Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing and Working: a Career as a Writing Professor

In an interview in the Fall 2003 issue of Glimmer Train Stories, writer Carol Roh-Spaulding discusses her writing/ teaching life. She is, or at least was as of the time of the interview, an associate professor of English at Drake University, where she teaches creative writing and literature. She says:

"I started teaching in a writing lab as an undergraduate, so I've been teaching as long as I've been writing seriously. They've always been together. And the truth is I've always resented in some way the time I've had to spend teaching because it took away from my writing. Now if you saw me with my students, teaching, you probably wouldn't believe that, but there is a part of me that is so jealous of the time that I get to write that it is very easy for me to see my teaching as--and I'm not proud of this--a distraction. However, I have managed to create a life where I move back and forth between those modalities. And summer is when I can sink deeply into that writing mode. I teach at an institution that expects very high quality teaching, so you can't sink into your writing life every day when you're teaching. I try to earn periods of time when I can do that, devote myself to writing. I think I've fashioned a life where I can pretty much do both fairly well. I'd like to do less teaching. I think most writers would. I also think, though, that having young, eager, talented students really keeps my writing alive and creates part of the excitement that keeps me going, too. Having that community of writers."

Often, I wish I could just write. I suppose most writers probably feel that way. The problem is that it generally doesn't pay well; it's usually no way to make a good living!

I practice law because I like it and it provides me with a comfortable living, and I save a bunch of money so that eventually I will have the option to just write, if I really want to. The law, like many careers, is very demanding and it often sucks up almost all of my time and energy. It seems like what little is left goes to my fiance, lifestyle habits I try to keep up, such as eating well and exercising, family, friends, pets, social and work events, and the occasional relaxing bubble bath or TV show or movie. There is little time to read and write, although I carve out as much time as I can, and aim for an hour and a half a day of consistent writing, editing, or submitting.

Sometimes I think about how much writing (and reading!) I could get done if I didn't have my full-time "day job" of practicing the law. Then I realize I would be broke, and I'd have to have some kind of job to bring in some money. I think, what else would I want to do? Teaching often comes to mind, especially teaching literature, because I think it would be fun to immerse myself in it constantly. Yet here is a writer who gets to teach literature and writing, and she resents her "day job" too. Like me, she would rather be just writing. In a way, it's comforting, to know that other writers feel this way and it's not as if I made a bad career choice; it's just that there is no other career I would like to do other than writing, which isn't feasible right now. And I agree with what Ms. Roh-Spaulding says about the creative stimulation that comes with having a "day job," especially one like hers where you get to interact with other writers and readers. I often think, if I just sat at home writing, how would I get ideas of what to write about? I get them in the real world, although not incredibly often from work, and I'm sure I'd still find them where I already do: by eavesdropping on (or accidentally over-hearing, as I'm changing!) conversations at the gym, by observing people's behavior in the grocery store, by being struck with inspiration by something I hear on the radio, by talking about books and writing with the other members of my writing group. Still, the real-life inspiration is another reason to smile about going to the office every day. It just helps to realize that no matter what I did for a career, I'd rather be writing or reading, but I also have to do something that happens to make a living.

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