23 November 2008

Living a writing life

This year, I increased my time-fraction at work from 0.4 to 0.6 (two days a week to three). Now, the number of days a week I work is a bit laughable really -- it's teaching, and that means lots of marking and in our cases workshopping at home.  Some people are able to do some of their prep/marking at work, but we have to do admin work like answering phones and student enquiries and various other things, so we almost never get this luxury.

As well, I've taught a new subject, which is always a heap more work -- lots of extra unpaid work for sure, but work that is rewarding, nonetheless, as we research our subjects, looking for great writing exercises, better understanding, in-depth explanations or whatever. So, while it's a bind, it's also very rewarding.

Also, in second semester I've taught an online subject, which means my time-fraction has effectively been 0.8. I feel like my whole life has become teaching.

On the one hand it's been great. The Gadget Man was out of work for much of last year, and we ate up all our savings and then some, so it's been nice to have a bit more income and try to catch up on debts and stuff. The worst part about it has been the effect on my writing, which has really fallen away, especially as the semester progressed. 

There is one thing writers do, and that's write. Well, there are a lot of other things too, but writing is the main one. And there is no better time than the present -- we will, none of us, ever have more time than right now. It is a truth among writers, universally acknowledged. (See, all that Austen is rubbing off!) 

And yet . . . 

And yet sometimes the things we do, the choices we make, affect more than just the amount of time we have for writing. The amount of headspace is also affected.

Teaching is not the ideal job for writers. A lot of our creative energy goes into our students, into their work. We're left scrabbling with what's left over. (Neither, as my friend E will attest, is writing (nonfic) the best job for fiction writers. Again, all that creative energy is poured out into the daily grind. Not the most conducive for going home after work and settling again in front of a computer.)

The year before I started teaching, I was writing about 30,000 words/month. My best month was about 50,000. In one of my early years in teaching, I wrote a short story in January and another in December and nothing in between. Signing a writing contract with my students has helped keep me more honest than that, but this year has been particularly hard. And has left me with a decision. Do I keep with the higher time-fraction or drop back?

There are no correct answers to this question. Commitment is something I often talk about with my students. How much you commit is all a matter of what's right for you. The best writers are often selfish with their time -- and perhaps you don't want to be. 

It's the same in any field of art -- I remember watching an interview with Bill Cosby and his talking about his selfishness in his early years of acting and how he regretted the time he lost with his family, but his acknowledgment that he wouldn't have been where he was without that.

No-one has the right to decide our priorities for us. It's something each of us must do for ourselves -- weighing up what we want out of life and how much we're prepared to pay for it, in terms of what it will cost not just in terms of dedication and hard work, but also in sacrifices.

After long discussions with my family, I've decided to cut back on my hours. The person I am when I'm not writing is an angry, frustrated person: one I don't like very much. I'd much rather be less well off financially and more whole spiritually, because that's what writing does for me.


Sherryl said...

I hate to be the one who says it (but you know I will) - cutting back your PAID hours won't work until you seriously cut back your UNPAID hours. That is a choice only you can make, and a strategy you have to take seriously.
And if you want to follow my example in 09, just watch!

Ellen said...

Good luck, Tracey. I hope it works. I have resolved the same this year. Not that I'm going part time or anything, but I am resolving not to prioritise work outside of work hours etc. (In theory. Easier said than done, of course.)

Tracey said...

Indeed, Sherryl. But because I'm not teaching a new subject, that's a given. But I do hear what you're saying, and yes I'll watch closely! :-)

Thanks, Ellen. Yes, such things are sometimes hard to put into practise, but I think we're happier, and then probably more productive at work too if we can do that. Good luck with it.