The start of another school year always invites and compels me to reflect on my career. Today, for example, I begin my 16th year of teaching college English, my 7th as a professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Yet as a freshman in September 1995, I did not dream of being an English professor; rather, I wanted to be a professional rock musician. (No lie.)
Cultivating the Writing Life
Teaching full time as I do at the university level poses challenges of how to stay on top of my writing. I’ve learned to be more reasonable in my expectations of how much I can write when classes are in session. I’ve found that within the rhythm of a semester drafting is much easier and revising is more difficult. A first draft, at least for me, demands little mental energy beyond finishing it.
The nine-month contract, then, is the key to my writing life. Those larger blocks of time during the summer are more conducive for revising my fiction and essays. Moreover, I read as much as can from early May through mid-August, and I read longer and more complicated works as well.
Helping Students Grow as Writers and Readers
The writing life is largely solitary, and as an introvert, I am not bothered by that fact. I’m on my own (in terms of drafting and revising). In my own writing, I’m continuously growing, overcoming challenges in each piece I draft, revise, and edit.
Because of that solitude and because of what I’ve learned as a serious writer and reader, I want to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with others, and the university is the place I feel quite comfortable doing so.
Of course, not every student is interested in what I have to offer (especially in the general education courses I teach). Nonetheless, I have found that pairing the vocation of teaching with the vocation of writing is overall satisfying and rewarding. It is the “perfect fit” for me.
Enjoying the Life of the Mind
One of the best parts of my job is that I work with people who are as passionate as I am about literature and writing. I have colleagues with whom I can discuss important ideas and important texts. For example, I’ve read and discussed Augustine, Plato, and Dante with my coworkers; these writers address weighty matters and do so at the pinnacle of writing quality and depth of thought.
But we don’t just geek out over stuff written by dead guys. We share what scholarship we’re working on, what we’re reading, what we’re teaching. We share our challenges and our successes. Every Friday we eat lunch together as a department. I’ve never worked anywhere where that happened.
So here’s to another year of pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful. May it be blessed.