Since I’m committed to on-going chaos, I thought I’d call on teaching/writing friends to see how they handle all the hats they wear, and these generous, over-worked souls answered!
I asked everyone how teaching helps and hinders their writing. David offered that being among kids all the time helps him stay in tune with the middle grade and young adult mindset. Sarah agrees, and adds that besides the great opportunities for listening in on the worlds of students, teaching helps avoid the "lost in my own head" syndrome writers can be prone to. She says, "life outside writing is the wellspring of our writing." Dawn, too, finds that being in the thick of things, surrounded by kids engaged with reading and writing, keeps her in the mood to write. On the other hand, she points out that all the energy teaching and grading require can leave a person drained. Terri spoke of how, despite intent to grade holistically, she couldn't help but dive in and spend lots of time responding to even simple assignments. She still has nightmares that involve grade books. As much as we all love our chosen profession, all agreed teaching can be utterly consuming with planning, meetings, giving feedback, and record-keeping leaving little time for writing--the writing we'd like to be doing, anyway.
So what can be done?
David makes use of the snippets of time he does have. He explains, "Even five minutes is worth it. I can't tell you how many times I've found 50 pages of a draft I'd written, only to have no idea when the heck I'd written them." He also suggests trying not to have to reinvent your job each year, but he followed it with "Good luck with that!" so I suspect he's been as successful in that capacity as I have.
- Sarah brings up some sage and comforting advice from our own Turbo Monkey (and former teacher!) Ellen Jellison. Ellen, she says, "essentially gave me permission to not write during the week. (Sometimes I do, though, because my fingers are just itching to get a scene down. I just don't feel guilty if I can't.) She suggested I make notes about all the ideas I have during the week and then write on the weekend."
- Dawn suggests setting boundaries, as difficult as that is. She dedicates a set amount of time to grading essays, for example, and then puts them away for the day, and she makes every effort to use prep time at school efficiently so home time is free (well, freer). Papers can wait "a little longer," especially if the reward is a happy, productive writing teacher.
- Terri offers perspective gleaned from years of writing, teaching, and parenting (experience she conveys so well in her workshops--don't miss a chance to see her!). She urges writers to "compartmentalize your writing as much as you can. Let others know when you will be writing and then follow through. Don't watch TV. Don't do Facebook. If you have to research something for your writing, make a list and do it later. Keep your flow!!! Don't take phone calls unless they're urgent. Don't listen to make sure your kids are doing their assigned chores (you'll know soon enough)." She encourages writers to not allow family or friends to guilt them into losing focus and reminds them that "your work is only as important to your family/friends as it is to you!"