Friday, July 29, 2011

Writing on the Side, Part I

[Wouldn't the title be a great name for a blog/book of some sort?]

This week, after a one and a half month summer furlough, I returned to work. My time off was spent between a variety of frivolous and productive activities. I joined a book club and a writing club, I caught up on sleep, played large amounts of tennis, went to a wedding in Seattle, and of course did some writing. During my Winter furlough I had set a goal: to finish a collection of poetry. Through some dedicated attention and a last week writing-cram session I managed to complete this goal. But I didn't set that sort of goal during the summer. Instead I made an effort to tie off some loose ends, and revise. All told for a 1.5 months I wrote or revised about 6 proems into what I think is a publishable state. I think this is a pretty reasonable pace. It works out to a roughly book length collection ever 1.5 years.

I even got ambitious, and a couple weeks ago I began working jointly on a collection with a friend, Katie. Since graduating from her MFA program two years ago with a flurry of prestigious publications, Katie has admitted to me that she almost never writes. She complains that her MFA program sapped her will to write, and I understand that to some extent, but I think there's a more glaring reason: she works. And not just any work, Katie "fights the good fight," working as a Reading Specialist at a charter school specifically for "at risk" and underprivileged youth.

I had feared, because of her admitted difficulty in writing the last couple years, that Katie would control the pace of our collaboration, but it turns out I'm the one slowing things down. What happened?

Well, first I started the Hunger Games trilogy. After years of seeing it "around" and having select friends telling me that I had to read it, I picked up a cheap paperback at SEATAC and devoured it. Then, over the next 1.5 weeks I devoured the next two. By the end I felt that I needed serious time to recover. And just as I felt like I was ready to move on as both a reader and a writer, I returned to work.

Don't get me wrong: I love what I do. I'm a Writing Specialist for Northeastern's Foundation Year program and I love helping these students grow as a writers and individuals. However, at the same time, it doesn't leave much room in my head for other things. After a day of helping many different students at many different levels of writing I'm burned out. Sometimes I try to talk to my housemates at the end of the day and can barely string together a coherent sentence. The last thing I want to do is sit down and work on my own creative writing.

And so I don't. Whereas when I have nearly unlimited free time, or when I have a deadline for new writing I can finish 1-2 pieces a week, when I'm working that number plummets, leaving me at around 1-2 pieces a month (and sometimes less). It also leaves me with a special awe for the people who work hard and write hard, and a curiosity about how that breaks down. How many writers, particularly those who are getting published/successfully finding audiences of readers also have a demanding day job? Clearly a very large number of them are involved in academe, but I also wonder about course load and other responsibilities. If I were teaching 4 writing courses per semester, between preparing, teaching, conferencing, and grading I don't how I'd maintain friendships, let alone write on the side.

Fortunately I'm only co-teaching 4 classes for FY's summer session. Even so, reality and a change in my sleep patterns toward earlier waking (I must be getting old) has lead me to try something I never would have predicted 2 or even 1 year ago. I write in the morning. Or at least I have the last two mornings: I guess I'll see if I can be persistent with that or at least keep up my side of the collaboration with Katie.

[To be continued in Part II next week, if I can keep true to my new resolution]