Is this just a minor success, or a real turning point in my life?
February 5, 2013 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I just published an indie sci-fi novel and it's kicking serious ass on Amazon. I have also just been offered a career assignment that may or may not be a big leg up in teaching, but it would eat up a lot of my writing time. I'm not sure how dedicated I am to teaching anymore. Am I letting short-term success run away with me? I'll try to keep the special snowflakes short.

I always wanted to be a writer, even since I was in my teens (I'm 38 now). Even back then, I knew it was the sort of thing where I'd need a regular job on the side.

I got my teaching credential in 2003, worked a year in an alternative school, and have been a sub ever since. Breaking into this biz just sucks. I've repeatedly thought I have been "hired," only to have the rug pulled out from under me through no fault of my own. Sometimes this has happened after I've pulled off stuff in the classroom that probably qualify me for a cape and a secret identity... but I'm still subbing. I have repeatedly felt used and unappreciated.

Some days subbing is fun. A lot of the time it's kind of a drag. Once upon a time, I couldn't believe they actually paid me to do a job this cool. I haven't felt that way in a couple of years.

It also doesn't help that the best friend I've made through work (the only genuine friendship, to be honest), a woman whose desk couldn't hold all of her teaching awards, died of cancer after a two-year battle this summer.

Subbing does, however, offer me time to write. I don't have to plan lessons or grade papers, which consumes insane time and energy. I got serious about writing a couple years ago and self-pubbed an urban fantasy book (with enough smutty fun that I couldn't put my real name on it), and it has sold quite well by self-pub standards. It made up for not having any work during the summer for two years in a row.

A couple weeks ago, I self-pubbed the (not erotic) sci-fi novel I've been meaning to write for the last, oh, fifteen years or more. I'm looking at Amazon's Kindle Sci-Fi page right now and there it is sitting at #4 on their Top 100 list. I have more books in me. I'm halfway done with a sequel to that first urban fantasy book. The new book made me more money over last weekend than I could possibly make as a sub if I worked every day this month; given my already low pay, that's not as much as it might sound, but in terms of my personal benchmarks and standards it's huge.

So last night, I got word that my favorite high school is looking at me for a long-term sub job. I haven't gotten to talk to a live person about it yet, but I believe I know the position in question and it'd be a history job (my own field, which I hardly ever get to teach) taking over for a much-loved teacher who died this year. (Not my good friend who also died... but at the very same school.) I should note: this position should've been filled a month ago, and either they're only now getting to it or I'm a fall-back after others have screwed it up.

I'm torn on what I want to do if it's something that'll be a regular spot for the rest of the school year. There's an outside chance that it'll lead to a permanent position, but I've had Lucy pull the football away from me so many times that I'm not willing to kick at it anymore. Long-term subbing is practical, it puts me at a school that I genuinely like, where the kids largely know me and very few of them treat me badly... but, yeah. The last time I took a long term in this position I got screwed by HR so badly over pay that I had to get the union and the building administration to intervene on my behalf.

Lucy. Football.

What it really feels like is that the super-attractive woman at the party has finally taken a shine to me now that I've started ignoring her. On the one hand, that non-approach has often gotten me phone numbers or dates. On the other hand, I've usually found that she just wasn't that interesting after all. I've got that same feeling in my stomach now.

Do I just keep subbing and writing? Do I go for the long-term spot? Am I genuinely burnt out as a teacher, or is this just because I miss my friend?
posted by scaryblackdeath to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is what might happen: keep subbing to get the steady income (do you also get health insurance from this job? an important concern). Keep doing the writing on weekends and nights. Eventually (perhaps in 3-5 years) you will be recognizable in your writing field and the workload will become so much that you'll have to finally leave the subbing gig. That's when you'll be a full-time writer. In my experience, your writing will get good during the years you have a dayjob because you will not be forced to produce in order to feed yourself. You will have creative freedom, which is what a burgeoning writer needs.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [10 favorites]

Do I just keep subbing and writing?

That's what I would do in your situation. Take the long-term sub position if it would leave you with roughly the same amount of time to write, but otherwise, stay the course.

My advice to you is: Your writing is turning a profit. Not only a profit, but a useful profit - it's kept you working throughout the summer and it's made more than a month's worth of your day job's pay in one weekend. This is the dream, or at least the start of the dream, and you are living it.

Do not think of it as either a minor success or the turning point. Thinking in those terms isn't useful in the moment - feel free to call it the turning point years from now, but right now, think of it as the continuation of a gathering of momentum. And keep it up - keep the momentum going.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh this is a perfect question to run through the thinger. "You have a dilemma and we want to help you solve it." I haven't tried it yet, but this question was made for that!
posted by Blake at 9:42 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd take the position. It is just a few months, really. And it will give you a realistic taste of what it is like to be a full time teacher, which will help guide your future decisions. Finally it will give you some financial stability while you watch what happens with your book royalties over a bit longer time-frame. In a month your sales could explode--or drop off to nothing.
posted by LarryC at 9:46 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

You've always wanted to be a writer. Now you are, and it's working out! Do not do ANYTHING to jeopardize the time you can commit to writing, unless forced to by a pressing survival need.

You're paying the bills with the status quo. Time to chase the dream.
posted by zjacreman at 9:49 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd say pursue the long-term History sub gig, but be prepared for the football to get yanked away.

If you end up getting the job, great! A teaching job you actually like and want! And you should already have money coming in from your writing, so that'll sweeten things. And it's conceivable that you'll still have time to write, right?

If the football gets pulled away again, no harm, no foul. You're a professional writer now, and, well, it's unfortunate that this situation didn't work to everyone's advantage, but you've got writerly income, and plenty of time to dedicate to getting more of it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

And it will give you a realistic taste of what it is like to be a full time teacher, which will help guide your future decisions.

Not to thread-sit, but this brings up a relevant detail that I didn't include in my entirely-too-wordy explanation. I have had several semester-length assignments in my career and a one-year contract (which didn't get renewed for... well, I never got a real explanation. I wiped out program-killing debts to the school yearbook and turned around three floundering American Lit classes, and then they let me go). So it's not like this would be my first rodeo. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:56 AM on February 5, 2013

Erm. Keep in mind that sales can tank from one book to the next. In my genre, a good rule of thumb is, "Don't quit the day job until you've got seven books of backlist to keep bringing in income." So, I'll vote for taking the long-term sub job, and trying to up your productivity (wordcount-wise) when writing at night and on the weekends.
posted by artemisia at 9:57 AM on February 5, 2013 [13 favorites]

Joyce Carol Oates publishes a book a year and she is a prof at Princeton. Stephen King wrote his earliest books while teaching. It's certainly not easy, and as a writer who teaches I sympathize completely, but I think don't quit.
posted by angrycat at 10:00 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I vote for "do the long-term sub job" and then you'll have some bank while you write your next novel.

Congratulations on your success!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:04 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your references to Lucy and the football make it sound like the long-term teaching job is something you want, and would be disappointed if you didn't get... but the rest of your post makes it sound like you're not all that excited about teaching at the moment.

The long-term sub job is for the rest of the school year, which is only four months, right? What's the downside to taking it? Are you in the middle of a project now that would really suffer if you cut back on your writing time for four months? Will you be upset if the teaching job doesn't turn into more? What happens when the long-term sub job ends -- are you back to subbing, and if so, then is that a status quo you're happy with? It sounds like it is. Even if they offer you a permanent position, isn't turning it down and going back to subbing an option?
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2013

The long-term sub job is for the rest of the school year, which is only four months, right? What's the downside to taking it?

Yeah, definitely this. If your book keeps generating passive income while you also do this teaching job, in four months you'll have enough money to get you through the entire summer with no job at all besides writing. That's HUGE.

(And, if the book DOESN'T keep generating that income... well, then you have a job. Which you'll need.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:32 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you were describing your significant other the way you describe your day job, people would be pointing out that you say two negative things for every one positive thing when you talk about it. You really really don't sound excited about being a full-time teacher, but you also sound scared to give up that safe goal. And of course, you have been trying to reach that goal forever, so it's hard to give up. But do you really want it?

However, having to eat and sleep indoors might mean you need to stay, for a little while, or even take the full-time job, even knowing you don't want it as much as you used to. And there is nothing wrong with that!

But only you can know if you can do that. Maybe you have to stay/take the job. Maybe you could find a better part time job (Kelly temp?) that didn't make you crazy. Maybe you are really close to being employed as a writer full-time. Maybe you will be obscure forever. We don't know any more than you.

Here's a story. My sister-in-law is a talented teacher with ambition. She has been repeatedly frustrated in her attempts to get much done in the public schools. She switched to a private school and it was worse. So she set a deadline for opening her own Montessori school, started working on funding, etc. while still at the private school.

Then last week, the private school thing blew up. She didn't plan on leaving now, but she reached a day when she Could Not Take It anymore. She was terrified, but, she went right out, got some part time work, and started blowing and going on getting her school's funding revved up.

That's the thing about staying in a job that you dislike; you run the risk of just having to walk out one day regardless of how practically you planned. It's happened to me, and it might happen to you. And if it does...oh well. So long as you keep going and trying, that's all you can do.
posted by emjaybee at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a substitute teacher and I am a writer, with less success than you. I know this dilemma, and live it every day.

If I didn't have a partner who was making bank right now, I would take that job, but refuse all further steps up the ladder. But then, I don't want a Real Job.

For me, subbing is great because Hey, No Real Responsibility and I Can Do What I Want.

It depends on you. It depends on how secure your life is right now. It depends on whether or not you want to get a Real Job as a teacher for reals or not.

I don't want back in the school system, so I refuse all additional responsibility. The sub job only exists so that I can Do Other Things.

What do you really want long term? If it's security, sanity, and health insurance, stay with your feet into teaching. If it's freedom you want, then... you know what to do.

Edit: I should add... I have health insurance through other means. If I didn't, I think I'd be trying to get back into teaching.
posted by RedEmma at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Holy crap. So the sub office finally got back to me just now via email. It's not even a job offer. They wanted to clarify that I was not selected for a completely different position that I already knew had been resolved. Science teacher wanted me to team with his student teacher while he was out, figured that'd be fine despite my not being endorsed for science 'cause hey, I'd have a real scientist team-teaching with me as the classroom management guy, but... argh.

Thank you all for the input. Honestly, this is still a window into how I feel about my career, so your answers aren't wasted at all, but this revelation does leave me feeling a bit dorky.

It's also a tiny window into why I'm ready to flip the table on this job I've been doing for seven years now. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2013

Sounds like you've got a good opportunity to start distancing yourself from your identity as "teacher". It's a job, it gives you some money, and if you look at it as only that, I think you'll be a lot less depressed. I mean, really, I salute you for going in and giving 200% despite being repeatedly shit on, but there's gotta come a time when you stop racing up to the football.

On preview, what RedEmma said. You are not your job.
posted by disconnect at 11:02 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm an ex-teacher and a writer (although I haven't felt called to write for quite some time.)

I'm now in a job where I use about 20% of my capacity. I go to work in a cube every day, and if I time it right, I can do most of my work in about 2 hours. Leaving me plenty of time to comment and offer my sage advice to all of y'all here on Ask MeFi.

I'd say, if teaching has run its course, then look for a different day job. One with benefits would be nice.

I'd check the district for an Admin job first, but perhaps Customer Service for the phone company (a job I did while attending Grad School) or some other not so ambitous but decently paying gig. You'll still have plenty of time to write, and the stress is minimal.

You gave teaching a decent shot, it really wasn't for you, and now its time to move on. Keep subbing while you search, but I'll BET there's a great job out there that's not teaching.

Then, when you sell the movie rights...quit and write full time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since your self-published book is doing well, can you get a literary agent? Because being an author isn't just about writing--it's about selliing, and promoting, and all the rest of it, and it's far harder for a self-published author. If you want to ditch the day job and write for a living, I think you need to enter the world of publishers, agents, and all the rest. Sure, Joyce Carol Oates is a prof, but she's not formatting her own works, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 11:44 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

scary, I say go for it! Keep subbing, look at it as a means to an end, look at yourself as a skilled contractor, and devote yourself to your REAL life's work - writing fiction!
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on February 5, 2013

Keep in mind that you should be socking away about a third of those book profits for taxes, including self-employment tax.

I've made similar career sacrifices for writing (choosing part time work over full time work) and I don't regret it for a second, though I'd keep in mind that it's a tempestuous, temperamental career which makes it difficult to sock away and save. Which is to say, don't give up subbing yet. Scalzi has good advice about this.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:03 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Scalzi! That is what we need in this thread.

I have changed my mind reading through this thread. You can always go back to subbing. Go ahead and write your heart out.

And look for an agent--that is the best advice in this thread.
posted by LarryC at 11:12 PM on February 5, 2013

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