pursuing a career in writing – yes, again, category romance.

And then there’s author and presenter Mel Odom, who has written – get this – more than 140 published books, and that’s not counting his e-book only titles. Seriously.

The one thing Mel and Callie had in common was this:  they go with boiler-plate novels. Tropes. Category fiction.

YES, I hear you screaming in agony. Trust me, I understand! But let me make their point before you decide to put out your eyes so you don’t have to read any more. Their argument is this:  yes, it’s a trope. Yes, each book is a boiler-plate. Yes, every book is essentially the same. But – and let me make this clear – this is what readers of category romance, et. al., want. They know how the book will end when they pick it up. That’s WHY they picked it up.

I know, I know. I adore my lovely rambling urban fantasies, and my wonderful, snarky, smart-aleck young adult. I’m not giving them up for anything.

But – I’m thinking of giving it a go.

If it works, great. If it doesn’t – hey, at least I tried something new. And maybe trying this will help my other writing. And if it does work, then I can go from being one kind of cliche to another! 🙂 I totally get that it’s not for everyone – heck, I don’t even know that I can make it work! How do you create an entire novel that revolves around whether a guy and a girl will or won’t get together? I’ve read romance novels. I know how they go, and I still don’t know if I can write them or not.

In my next post, I’ll look at how they broke into this kind of writing, and how it works, and what you can do if you want to try it out, too. For now . . . just keep an open mind?

2 thoughts on “Starting Over

  1. Wow! You have a lot of changes ahead. I’m so sorry. I know this is a tough spot and yet there is something enviable about it. You have been pushed out of the nest and now you will find your way. You will learn and grow and change. I have wondered what that would be like. I also teach at a university. The landscape is changing and there is not much security here. So…I have wondered what it would be like to be forced to try something new. Go for a dream. I wish you all the best and I hope your dreams come true. I’m intrigued by your idea of writing romance novels to make a living. Why not? I look forward to your future posts. God bless!

    • Thanks so much for the words of encouragement – it’s been a pretty rough few weeks for me (the blow was made particularly difficult as the college took away a course I had designed, built, and turned into one of their biggest money-makers). I’m hoping the universe will show me what the bleep I’m supposed to do next, and show it to me SOON! 🙂 Our college is undergoing huge changes at all levels, and I’m not sure where – or if – I fit in anymore, even though I literally grew up here . . . Thanks again for the encouragement. I need it! 🙂

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