Some Ruminations on Careers and Writing

What determines success in a life?

There are some writers who have managed to successfully mix very full careers with writing, and even a few who feel that writing might not have happened as well as it would have if they had had a lot of free time. In short, some writers say that the paucity of time makes them value the time they have more, and helps them to do something more important with that time.

This is me, trying to brainwash myself.

As you know, it has recently been suggested that I become a full-time administrator at work. The first step in this process would be a proposal suggesting the needed changes for the ELA program, and if the administration thinks change is a good idea, then it might be a reality. In as little as a year, or as long as never, this could happen.

When I initially picked up my coordinatorship 5 years ago, it turned out to be a mistake. I was extremely unhappy. That was a very different job than the job I have now. Thanks to the cooperation of my dean and the college, my job has actually become fairly pleasant. I have fought long and hard for that. Before the thoughts of a deanship came up, I was sitting in Barnes and Noble writing, thinking how nice and flexible my job was. Finally. Not too much to do. Just right.

Of course, as I got into the next two weeks, I discovered I was living the lie.

My job isn’t as unpleasant as it used to be right now. What it is is VERY busy. At the moment, I’m a counselor, I’m an academic adviser, and I’m about everything in between for the ELA students and my teachers. I sift through their needs quickly and effectively. However, this hasn’t left me much time for teaching prep. Guess what I’ll be doing tonight, in addition to writing and cleaning?

Still, you know what? I find, upon reflection, that I still like this job. From a humanitarian viewpoint, I am making a difference. I’m doing my best to help students gain an education in the country of their choice. I’m working on my citizen of the world status. I look around me, and this enormous success of ELA that I see, well, it’s my fault. Not entirely, I’ll grant you, but yes, I did that. (Hey, let me bask just a little. Okay. Done.)

I wrote new curriculum. I hired and retained competent teachers. I dealt with students fairly and flexibly. Every day I make a difference in the lives of my students.

I am so down with that. I am good at what I do, and I am appreciated. I am amply rewarded in many ways.

Would this change if I were to become a full-time administrator? My job would change, but the mission of it would not. Full-time administration seems to be what my job is naturally evolving towards. The more time I spend helping my students and teachers get what they need, in some ways I am of more service than I would be just working with students as a teacher in just my classrooms.


Regardless of the decision I personally make, I think the ELA part of our department needs a full-time administrator. This semester has underscored that. I am also going to have to be the one who writes the proposal indicating what the program needs and why. I will have to do that work, whether I am the full-time admin or someone else is. That’s part of my current job description.

Some things I know about myself. I like being in charge. I like being of service. I like organizing. I like to get credit for the hard work I do. That last one is less noble, I grant you, but it seems anti-climactic to make a ball gown and then give it to someone else to wear. I can be lured by status. I like people to think well of me.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t be in publishing. But apparently my self-esteem needs can be met at Kirkwood. 😛


There are two issues I am really struggling with as I think this through. Time, of course. As I do want to keep writing, I will really need to focus my free time on my writing. I will lose writing time during the day, and my writing will become an evening and weekend pursuit. Many of you do this now. How is that working for you? It didn’t work so well for me in the summer, but if it is the only option I have, I must make it work.

I would also get less vacation. Another blow to my time. I would also lose the security blanket of belonging to the NEA. I would be an at-will employee. Not that I’m planning to do anything to get fired soon, but that intimidates me. However, I did let my high school certification go this year, so I’ve done something with risk already. I can’t imagine that I would become an employee in disgrace in the next 9 years, and if the position dried up because it didn’t expand, well, chances are I could apply for some sort of transfer. In short, for the most part, that’s an irrational fear.

I have to admit, they are trying to seduce me with money. I want to retire early at 55, two years after Bryon gets his 30 years of teaching in. Becoming a full-time administrator would give me an extra $10K (ish) to play with per year in that regard. Given how much money I make in my writing career (so far, little money and free copies), I have to say that the path to the Lost in Space robot (Bryon’s idea of writer success) seems more assured if I stick with the college.

There’s never been any economic pressure to my writing. This would keep with that theme.


All this boils down to is what do I want more. And it seems, as I reflect, I want to logically build this program. I want to make a lasting contribution to the world in a way that seems to be plausible. Even though they won’t remember my name after I leave the college, we’ll all know that I put that program together, and it became an awesome, huge program. I betcha I won’t make that kind of impact as a writer. Some people will like my books, but working in education changes lives, baybee.

Of course, I want to write books and stories too. I am beginning to look at this less as an either/or situation, and more as an and situation.

Time isn’t infinite. But, maybe, focus is key. You know, getting enough sleep, eating my vegetables, and definitely fitting in my writing time. Some people are driven. They can even write during cancer with a day job. Surely, if I want to, I can write with a day job like this? And if it enables me to retire earlier, then I can devote that time to more writing.

So, that’s what I got. I want both things. I don’t seem to to want one over the other, and I’m hoping I don’t have to choose one over the other. I guess I am blessed. I know some writers who are waiting to get out of their work because they don’t like it. I like, no, I love my work. And I love writing. I should be able to do both.

Which is why I need you to tell me about people who successfully have careers and are successful writers both. It happens. I know it happens. give my ruminations some basis.

I gotta go cook some dinner. Ciao for chow, methinks. Thanks for letting me clear my head.

Man, I gotta find some time to do that Dwayne McDuffie follow up.


ps It’s 101 degrees here! No, humidity was not kind to my vintage hair today. No photos alas. I hope fall works out better for that sort of thing.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

3 thoughts on “Some Ruminations on Careers and Writing”

  1. It’s a hard call. I taught for nine years, and got very little writing done in that time. Fortunately, we could afford for me to quit, or I would still be there.

    My difficulty with teaching and writing was that academia involves the future of people’s kids….and therefore I felt very guilty about not giving it 150 hours a week. You may be able to moderate that, but it’s a trick I never have learned. (I’ve always ended up in jobs where I get more and more responsibility piled on me.)

    So I suppose it comes down to knowing how long you’re going to be doing this and whether you’re willing to accept less writing time during that period. There I can’t give you any advice…

    Good luck with the decision, though ;o)

  2. Focus is helpful up to a certain point. After that I find my brain simply refuses to concentrate further. I can get by at work, but in those periods it’s been hell on my writing.
    On the other hand, the first 10 years of this century I was a full-time journalist and managed to write in the evenings. And I think I got a lot more done than I used to.
    Then again, I was living alone. It’d be tougher now that I’m married if I wasn’t full-time freelancing.
    The job security thing wouldn’t bother me much, as I’ve never been in a union or been anything but an at-will employee. But I can see why it’s unsettling.

  3. One thing to consider: the sooner you can retire, the sooner you get to devote 100% of your work time to writing. So if stepping into an administrative position means less writing time in the short term but a faster path to retirement, maybe that short-term sacrifice is worth it for the long-term gains?

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