This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
The spring semester is upon many of us. We’re lesson planning, overthinking, running from one half of the campus to another. This time around, I’m teaching three courses back-to-back. Most days are good. Others, I wonder if I’m the right person for this job.
Teaching, especially teaching first year writing, means dealing with a lot of personalities that are maybe tasting freedom for the first time. Add in a big Tech school, and they can make it abundantly clear that they’re not interested in anything I have to say. It’s not the teacher’s job to make their students like them, but dang, if it isn’t hard resisting the desire to bend to their wills in hopes they’ll at least not glare at you from the circle of desks for the entire hour and fifteen minutes you’re up by the board alone.
By the time this column is published, I’ll be in week three. Semesters are both snail slow and lightning fast. We’re only three weeks in, and yet I want to know everyone’s names, I want them to understand what I’m trying to do, and I want them to like writing. But of course, that isn’t going to happen after four, maybe five days. It’s going to take time before they feel comfortable in the space, and it might take until halfway for them to start feeling any sort of change in their writing practice. This stuff takes time, it takes being patient.
My mother thinks I am the most patient person in the world because, in comparison to her, I might be. But I’ve begun to recognize in myself an inability to wait, to let things come as they do. In a broader context, I couldn’t be more impatient.
I want everything done the way I want it to be done about two days before I even get started. My memoir, my career, my life. I always look ahead at the finish line, asking how I can get there quicker.
This past winter break was the first time, in a long time, I was forced to stop working. During graduate school, I worked full-time for the first year, and then was freelance copywriting the second. There was always something worthwhile to keep me moving. With my partner going into work still, even as I snoozed alarms, I’d later feel guilty for snoozing, I started feeling really shitty. Like I was wasting precious time. Like I was missing opportunities. I watched on social media as my peers got bylines and acceptances and I fell easily, quickly, effortlessly into that pit of I guess I’m not as good as I thought I was.
It feels like most of my columns revolve around me either feeling that way, or feeling the opposite: elated after receiving an exciting email, comfortable in my process, confident in myself. This column follows me around as my emotions ping-pong with whiplash, much like they do in real life. And so over the break, I decided to take my own advice.
I only wrote when I wanted to, trying not to feel guilty if I wasn’t in the mood. I looked back at old pieces, closed the memoir after a second read for a little bit, and was riding the waves. Mostly, I submitted to places like crazy. I had the time. The time to revise, the time to research publications. Sometimes that’s what I spent all morning doing. It worked.
Over a week and a half, I received two emails that made me say “no way” out loud. Two dream publications. For some reason, they tend to come in pairs for me. When I was published in The Audacity and the Columbia Journal, they came out within weeks of each other. The work of writing, revising, submitting, getting rejected, submitting again, waiting to hear, being accepted had taken months of time and effort. Then everything was up and out in the world in a snap.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to stay on top of the fresh fruit, as mentioned in my last column. We work so painstakingly hard, with unparalleled patience, hoping that something will stick, hoping that the submission that’s been “in progress” since November will come back green, and then when it finally does, we get maybe a month to relish the process, and then it’s over again. You start over again. It’s hard again. Much like with a new semester and new groups of students. Having to rebuild relationships and connections from the ground up, after letting go of the students you had that bond with as soon as you solidified it.
Having patience worked for me over the break. I sent my work out into the Submittable ether because I had the time to do it. I could revisit half-finished pieces I once believed in, and shape them into something beautiful. But I could only do that if I had the patience to stop worrying, sit down, and take an entire day on one piece alone.
When I called my mother to tell her the good news, she reminded me, “See, you just needed time!”