How do you honor the writing life?

Here’s the third question of the week: “Tell a story about a time when you had to honor your reality. Has there ever been a moment when writing felt completely incompatible with your real life–when it felt like there was just no way you could make the two exist together? If so, how did you get through that moment? How did you find balance between writing and life? How did you make room in your life for both things?”

In On Writing–A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King describes the time he became a high school teacher and had to quit because teaching made it impossible for him to write. That passage has always stuck with me because that’s my push-and-pull: the full-time teaching that pays the bills and also fulfills me and the non-paying writing that takes time and attention that’s so hard to give when I’m teaching.

I know it’s possible to write while being a teacher–although I have more examples of retired teachers writing–for instance, Beck McDowell, who inspired many high school English students and then published two novels after she retired (Last Bus Out and This Is Not a Drill). Great books!

Writing requires chunks of uninterrupted time and long enough stretches of time to let the ideas go where they need to. How do we create those chunks when our time and energy are taken up by work, by other stuff? I also remember Octavia Butler as an example. She worked nights at a factory (?) and wrote during the day. I’m not remembering this exactly, and I no longer have a copy of Bloodchild, Butler’s collection of short stories in which she talks about her writing life and discusses the genesis of each story–I love this collection!

On some level, I have to put writing first. What does that look like with a full-time job?


How did you become a writer?

Week three discussion question for the DIY MFA Street Team–we’re a group of writers who love the DIY MFA website and are supporting the upcoming release of Gabriela Pareira’s DIY MFA book. We’re building a community on FB by sharing blog posts on the weekly prompts.

So here goes: I am a writer because I was a voracious reader as a child, a tween, an adolescent, a young adult–OK, I’m a lifelong voracious reader. And I love stories. Becoming a writer means being able to practice the craft of storytelling.

I also like when I manage to swing my word net and catch the right combination of words and sound that fit into a poem and then open a chink into outer space. Or into my heart’s breath.

As far as I can tell, my first published piece was called “Meditation,” and it was a description of the half-hour walk down the wooded lane from our home to the bus stop, and the piece appeared in my junior-high literary publication–I hesitate to call it a literary magazine. I remember feeling proud–and moreso, I felt productive or useful or just plain good that others reading that piece understood something else or saw something differently or simply enjoyed my words.

There’s ego and arrogance in publication–unavoidable, eh? But I want to err on the side of communication and aesthetics–sharing language is one of the coolest things we do.

Three other points on the trajectory of becoming a writer: At 18, I remember sitting on my single bed and having a short story pour out of me all at once. I thought that might qualify me as a writer. At 19, I remember being in Berlin and finishing The Sun Also Rises, and then thinking, “I want to be Hemingway.” Translation: I wanted to write a novel like Hemingway. Since then, I’ve gained a diverse selection of literary models and heroes, and a PhD in comparative literature expanded my lifelong trajectory of voracious reading.  When I started graduate school, I did not respect my academic writing because I thought I would only be really proud if I published a piece of fiction. I’ve since revised that take on writing because I believe any kind of writing takes a good chunk of creativity and craft.

So here I am. A woman who has journaled for over 30 years, has a few academic articles and poems published, has been blogging since 2003, has taught writing and literature off and on for over thirty years, has done freelance editing, and is revising a middle-grade novel. I became a writer by reading a lot of books on writing, being in writing groups, and practicing.