One Writer’s Choice Between Freedom and Safety … or … A Fine Mess of Terror and Elation

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

Just had a piece of creative nonfiction published here.
Just had a piece of creative nonfiction published here.

The big news is that I finished a round of edits on my second novel and have sent it off to an agent with whom I have some history and who asked for a first look at it.

And yes, I’m pretty sure I correctly used “whom” and “who” there, but feel free to comment below if you disagree 🙂

Otherwise, most of my writing endeavors as of late have been linked to my burgeoning freelance writing career which is actually the topic of this post (for a recent publication  in Elan Magazine about a time when I helped prepare a sweat lodge, click here).

So without further ado…

As you may have read in my previous post (yeah, I know. It’s been awhile), I have left my teaching position to tackle a freelance writing career. This topic is especially poignant currently as I am rapidly approaching the last installment of my contractual teaching salary.

Even though I have already secured some regular freelance income (for which I should apparently thank my lucky stars), this fact is still pretty scary. Not as scary as it was six months ago when my wife and I made the decision that it would be the best thing for our family (and me) to make the big step when the current school year ended.

freedom and safety
Image: Sean MacEntee

Six months ago, I was terrified. But I was also very excited about the possibilities. Of those two emotions, I would have to say that fear is the more powerful of the two. At least it had been for me in the past. As the months passed after making the decision to quit my teaching job and opportunities started presenting themselves, I realized I had made the right decision. But at the same time, I also realized how many times I had let fear challenge–and subsequently defeat–my resolve.

Now this is a tricky area, because I believe that I am where I am in my life currently–which is a pretty damned good spot–because of all of the moments in my life leading up to this day. But does that make it any better to say that we have let fear make some of our most major decisions? And I think it’s human to wonder how our lives and our selves might have been changed–if not outright different–had we made other decisions.

Two examples came immediately to mind when I had this realization about the power of fear in my life. The first was right out of high school when I could have either left home to go to any number of colleges that had accepted me or stayed home and gone to the same college as many of my friends. Wanna guess which choice I made?

Funny enough, the second time was after another graduation. When I finally got my college degree (not from my hometown college as it turned out), I had been planning on going to Honduras to help rebuild after Hurricane Mitch and solidify the Spanish skills I had been learning for two years. Then a friend offered me a good job. Not anything to do with my English degree, but it was a good job in a place I really enjoyed living. Again, any guesses?

When I look back on these decisions, I see plenty of good times that followed these decisions, but still, they were made largely out of the age-old struggle between freedom and safety. (Ironically enough, this was a topic I had been discussing with my students for six years when we read dystopian literature.)

freedom and safety
Easier said than done, right?

Photo: Tomasz Stasluk

These choices I had in front of me, as well as many others, including the most recent possibility of finally committing to calling myself a “freelance writer,” all had elements of freedom to them. I had always said I was leaving Utah when I graduated high school. And after college, living and working in Central America would have been an amazing experience for a budding writer. But ultimately I made the choice that involved safety. The comfort of familiar faces in college. A guaranteed paycheck in a tough economy.

Because freedom can be pretty freakin’ scary. So many unknowns. And unpredictables.

I had moments like this with the most recent decision to leave my teaching job. Times at the beginning when I wasn’t getting writing work or thought I couldn’t compete. Or when I was offered another teaching position (seriously, that happened). All of these times when I questioned my decision to do what I really wanted to do with my life. And I know it was fear.

I believe fear has an important place, and listening to it in some occasions has been the best thing for me. Especially when it comes to keeping one safe. But again, I think it’s human nature to be curious. Who knows? Maybe I could have arrived at this point in my life–which again, is a pretty damned good spot–a little ahead of schedule.

Everyone has a different situation, and I’m not saying my decisions should be your decisions. Common sense has to play into every choice we make, but maybe sometimes fear disguises itself as common sense. Or as I learned from my discussions with students, sometimes people prefer safety to freedom. Or at least they lean that way.

This time I made the choice for freedom. I’m still a little nervous, but if there’s any truth to the fact that there are certain paths we are supposed to take (whether we choose to or not) and that it feels obviously right when we plant ourselves on that path, I think freedom was the right choice this time.

freedom and safety
I want to be the kid in the middle. Don’t you?
Photo: Jamie Campbell

What do I want from you?

How about you? Are you more of a freedom or safety person?

Have you had experiences like mine that you’re willing to admit, when you acted out of either freedom or safety?

And keep your eyes open here. Hunter Shea will be stopping by for a guest post on July 28 as part of his blog tour for “The Montauk Monster” (which I am thoroughly enjoying).

Finally, I know posts are sporadic as of late, but if you’ve enjoyed what you read here, please subscribe to receive posts via email or RSS feed (on the right hand column) so you won’t miss anything when I do get the opportunity to say something. NO SPAM, I promise.

Categories Paul's thoughtsTags , , , , , , ,

17 thoughts on “One Writer’s Choice Between Freedom and Safety … or … A Fine Mess of Terror and Elation

  1. Long time, no post, Paul. In my usual subtle manner, I will say that growing a great pair of balls and advancing in your career is a great thing. You’ll do just fine. You have a lot of talent and need to do what is best for you.

    I am in a position where my past accomplishments stand out on their own, but jumping from the ghostwriting of yesteryear to a new brand in the name of Blaze has taken too long. I’m too old to not forge ahead with what I feel my new path dictates. Your path is different because it was a tougher choice. With a young family, there is always the feeling that perhaps security must be first. Yes, it is, but you are far from being a talent-less hack. Your security is assured.

    Keep the world posted as to what is happening in the land of Paul.


    1. Hey Blaze! Great to hear from you. Yes, I’ve been pretty absent of most online stuff besides an occasional drop by Facebook.

      Some very good points. The family part was definitely a serious consideration. More than my own security in past decisions, my children definitely played a HUGE part in this decision (and much of the resulting fear). Thanks for your vote of confidence.

      Hope all is going well with you.

      1. Way to go, my friend! The very best to you!


  2. Paul, hello! It is lovely to hear your voice. I have missed you.

    I believe that fear is the primary reason so many people drive to work, day in and day out, without even the ghost of a smile on their faces. They are zombies, subjugated by their fears. It is “easier” to give in to the desire for predictable safety, but I think (in some people) it can kill something in you if you give in for too long.

    There is a right path, I believe that. I also believe you are on your right path, and I am very happy for you! May we all learn to be as brave as you!

    Thanks for checking in!


    1. Hi Aniko,

      Good comments here. I like that you put “easier” in quotes. I don’t believe that everyone can always do the job they really want to be doing (and honestly, freelancing isn’t “The One Thing” I want to be doing, but it’s a helluva lot closer). As I might have said before, I think there are two types of people (with some blurring between the two of course): Those who work doing what they love, and those who work so they can do the things they love. The key to the latter, however, is that you should probably at least like that day job a little.

      There is a such a fine line between all these words like freedom and fear and safety and security and tradeoffs and compromises. And such weight behind each of them.

      Thanks for stopping by. I just realized that I forgot to respond to an email from you (and I had something specifically in mind to respond), so I’ll have to dig into the past and find that.

      1. Hello! Of course I stopped by! I look forward to your updates, and enjoy seeing how things progress for you.

        I believe that each of us must seek our own balance of fear/security and work/love. There is no solution that is going to be right for everyone. What is absolutely wrong (in my experience), is trying to fit yourself to someone else’s definition of how that balance should attained. I have a potential post along these lines, written in a notebook, but the gist of it is: work the job that works for you and your art, not the job that someone else told you was the “right one” to do art. Some people are very comfortable earning a living as a street performer, wearing thrift clothing, and bunking wherever there’s a spare couch. I used to think that was REAL art, and what I was doing (a 9-5) somehow made my art false. It’s taken a lot of thought and reality to get me to the point where I believe all paths to the improvement of an individual’s craft are correct paths. In my view, there are lots of paths, many of them parallel, but no two identical.

        And my real point here: congratulations to you, for finding your path!


  3. Paul! Lovely to see a post from you! 🙂

    My answer would be: regret is a factor in almost every decision I have ever made, both personal and professional. As in…would I regret not taking the risk or would I regret taking the risk? Years ago I used to be a consummate planner. Until life threw a figurative tornado into my path and blew all my plans away. I realised then that there is no use in planning out a life because life is chaos and is change. So inevitably now I do take the risks especially the ones that scare me: because at the end of the day if it scares you it is going to be a milestone in your life no matter what. Also going out on the limb is worth it because that is where the fruit is! 😉
    Wishing you all the best luck in your life as a freelancer writer! You deserve it. 🙂

    1. Hi Kim. I was so glad to see where your comment went after saying you had an element of regret in all of your decisions. Yes, it sounds much better to wonder if you would have regret based on the outcome of a decision and avoiding the choice that would bring that about.

      A consummate planner, eh? Hmm, that sound very familiar. Besides a two-year-old and four-year-old, I haven’t had a tornado big enough to yet completely blow that tendency out of me. But the kids have helped me let go of the reins considerably 🙂

      And you may be shocked that I’ve never heard the saying about going out on a limb to get the fruit. I like it.

      Hope all is going well for you. I’ve been pretty absent from all things internet recently, but I’m hoping to do some visiting around this week and checking in with my writing amigos. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. Good to hear from you, Paul! Congrats on your edits, my friend.
    Fear must push us on, not over!

    1. Hey Joe. Thanks for the comment. Very concise and well-put. Looking at your one line about fear, I think my post could’ve been much shorter. Like maybe one line 🙂

      Hope everything is going well for you. I’ve seen a few mentions of your blog tour for the new book. I hope it’s producing amazing results (or at least just a good time).

      1. You’re very welcome buddy! 🙂

        My book promotion will be a long churn, so I’ve got to keep creating awareness &, well, churning lol 🙂

  5. Oh, your post resonates, Paul. I just made a very scary relationship decision, but one that needed to be made for safety’s sake. (There you go…both in one choice.) The final page on that is yet to be written, but so far so good.

    Congrats on all these good things happening for you, Paul! Enjoy the mountaintops when they come. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of climbing to reach this one.

    (Your comments on classroom dystopians made me think immediately of “The Giver”–coming out in theaters soon. The book is always better, but I’m looking forward to that one.)

    1. Hi Michelle. Good to hear from you. And I’m intrigued by your comment, both in content and the big picture. I’m going to give some thought as to which decisions in my life might have had elements of both as well.

      And that’s awesome that you immediately thought about The Giver. That is exactly the book I taught which included that discussion beforehand. You must have read my mind 🙂

      The movie… hmm, I’m not sure. I’m certainly curious how they are going to handle things, and I’m a big Jeff Bridges fan, but based on the trailers, I have a funny feeling it’s probably only going to be The Giver in title, for all intents and purposes. Will I still watch it? You betcha.

      Thanks for the comments and kind words. Hope everything is going well for you. I saw something recently about your blog getting an award (and not just one of these blogger awards…not that there’s anything wrong with that). Congratulations. And an anonymous recommendation at that. That’s gotta feel pretty good. You deserve it.

  6. Yeah, book movies always prompt a mixture of excitment and skepticism, but I still always go see them. Thank you! The award was granted by Middle Grade Magazine, so quite an honor. Great to hear from you!

  7. Oops, Middle Shelf Magazine.

  8. Hello Paul! So glad to hear things are clicking along – fear has a nasty way of insinuating itself, a proverbial tick that can fester into all sorts of even nastier things that keep us even farther away from where we want to go… I took a blind leap when I started writing a few years back, walking away from a rather lucrative (if soul sucking) career as a pharmaceutical lawyer because I knew if I didn’t, (a) I’d always wonder if I could/should have done it, and (b) I’d kill someone in a way that makes the images generated by metaphors about festering ticks seem downright cheerful by comparison…

    The writing thing hasn’t panned out exactly the way I planned. I don’t have a book (finished OR published, teehee) or a career in writing, but I stumbled on a husband, had a baby, and somehow found myself a small but vastly cool number of writers with whom I can empathize, sympathize, and share rambling anecdotes… (ahem. teehee again) So I say brava! Looking forward to the next book and whatever you manage to throw up on here. It may take me a few months to actually read them, lol – life with a one year old is WAY more effort than life with corporate executives ever was! – but I will eventually. 🙂

    Best of luck!!

    1. Hey Jill,

      Good to hear from you, even if belated. I totally understand life with kids. Completely nutty. Naps are the best thing in the world (and it’s also nice when kids take them 🙂 ).

      Anyway, life is funny, eh? Decisions we thought would lead us one direction end up taking us another. As long as you’re happy, I think that’s the key. And we’re young enough that there is still plenty of time to develop that writing career… once the kids go to school.

      Again, thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a great weekend.

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