Six writing teachers who found time to ‘write for themselves’

It’s been a while.

I didn’t intentionally take a sabbatical from blogging, so imagine the pang of guilt I’d get every time I visited my site and left it with only an unfinished entry in the drafts folder. I just couldn’t have the right mind for it. I wanted to treat blogging differently than any other writing I do. I wanted blogging to be fun and freewheeling. And I still do.

So let me try surpassing the drafts folder today. Just this one time, then let’s see how I’ll manage to consistently keep things up after this.

Anyway, I want to talk about time management.

I’ve been reading Floor Sample: A Creative Memoir by Julia Cameron. I bought it the moment I spotted it in a bookstore. Her The Artist’s Way has been helpful for me, so I wanted to know how she came up with such novelty—creative unblocking. And how did she balance writing and teaching? Unlike Murakami who has designed a life that allows him to focus on writing, Cameron wrote under several genres and taught film writing and creative unblocking. How did she do that?

Well, based on her memoir, she also had a difficult time.

She wrote: “Still, I was teaching too much and too often. There was no time for the well to fill, little time for me to do my own writing.” She grew thirsty for writing, for ‘creating’ something on the page. And when she went up to Taos to get some time alone, she realized that her life in Chicago was “lopsided” and she was “doing too much for other people and not enough for [herself] as an artist.” Her inner artist was starving, and it needed her to pause, think, and write, write, write.

When she said she had “little time to do my own writing,” I think she was literally referring to writing for herself. Not just any type of writing—because she probably didn’t completely stop writing—but creative writing for herself.

This struggle isn’t unique for Cameron. It’s quite common for writer-teachers.

Frank McCourt started writing his memoirs at 65, when he retired from teaching. William Zinsser would teach for a year and would write after the school year was over. Stephen King took time to figure out a strategy—write 1000 words every day after class. Regie Routman, author of several writing books and internationally known writing teacher, wouldn’t use an email address so she could keep her after-class hours untouched. C.S. Lewis, however, was a genius. I am yet to read any autobiographical essays he wrote about his writing life and teaching life, but all I know is he has become one of the greatest writers in history despite having to pen novels alongside teaching.

The explanation for this is: there is a dichotomy between an intellectual’s mindset and an artist’s mindset. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron said that intellectuals are different from artists. Intellectuals are objective and artists are subjective, albeit there’s science behind arts. Creatives tap their inner child. They play, they wonder, they allow themselves to be free. They invent. They try and fail many times to discover things. But intellectuals tend to be wary of mistakes. They can’t stand a crease, a tiny fold, or a chip in the teeth. They correct mistakes right away because they know how to. It takes time to understand how to shift from one to the other or how to integrate both.

So I think of Cameron, McCourt, Zinsser, King, Routman, and Lewis every day and all others who have managed their time well enough to grow their writing lives alongside teaching. Perhaps, I should write more than 500 words a day (not for work but for myself). I should sleep early and wake up before the sun rises. I can be more disciplined if I want to.

But finding time to ‘write for myself’ is a daily struggle; it is not a conquer-once-conquered-forever kind of thing. It requires a strategy that adapts to my erratic schedule since I’m also an editor and business owner. It’s crazy and it’s not just once that I considered leaving the other roles behind so I can focus on that one thing I love. I hear the time ticking as I write this. I know my to-do list stays unchecked, and I only have a few hours before my class starts.

But every time I look deep within me, I see not only a writer but a teacher. I enjoy helping aspiring authors polish their manuscripts. I love Scribblory and my writing community. I see joy not in a mostly solitary life but in a life shared and love oft-given.

So I have to make things work. I have to make time. And even though this daily struggle is crazy, I know it is worth it.

Alongside everything else, I have to write for myself.

Photo by Ashlyn Ciara


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