Those of you who read kniedzw‘s journal have already heard the news, but for the rest of you: my husband’s employer filed for bankruptcy today, putting him out of a job.
This brings into the open something I’ve been considering for a good year, maybe more. Some of you have heard me talk about it, but I haven’t said anything publicly because, well, public = real. (LJ = real, apparently.) But forming an agreement with my anthropology adviser constitutes pretty real, I’d say, so I might as well bite the bullet and type the words.
I’m leaving graduate school.
Yeah. Um. I have a whole lot to say on this topic, but to spare people’s friends-lists, I’m putting it behind a cut.
The plan, originally, was this: go to graduate school, keep writing, become an academic and professional writer. It works for a lot of people, and I had every expectation it would work for me. But the plan started to go awry — in a good way — when I sold my first two novels. Doppelganger came out two years ago this month, which happens to be right when I finished my coursework; in other words, writing moved from “hobby” to “job” right when I stopped having daily engagement with academic matters. I entered the zone that depends the most on self-motivation just as half my attention shifted elsewhere.
This could have been okay. I’m extremely good at self-motivation, as the five novels I wrote during four years at Harvard attest. Except . . . it didn’t happen. For two years now I’ve needed to get my ass in gear and arrange for my qualifying exams so I can start writing my dissertation, and I just kept not doing it. Partly because of administrative crap — if there’s one hurdle I’m bad at making myself jump, that would be it. Partly because, well, if it came down to a question of spending my time and energy on fiction or on scholarship, fiction kept winning out.
I like teaching. I like research. I would like being a professor. It started to occur to me, though, that writing novels in my summers off was a bad road to academic success, since of course you’re also expected to spend those summers working on scholarly publications that will advance you in your department. And between me and the nice tenured life stood some unknown number of years spent slaving away in crappy entry-level positions, my time and energy eaten up by teaching four courses the higher-ups in the department don’t want to bother with. (Not to mention the job hunt I’d have to go through to get there in the first place.) In other words, I probably wouldn’t have as much time to spend on fiction as I liked to believe. So I started to wonder if going into academia was really the right choice.
Then, this past fall, the next question occurs to me: if I’m not planning on becoming a professor, then what reason other than egotism (Dr. Neuenschwander!) is there for finishing my Ph.D.?
The precipitant for that choice was the continuation of the Onyx Court series. Y’see, at the beginning of March last year, my plan was to spend my summer reading for my exams (and writing whatever novel I was doing next), and then take the exams in the fall. At the end of March, I knew “whatever novel I was doing next” was Midnight Never Come, which required an amount of research approximately comparable to those exams. No way could I do both at once. So now it’s the fall, and I’m planning to do the reading in the winter and spring . . . and I go and pitch the Victorian book to Orbit. With the intention of doing more.
I stopped and thought, before I did that. You realize you’re putting yourself in a position to write a research-intensive novel every year for the next three or four years? Just when do you think you’re going to do your exams and dissertation?
(Not to mention that I really really wanted to write that YA idea I had. Also in the winter and spring. My superhuman college days when I could have done both that and the exam-reading appear to have been left behind in college.)
Then I started doing the math.
Entry-level academic positions pay decently by my low standards, but I’m not there yet, am I? I’m teaching at Collins, which is wonderful but pays crap. (And I have to apply for a new teaching position every semester.) I talked with my agent about the advances she generally gets for her YA authors, and I looked at the prospect of more Onyx Court books, and I calculated that if I dropped grad school and focused on those things instead, I would genuinely have a larger and more stable income than I do right now. Those, along with health insurance, are usually the two big issues a writer has to answer if they’re thinking about going full-time — and I don’t get health insurance through this job. I get it through kniedzw, though obviously we’re having some issues with that right now.
I can project that out about three years or so, assuming my agent is able to sell the YA (she’s shopping it around right now) and Orbit wants more Onyx Court books (there’s every evidence that they do).
Three years is a pretty good cushion, if one is contemplating a jump.
And if I’m not in graduate school, Kyle and I can move to a city where he has actual job prospects — that will pay more than he was getting here.
So this is the official decision: I’m going to jump through the necessary administrative hoops and do whatever thesis/project/whatever work they’re willing to accept, and leave graduate school with a master’s in anthropology and folklore.
What we don’t have yet is a timetable. May 6th, I fly to London, and then Kyle and I go on the cruise and we don’t get home until May 30th. July 10th, I have an appointment for lasik surgery here in town. October 1st, I have one of those research-intensive novels due. I have plans for a Midnight Never Come book launch at Pandemonium in Boston, and a con in Oklahoma at the end of July. Somewhere in there, I will finish my master’s. In the meantime, there’s the question of work for Kyle. I don’t know what we’ll be doing about that, and so I don’t know when we’ll be leaving.
But leaving will happen. It’s the Great Bloomington Exodus: like a dandelion full of gamers, we’re poofing out into the wild blue yonder, scattering our seeds across the U.S. For us, it seems it will be a little sooner than anticipated.