Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Work getting in the way of work or Life as a process

Sunday night/Monday morning I finally finished a draft of the essay on students and reading. I found that I had to practice more of what I preach and was unable to do much that I would like to do when writing.

Though I often say that writing can take place by composing in pieces and putting the good or important stuff together, I usually don't do this. Most often I have a general outline or plan (or vague notion in my head) and I write a draft from that. Then I like, when time and circumstance permit, to revise. I add specific content where needed, remove what doesn't fit or advance my main idea, rearrange paragraphs for greater effect or coherence. Then I like to edit the work a couple times to sharpen my prose. This may take days to achieve. (So, gentle reader, I'm sure you will notice that this doesn't happen on this blog). Of course, the process is adjusted to fit the context and the type of writing I do.

For this essay, I ended up writing probably four different introductions. I made a short outline, but only after I had drafted several disparate (and sometimes dissolving) paragraphs. I did not make several revisions, and because I was on deadline, I did not edit the essay as closely as I would like. The latter problem is not so much of a dilemma because I know that I will have more opportunity to edit the essay, particularly after it has been reviewed by the editor. (By the way, the piece is to appear in a premier issue of the online journal Best Practices.)

Mark Long asked for about 1,000 words. I gave him more than 2,400. I often tell my students that it is easier to cut material than to add some later after one feels a paper is "finished." But one of the problems I have in the revision stage is that for every word I cut, I often end up adding two more somewhere else. Let's hope they are good words. I will say that I don't feel emotionally tied to any particularly part of this essay. Whatever gets cut is not likely to be upsetting to me.

I am excited about this project. It is the first time I've had a chance to put in "print" my thoughts concerning pedagogy. My composition students also responded to a survey for me, a first for me, and I think a positive step. I'm also glad to see some non-fiction getting out there. I haven't written as much or published any in a while. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to suffer in a way that I hope will help me grow.

So what the heck happened? Well, like many other writers, I have not only another job (the one that pays the bills, and one I am very happy to have) but the responsibilities of being a parent. Perhaps, dear reader, you might say that I just haven't figured out how to juggle time as a teacher, writer, husband, father, churchgoer, television watcher, etc. Granted. But doing so is not so easily done as said (to pervert a cliche).

Many writer/teachers spend their summers and holidays writing. That is true for me. However, I am not content to keep my own writing to those limitations. I don't think it is healthy for me to do so, both as a writer and as a teacher.

I am a firm believer that to do well as a writer, at least for me, a particular time needs to be set aside just for this. That's the rub. Too often that time gets encroached upon by the demands of my other "jobs." This is true for all people and for things unrelated to writing or creativity. It is easy to say to myself, "It's okay that for today I need to spend my writing time grading papers or attending to a sick child. Life is full of such adjustments. But I find that too often that time is infringed upon for days in a row until other people (and I) see the "writing time" as something that can take a back seat to the rest of the world. Writing seems to be a hobby, not a job or a vocation. Before long, I find that I have to reestablish the habit.

Okay, so what? Well, I've noticed that the same problems can occur in all of our real lives. Humans need solitude and need to connect with something other than themselves. We need to do something creative in our lives. We all do not need to be writers or artists or musicians, but unless we create, we destroy.

And it is work to create or to connect with the creative world. One way I try to be creative rather than destructive is to read. For instance, I have a set time each day to read my Bible and pray. Hopefully I learn. Hopefully, I connect in a real (not necessarily powerful) way to the ultimate source of Creation. It is not always easy. Often I don't feel like getting up. Often the very thing I pray about is a distraction to my prayers or my reading. Sick children and stacks of papers do not respect the need or sanctity of one's private communion.

Yet when I neglect this area of my life, the world falls into various states of disrepair. It isn't a matter of "things going wrong" or that God is going to "get me" when I don't have my quiet time or my students will hate me for not practicing what I preach. But over time, it gets harder and harder to see the world as anything except but a decaying entity and action as futile. Work not only "gets the job done," it helps us to unite to what is good and real.

So much of life is struggling, not juggling, the various works and working actions of the world around us. We commit, then struggle, then reevaluate, then hopefully commit anew. What I must do is not let the trials of working get in the way of the really important work that is ongoing for my mind and soul.

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