Hello From the Other Side

It’s been 606 days since my last post on here.  That seems like a long time, written out like that.  To me, however, the time has flown by, as it is said to do when you’re having fun.  And I have most certainly had fun.

Since that last post, I got engaged.  I got married.  We bought a house.  We began remodeling the house.  I got a new job as a Human Resources Manager for a large, well-known company.  I took a short vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a longer one to Florida.  I saw the ocean for the first time.  I also finished graduate school with a 4.0 GPA.  I graduated this past Saturday.

For over four years, I have been virtually non-existent on this site and most social media.  All the people I used to tweet, all the ones who used to like my Facebook posts, and even the few that double-tapped my Instagram posts probably haven’t missed me as one lost voice in the internet chorus is hardly noticeable.  However, the hardest thing for me wasn’t giving up those outlets in which I found a sense of community that is so often lacking in my small town.  The hardest thing for me was giving up a budding writing career just as I was starting to build some momentum.

Prior to making my decision to go back to school, I spent several years learning how the publishing industry worked and dipping my toe in.  I placed a few stories (see the bibliography section for my complete publication history) and I really felt that I was nearing a breakthrough.  I had received some very nice, personalized feedback from a few agents who, while unable to represent me for perfectly valid reasons, recognized there was talent in my storytelling.  With a few more short story sales and a slightly better novel, I thought I was sure to find an agent that would help me achieve my lifelong dream of publication.

Things sometimes don’t work out the way we plan, though.  Instead of continuing down the uncertain path toward being a novelist, I turned off that path and did something that I had been putting off for fifteen years.  I enrolled in school to complete my Bachelor’s degree, changing my major from Psychology to Management, where I already had extensive experience having worked in retail management since I was barely out of high school.  A lot of bad things happened to me in the four years that followed, but many good things, including those listed in the opening paragraph, also happened, culminating in my graduation with my MBA four days ago.

One question that has been asked a few times is why I put my writing career on hold for four years, just as I was beginning to pick up steam.  Why, with a few publications under my belt and the possibility of more ahead, did I make the decision to stop writing fiction and get a damnable practical degree that would in no way enhance my chances of reaching my goal of being a full-time author?  Why didn’t I pursue an MFA instead, so I could still be doing something I love?  Didn’t I have faith in my ability as an author or was the MBA a backup plan for my inevitable failure?

These questions all ask the same thing, but they have a variety of different answers.  I went back to school for my MBA because, like many people, I can love more than one thing.  I do adore the craft of telling stories and the thrill of reading acceptance letters.  I love the clicking of the keys of my laptop as I place characters that I know more intimately than my closest friends in all manner of difficult situations.  I love the palpable hope that bleeds into every query letter and short story submission, as though each one was sealed with a kiss.  However, I also really love what I do in my day job.  I enjoy the constant variety of obstacles and the eternal ambiguity that proves there are far more than fifty shades of gray.  I love the interactions that I have with my employees, my applicants, and my peers, who have been more than welcoming in this relatively new job I now hold.  I also love the stability and pride that comes from being a qualified professional in my field and working for a solid company that appreciates my work.

I have the same aspirations of publication now that I had before I logged off here and logged in to my college classwork.  Nothing has changed in that regard.  What has changed is that, by completing my MBA, I have been able to secure a day job that will enable me to finally set aside swing shifts and uncertainty I faced before.  An MFA may have served to make me a better writer in many ways, but nothing could have freed my mind to make stories more effectively than finally having the ability to do something else I love and be paid well for it.

I applaud those, some of whom I count as friends, who do take the MFA route in hopes that it will lead them to a more lucrative place in the world of publishing.  For me, though, that simply wasn’t the right choice.  Regardless of whether I’ll ever have the freedom to write full-time, I have placed myself in a position where I can support my family, my hobbies, and my passions all while doing something that I am, thus far, quite good at doing.  To me, there is no greater joy than to have a mind clear of self-doubt and worry and that is what finishing my MBA has done for me.  Even if I utterly fail at being an author (which I won’t), I not only have a Plan B, I have the best Plan B I could possible have for me.

Not that returning to fiction doesn’t cause some degree of apprehension.  It does.  I don’t feel as connected to the pulse of publishing as I once did and I’ll have to find that again to really feel comfortable submitting my work.  After four years of writing essays on topics such as employee engagement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I have no idea what kind of fiction I’ll produce at first.  I attempted the beginning of a new short story last night and the results, to be kind, were atrocious.  Still, I know I’ll find the rhythm again and I’ll be ready to submit again soon.  I plan to spend the next few weeks going through the abandoned projects I had in progress when I started back to school and see if any of them pique my interest enough for me to pick them up where I left off.  If none of them do, I’ll keep putting words down until they start to sound like me again.

The internet is full of advice for writers.  Everything from “write what you know” to “do what you love” float around on inspirational memes and NaNoWriMo posts on a minute-by-minute basis.  My advice, however, would be this: Do something that allows you to do what you love.  It’s even better when you love that something, too.  That’s how it is in my case, now.  Writing is no longer an escape from my disappointing life and relationships.  Now, it’s just another thing I love, just like so many other parts of my life now.  Anything I write going forward, published or not, will be a result of that love.  Love of my job, love of my writing, and love of my life.  Finally, for the first time in my life, they are all one in the same.

 

 

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
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