While it certainly is no secret, I usually don’t mention that I have an MFA in creative writing. I’m not embarrassed or even particularly modest. I just find that people then expect that I am an expert on writing—when I have NO IDEA what I’m DOING. Don’t misunderstand. I get the basics. And I can even discuss critical theory with relative ease (gee, isn’t that an exciting coffee topic?) But I didn’t discover any magic, no hidden secrets of the trade, no certain paths to success.
In fact, I can only remember two clear points of wisdom passed on to me from my advisor.
1. Want to get published? Write something good.
2. Want to be a writer? Don’t be a teacher.
The first came after I asked questions about the publishing world, like how did I know the publisher was reputable, etc. He then told me that there were plenty of books on the market for that sort of thing, and then he reiterated his original point: Want to get published? Write something good.
I’ve somewhat made peace with that. I also recognize that “good” is a relative term. There is a market for just about anything. If I’ve really absorbed what works in that market, then I might actually publish in that space.
It’s the second that I truly struggle to understand. I’ve been a member of the National Writing Project, a group of collaborative teachers and writers. I do believe that being both a writer AND a teacher are possible, but I also realize that energy is a finite commodity. The beginning of the school year always knocks me left of sideways. Here in the third solid week of instruction, I am still falling asleep in my easy-chair by 4:00pm. When he said, Don’t be a teacher, he really meant that doing both is nearly impossible. I could be less of a teacher, show lots of movies, do hand-outs all day, try to save my energy.
But I really can’t do that. Just as I am intrinsically a writer, constantly trying to absorb experiences so that I can write about them later… I am also a teacher, thriving on the challenge of new minds, enjoying their enthusiasm, desperately caring that they receive a skill that might empower their futures. Somehow, someway, I have to find the wellspring of energy so that I can do all the things I WANT to do each day, and all the things I NEED to do as well.