Why I Call it a Sabbatical

I am often not brave enough to call myself an aspiring novelist. I should be--I've taken the risks and am working hard at it--but I truly struggle with telling people what I'm up to.

"I resigned last fall to write a novel."

It just sounds like such a cliche, right?

Maybe. I mean, that's what I told everyone at first--that I was admittedly acting out a cliche. I was confident in my decision, but embarrassed to tell people about it, and so resorted to self-deprecation.

You see, it was, by most measures, a great job that I was walking away from; one that provided opportunities I may never get again. And to "work on my writing"? When I've never published a thing? When I'd hardly even written anything (except tons and tons and tons of emails) since college?

The looks I got from some of the people I told actually made me sweat.

But, thankfully, and surprisingly, many of people I talked to were very supportive. For example, when I mentioned the cliche thing to one particularly encouraging colleague, he pointed out that the real cliche is talking about it, and that doing it is something else entirely. I liked that.

Another colleague, whom I had only had the opportunity to work with a couple of times, proactively reached out to me with a wonderful amount of support and advice. He, a professional writer himself, sent me an email that contained some of the most encouraging and practical advice I've received yet on striving to become a real writer. He did not treat me like I was going on a lark, he congratulated me on having the guts to make a major career change.

But most people were just confused--really wanting to understand what I was doing, but struggling with how such an act fit in in a world where people must make money in order to eat. It was in one of these awkward conversations that the word "sabbatical" was finally used, and I latched on to it. It was a word that people understood and it seemed to somehow legitimize what I was doing. And so, even though I consider myself an aspiring professional novelist, I started referring to this as a "sabbatical".

And now, instead of "You're doing what now?", it's usually, "Ah, a sabbatical! That's great!" Are they assuming this is a prearranged situation with my company (which it's not)? Maybe, but I usually don't go there.

In fact, nothing makes you as self-conscious about how you describe your employment situation as not having a traditional one. People who are little more than complete strangers ask what I do and I still usually say "software development" and hope that that will be the end of it (as it had almost always been when I was actually a professional software developer).

But sometimes they ask me what kind of software I write, or who I work for. And then I say, "Well, I'm actually on a sabbatical right now but what I used to do was..."