Monday, June 18, 2012

Work vs...More Work

So the real quandary about being a writer, it turns out, is work. 

Why is that?  Well, because, unless you are the type to fling caution to the winds and let necessity force you to figure out how to make writing a paying job, other work has to be found to support the writing habit.  I admire those who are daring enough to make the move I mentioned, but I can’t be like that myself.  I admit that I like having a bit of security.  It’s nice not to be the classic starving artist, scrambling for every penny. 

Moscow, Idaho
Teaching is like lightning! 
However, it’s not just security that keeps me at my job.  I’m a teacher, and even though I didn’t suspect this would happen when I started working at my school, it turns out that I actually enjoy the job.  I like children and I like knowledge, and I like the electric sparks that can happen when children and knowledge meet.  The only problem is that teaching is really, really time consuming….but so is writing.

I’m not the only one with this problem.  My friends, Vasnefy and Mrs. L, have very similar difficulties.  Vasnefy writes luminous novellas and poetry, but is also a teacher, working at two schools and traveling on weekends to tutor.  Mrs. L writes lyrical short stories about the beauty and sadness of human life, but is also a stay-at-home mom with two busy toddlers to look after.  When, in such full schedules, does the peace and quiet needed for writing ever appear? 

I’m not sure there is a permanent answer for anyone who is basically balancing two occupations at once.  If one of them is noticeably less appealing, then of course it’s possible to deprioritize it, even shirk duties a bit in order to win time for the other, more engrossing work.  When both are fulfilling and absorbing, though, it’s hard to find time to do them justice.  Vasnefy, for example, simply loves the students she teaches, and moreover finds her incredibly busy schedule fun and challenging—a way to prove she can rise above herself and accomplish great things.  In the case of Mrs. L, too, how could a mother ever justify placing her writing above the welfare of her family?  It can’t be done.  Writing gets put on the back burner.  

Eventually, though, if it stays back there, we start to feel frustrated.  It's possible even to become resentful of the job that's absorbing all our efforts.  To prevent those destructive feelings, a balance is a necessity.   

Have I achieved this balance?  Probably not. 

I keep as busy as the proverbial bee!
For example, just a month ago, I was completely engrossed in helping some of my students prepare for SATs, practice for a play, improve their essays, study literature, check out library books and deal with teenage drama.  For three weeks I did not have the energy or the mental capacity to write down a single word.  I had the time, for sure – there is always time – but there is a difference between having time and being actually able to do something, even as crucial for me as writing. 

Sometimes I feel like a failure because I can’t force myself to write in every last spare moment of the day.  Then I think about things more logically and realize that if I did, I’d quickly turn writing into an onerous and impossible chore.  I might even (God forbid) come to hate it, and give it up entirely.  That would be tragic. 

I’ve concluded, therefore, that writers who also have some other duty to perform must develop patience.  We have to look beyond the week or month or year where other work keeps us from writing.  From that overarching viewpoint, I can see that every time I must completely focus myself upon my students and my teaching, I actually collect valuable experience. 

Coeur d'Alene Resort
I look about like this when I don't get to write enough...
The best writing comes from what is real.  How can we collect true experience of reality unless we are willing to plunge wholeheartedly into the situations that come up in our lives?  Even though I forget this principle sometimes and feel anxious (even grumpy!) about not getting to write often enough, what should keep me sane is the idea that I am most expanding my horizons as a writer when I am intensely committed to my life, interacting with people and storing daily memories.

At some point, after I’ve incorporated this wealth of experience into myself, I will be able to sit down and pause from the business of teaching or any other occupation I might try.  Then I will find that not only do I have all the time in the world to write, but my other work constitutes an invaluable resource for fueling my story-building and character-crafting.  For any writer – or any person who is trying to maintain an artistic endeavor while surviving at their job – keeping this idea in mind could be a life saver, a sort of buoy. 

I myself am spoiled, though.  As a teacher I may be swamped for nine months of the year, but at least the other three are open for as much writing as I can possibly manage.  I admit that I’ve got a pretty sweet deal – I really can’t complain!


  1. I have put my writing on the back burner for about 40 years. Family has to come first...and well I like security too. Thank you for your visit. You have brought and insight to my American Lune haiku pairs that I had not consciously planned. I also write longer verse at my blogspot.
    I am also a small crafter of art objects and dabble in other art fields as well. Balance is indeed something that also requires work. I have bookmarked your site. Thank you again for your visit and comment. JulesPaige

    1. It's my turn to thank you for your comment. It turned out to be very relevant to my next post, so I took the liberty of referencing it (and linking to your page). I'll have to investigate your blogspot. I love haiku, but equally love longer 'western-style' verse, as well.

    2. An honor, thank you. I do hope that when people post comments that they explore the others that drop by...unexpected 'presence' linking us to new friendships. While my writing may be on a back is a flame that is constant. A cozy warmth that is ever 'present'.