Wow. The last actual class of my MBA program is in two weeks. Graduation is another two weeks after that.
What a ride. To be sure, it’s a ride that I’m ready to get off of, now. But it has been a very valuable and enriching experience. Enriching, yes, but also exhausting.
In some ways it’s a surprise to be here. I don’t fit the typical model of an MBA student. I’m a creative. I’m a writer. I’m a fantasy and speculative fiction writer. I’ve done no formal polling, but I imagine you can count on one hand the number of successful fantasy and speculative fiction writers with MBAs. You could probably have lost a few of your fingers in some horrible accident and still have enough to count the number of successful fantasy and speculative fiction writers with an MBA from one of the top business schools in the country.
Which is to say, the business field is not one that typically draws people like me who have such a creative bent and focus that creative energy on the production of fantasy fiction. Let’s face it, there are certain stereotypes we’re dealing with here: MBAs are understood to be cold, calculating, detached, and overly concerned about money and the bottom-line; they have little or no compassion, don’t interact well with other people, and any factory floor worker could do their job as good or better than they without a fancy degree. They probably afflicted with some sociopathic tendencies. Creatives, meanwhile, are flaky, flighty and undisciplined; they lack the mechanisms to comprehend the importance of financial matters, are unable to deal with numbers larger than roughly around 20, and are prone to erratic and sometimes self-destructive behavior. They are probably afflicted with bipolar disorder, OCD, or are addicted to mind-altering drugs. It goes without saying that both of these stereotypes are excessively and bizarrely unrealistic portrayals of either group. And that as perhaps an amusing study in contrasts I am a member of both groups.
Even rejecting these two extremes, I still have some trouble, sometimes, reconciling the duality of my nature, with regard to being a writer in pursuit of an MBA and a business career while simultaneously in pursuit of a successful writing career. Because, though the difference between the two worlds is not so extreme as the sad stereotypes might suggest, the two worlds are different.
When I started my collegiate education more than a decade ago now, I chose to get my bachelor’s in business for a simple reason. It was because I wanted to be a writer.
That doesn’t sound like it makes a lot of sense now, does it? The story goes back to my middle school years, when I was reading books by Piers Anthony. In those days he included “Author’s Notes” in the backs of his books, which consisted largely of him answering questions and fanmail and otherwise interacting with his readers. In some ways, Anthony was ahead of his time – his Author’s Notes were like a prototype for how many authors use their blogs today. Like many authors, Anthony was often asked questions from fans who were also aspiring writers: people like me. And he would answer with advice for these aspiring writers.
The one piece of advice of his that has most strongly influenced the course of my life amounted to this: Don’t quit your day job. I don’t remember his precise words, but I came away with the indelible impression that succeeding in a career in writing was hard. And not hard as in it required work and dedication. Hard as in work and dedication were insufficient to guarantee success, and that success was insufficient to guarantee enough income to support a family. Rather: have a back-up plan, because you’ll need one. And what better back-up plan than the pursuit of business skills? Businesses would always have a need of people possessed of business skills, would they not? Such a person would always be employable, or so went my reasoning.
It never really occurred to me to pursue other potentially employable interests and skills: not my interest in art, not my facility with math or science. I had always done well in all these classes. I brushed with computer science (earning a minor CS in undergrad), but did not shift my course. My focus was on becoming a writer, and to become a writer, I needed a job that would pay well while leaving me time to write. It’s that latter part, perhaps, that has been debatable in the aftermath, but nonetheless my course was set.
And so, here I am, having spent nearly three years engaged in the pursuit of a higher education, and greater career success. I haven’t lost sight of the dream. I still yearn one day to be a full-time writer. But my dream has been tempered by a decade of life and reality since I started down this particular road.
I know that the vagaries of the writing industry leave much to be desired for one hoping to support a family. The chances of success are slim – whatever path you set for yourself as a writer – even as the industry changes under our feet. Writing is important to me – it will always be important to me – but my family comes first. And I can’t rely on the fickle fortunes of a writer’s life alone to support them. And so, I’ve dedicated myself to a more conventional career – I am a fantasist, perhaps, but I’m also a practical man – while relegating my pursuit of a writing career to something just a little bigger than a hobby.
Along the way, I’ve discovered that I’m gifted with a number of very valuable talents. My earlier-mentioned facility with numbers and science has given me just the right mind-set to do great quality analysis of a kind that businesses often need. My stint with computer science and my continued fascination with computers has helped me to hone a capability with spreadsheets that is almost unmatched – I can do things with Excel you people wouldn’t believe. I have a sound mind for statistics. These qualities, it turns out, do indeed make me highly employable. And my abilities as a writer are of no small use as well.
And the door swings both ways, as it turns out. With each step through my MBA, I’ve internalized the lessons and realized how much what I’ve learned applies to a career as a writer. A professional writer, after all, is nothing if not a small business owner. He or she creates a product, sells licenses, must do a great deal of marketing, and keep track of business income and taxes. When the day comes that I do start making money from writing-related activities, I won’t be caught off-guard by what to do. I’m already fairly well up-to-speed on that side of things, and the specifics of the writing industry I learn more about every day.
In the meantime, the challenge has been to find a way to use my business skills in a way that is both financially rewarding and creatively satisfying. That’s a big part of why I decided to pursue an MBA rather than spend the last three years honing my writing craft. I realized back when I started undergrad that, ultimately, writing was a craft. It was something you could learn just by doing it. You didn’t need teachers telling you how to do it – maybe they could help but they weren’t strictly necessary. Publishers and readers won’t check your MFA credentials before publishing or reading your book. But in the business world, an MBA comes in terribly handy for proving yourself ready for the next step in your career.
I didn’t know when I was going to be ready for the next step in my writing career. I still don’t, though I know I’m progressing. But I was more than ready to take the next step in my business career. At some point – it could be this year or next or ten years down the road – I’m going to start making money from my writing. I know this because I believe I’m a good writer and getting better. But even then, it won’t be enough to support my family. At best, it will be a nice supplemental income stream. Happily, as long as I can put in a little time each day after graduating – perhaps after little B.T. goes to bed each night – I’ll be able to write. And happily, during the work-day, I’ll be able to take those skills I’ve acquired and apply them in a business setting to earn enough for bread to feed my family. I’m optimistic that I can do both, and do both well.
I won’t set a writing schedule for myself immediately. I want to give myself room to breathe after graduating. I may take a “break” of a week or two. But very soon, I will plunge in. I will be writing regularly. I don’t know if it will be every day, three days a week, or precisely how often, but it will be regular. I’ll be starting first with a short story – a future submission to a certain contest – and I’ll begin serious development on a new novel.
I can’t wait to be writing again!