Right about now, minus one year, I dropped out of graduate school. If I’d stayed, and stayed on track, I’d be graduating soon, maybe even this weekend. I’m trying to decide if I have regrets. I sort of think the fact that I’d rather go drink a glass of wine and watch Doctor Who then sit with this feeling means that I do, at least a few.
Ostensibly, I dropped out of school to become a writer. Really, I quit because it was increasingly clear to me that I wasn’t healthy enough to be the person on the professional side of the counseling relationship. If it hadn’t been such an incredibly difficult year, filled with loss and pain, I think I would have managed, but in the long run, I don’t think it would have been good for me. The more into it I got, the more I felt like I was wearing a mask and that the mask was part of the job description.
I’m not sure being a writer is going to work out for me either, though. I know how to earn a living as a writer: write fast, write what you think people want to read, write and let go. Write to sell, basically, and produce as much as possible as quickly as possible. It’s basic math. Instead I’ve spent the past year kicking around A Gift of Time, writing and revising and thinking and revising some more and thinking some more. There is no possible way to become a successful writer if I spend a year working on one project and at the end of the year toss everything and start over. (Oh, by the way, I started Time over again this week. Ha. Back to the beginning.)
On the other hand, I felt really pleased to be starting Time over. Thought — well, I had promised to deliver Thought by June 2012 and so I did. And I love parts of it, just the way I love parts of Time. But I also think that it’s not nearly as good a book as I’m capable of. I learned a lot writing it. I worked on action scenes and pace, movement from place to place, descriptions, dramatic tension. But it was never all that clear whose story it was: Dillon’s or Sylvie’s or Lucas’s. I think Lucas is a better character in my head than he is on the page, and I wish I’d had sections in his POV to get him down better. Honestly, Lucas is probably the truly most important character — he’s the one who has the clearest goals — and he’s not nearly as good as he ought to be. The ending should have been his ending, as much as Dillon’s and Sylvie’s and it just wasn’t.
I could persevere with Time. I’ve been doing that for six months. I’m actually at 35,000 words, which is a solid chunk of book. And if I was going to earn a living as a writer, that’s probably what I ought to do: write, write, write, finish it off, accept the fact that it’s not as good as it could be, and move on. But I just can’t do it. I’d rather not earn my living as a writer, but love what I’m writing. Love and be proud of. I want to someday re-read Time and think, ‘oh, I amuse myself’ with a cheerful glow of contentment, the way I do when I re-read some of my best fanfics. That means starting over. That means being profoundly impractical about the hour-per-product investment of time.
I don’t know that dropping out of graduate school was impractical — maybe not nearly as impractical as quitting my editing job was in the first place. But a year later, I don’t seem to have figured out anything at all about my life and how I intend to make it work. Except maybe that doing work that I’m proud of and that I love is more important to me than my long-term retirement planning? Which is a nice thought, of course, but it’s not going to pay the mortgage when I run out of savings.
Meanwhile…back to Time. The nicest thing about starting over is that after a year with these characters, I really know them. I spent six months fighting Natalya’s propensity to be sarcastic and now I’ve given up. She’s the kind of sarcastic person who can usually keep her mouth shut, which is why Akira thinks she’s so serene and sweet, but Akira doesn’t know her insides the way I do.