When the Writing Ceased

I’ve reflected before on periods when I wrote very little before regaining traction in my writing. In an August 2016 post, I shared how I regained writing momentum after teaching two classes in the same summer term.

But last spring, during perhaps the busiest semester of my teaching career, I basically stopped writing. (It feels shameful to see the last four words of the previous sentence. I am a writer, and I teach writing as my full-time job.)

It seemed as though every time I even thought about writing–even a brief poem–, it felt like too much work, work without any possibility of joy. And in the stands beyond those tall hurdles, an announcer droned on about all the grading and class prep. Granted, there were some moments of writing, but they were like the occasional Styrofoam food containers littering the shoulder of a rural highway.

There reached a point where I began to think that I didn’t want to write anymore. That I didn’t have any mental space left for it, and even if I did, that I had nothing to add. I entertained the (absurd) thought that I had lost the ability to write.

I knew that if I floated to the shallow lake shore of May, I would survive, although it didn’t seem conceivable at the time. As much as I enjoy teaching, I was surviving, clutching the boat of the semester that had overturned and was drifting to the distant shore. I didn’t realize how badly I needed May, the time off from teaching, the mental space in which to think a thought that wasn’t about composition or literature.

And so, as I shared a few months ago, I read a dozen books. And as I recapped before, I worked on some important writing projects.

From the end of July through the first third of August, I was “up north” for vacation. During those relaxing days, I wrote a little. I brought along a short story draft, working in a few thirty-minute bursts, and I brought the completed memoir first draft, though I only ended up reading through a couple pages. I read two literary journals cover to cover. I read Stevenson’s Treasure Island, which I enjoyed immensely.

When the meetings resumed on August 14 (three days after I returned), I need to finish three syllabi, as well as the online components for those courses. Also on my mind was the desire to immerse myself back in a more regular writing regimen, to avoid the writing dessert of the previous semester.

Yet so it was that teaching drew me back to writing. I had forgotten how much my teaching is linked to my writing, and how much my writing informs my teaching. The two feed off of each other.

After meeting with my Creative Writing students that first day, I already had an idea for a piece, the first draft of which I discussed in my previous post. Now that I’m six weeks into the semester, I have achieved a reasonable rhythm, completing the second draft of that essay.

I already know what the next writing project is, something that is perhaps one of the highlights of my writing career thus far: preparing the final version of my first full-length collection of poetry. The virtual ink has dried on the contract, and my deadline is three weeks away. More details soon.

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