I started writing short stories and poetry in high school, then shifted to non-fiction throughout college and graduate school, culminating in a doctoral dissertation and several published academic articles. Throughout my career as a history professor I wrote lectures, reports, memo’s, meeting minutes, letters of recommendation and evaluation, and I wrote, and rewrote a historical mystery. But for most of my adult life I have referred to myself as a historian who wanted to write fiction. Then a year ago I rewrote Maids of Misfortune for the last time and finally published it. Yet if you read my bio on my blog and social media profile pages, I keep describing my self as a “semi-retired history professor,” who has just published a book. While this is strictly true, since I have been teaching one class a semester since I retired three and a half years ago, I can’t help but notice I kept putting the teaching first, the writing second, even when I was primarily writing about my experiences as an author, not as a teacher.
Then, when I was having lunch this week with a recently retired colleague who is also a writer, I realized that in life I was doing the same thing. I was putting my teaching before my writing. There I was complaining to him about how hard it was for me to find the time to do sustained writing, how slowly my second novel is coming, how difficult it was for me to figure out how to balance marketing my first book and writing the second. And he asked a simple question. How long was I planning to continue to teach?
Epiphany time. Because I realized my answer was all about why I thought I ought to continue teaching (until a friend retired, until this batch of students had completed my 2 semester course, until I was making enough money with my writing to replace the money I would lose if I stopped teaching, blah, blah, blah) not about wanting to teach. My entire teaching career I have prided myself in my love of teaching. I am good at it, I have made a difference with students; and, except for the grading, I have always enjoyed it. But I now admitted to myself that I am enjoying the writing more than I was enjoying teaching. I had even just given a talk entitled “My Second Career,” but I wasn’t letting the first one go!
If I was really committed to the idea that my second career was to be a writer, why wasn’t I putting the writing first? I had already figured out that if I finished my second book and published it by next fall, and it sold as much as my first, that I would now be making as much as I would teaching. But of course I wasn’t going to get that second book out by next fall if I spent the rest of the winter and spring teaching. The answer was so simple. I marched into work the next day (albeit after a sleepless night) and submitted my letter of resignation. After thirty-four years teaching in some capacity, at the end of this semester, I will be done.
With a very deep breath and an enormous feeling of glee, I announced to the world and to myself that I am a writer. Period.