I won’t be going back to school this month. I don’t have to: I already graduated. Maybe one day when my wallet is fatter I’ll go back for grad school. Staying in school is a fine way to wait out the revival of the economy, but I don’t feel like taking on another four-figure load of debt from student loans. Now I’m in the longest class of all, and I expect to hear good things when I finally stand before the Big Man Upstairs.

I’m keeping busy in the meantime, of course. I don’t have any homework or assigned projects from school, but I do have some self-imposed ones. With classes and internships behind me, I have more free time to write. I put aside one story, something I’ve been writing at a crawling pace all year, for another, longer one, that has been sitting unfinished since the previous summer. I go to the campus library to write in the afternoons, both for the peace and quiet of an upper floor of a library, and because staying home with the air conditioning running all day really swells the electric bill.

I made goals and stipulations. At least five hundred words a day. I try to fill up a page before I check the word counter. Sometimes I write more than two thousand words. Then I feel accomplished. The story is part of a series, and I have pages and pages of notes, and another story already outlined. Soon as this old one is done and put away to cool until revising time, I’m going to start the outlined one. I spend half as much time again on research. I sit in Tempe, Arizona; but I can describe places a thousand miles away after absorbing what I want from the Internet. Google Earth is great for a writer with no travel budget or vacation time soon.

It’s how I define the way I live, aside from the routine acts of just surviving. I have a job, but I’m seeking a career. What I want is to write full-time, but that kind of luck is capricious and fickle, and meanwhile I have bills to pay.

Now that I can put more time and energy into writing, I can get a little introspective. Going for those two thousand words is easier if I just watch the page fill up rather than agonizing over the narration, the dialogue, the characterization. I’m a perfectionist, wanting everything just so, and my writing is no different. I get stuck from nitpicking as often as from writer’s block. But I’ve learned that it’s best just to write it down. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be on the page. That’s what revision is for.

Of course, a journalist can’t take such ease. But a self-imposed deadline, a self-imposed word limit (and in a minimum, not maximum) is a luxury I can partake now. I won’t describe the stories, because they aren’t finished and you probably don’t want to hear it, but I’ll add that I plan to throw them on lulu or some other online publisher by year’s end. Another goal, a more fanciful one, was to print up chapbooks and give them as Christmas presents.

In the meantime, with a part-time job and not a better-paying career, I’ve worked on other disciplines. Last week I altered the cocktail hour routine and switched the wine and liquor for ginger ale and tomato juice. I altered my whole evening routine: less music and movies, more reading. I woke up feeling as fine as I did the night before, but I realized I missed the ritual and ceremony of the violet hour. It’s almost a fetish for me. The wife doesn’t mind (much). She’d rather I stayed home and listened to Dean Martin and made martinis with a particular attention, than go out all night and end up in whatever conceivable trouble.

Of course, I’ve had to reign in the money. I’m more conscious of it now, and I’m checking the bank balance at least once a week. I cut off the frivolous spending, even on little things like books and CDs. I have plenty already. I was eyeballing a seersucker suit, something to define the summer with. I spent the money on AAA membership instead. I ration the liquor on the sideboard, because Lord knows the price of gin and whiskey won’t ever go down. And I bide my time. As for that seersucker suit, I know Joseph A. Bank will another big sale in the future. I don’t need to rush.

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