Before I started teaching, back in 2010, my friend Joey told me he thought the experience would be good for me. Not just as part of my new career path, but for my work as a writer.
You’ll learn new things and work on craft, he said. Teaching will help you develop your own work, too.
I knew he was probably right, but I couldn’t imagine that my students themselves would have a lot to teach me about the writing process. I remembered what it was like to be a student and whip out a paper at the last minute. My own process had changed, a bit — I didn’t procrastinate as much then as I had in my days as a student — but it was nowhere near as refined as I knew it needed to be. And let’s be honest. My process is still crap. I put off my writing, tackling all manner of other things before turning to my desk or notebook or laptop; I still hate revising and editing; I don’t like to slow down enough to really give even my rough drafts the development they need. I guess all that leads to why I love blogging — it is all a brain dump, no editing needed, for me. And yet… even in that thought it’s clear my process is crap. I don’t write here, regularly anymore. I write here almost never. And now that I’m not working in a corporate communications job, let’s face it. My writing is pretty much reduced to the notes I leave on student papers.
There’s merit to those notes, of course. It’s been nearly seven years since Joey pointed out that teaching would enlighten me, and he was, of course, correct. And when I write out suggestions, praise, admonishment for plagiarism, I’m still learning new things. And as I near that seven-year mark, I am pretty stoked that the teaching work I took up back then has turned into a lifestyle and career.
And so. I am back at the keyboard. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of meeting the author who inspired my work as a grad student and represents the nexus of writing and a simple life and a literary life: Scott Russell Sanders.
I could say there is something amazing about meeting your literary heroes, and it would be an accurate statement. When I met Tom Wolfe in 2004 I cheesed out HARD, especially when he asked questions about my writing, my work (I was an intern at NBC news in Washington, D.C.) and my writing goals. But I met the writer Barbara Hurd in 2011, and she let me down when she told me anyone’s idea is fair game for a writer. If I had a good one while in workshop with her, she’d capitalize on it.
So as I waited to talk face-to-face with Sanders after his craft lecture and his reading, I wasn’t sure that I’d have any great literary epiphany. I had been wanting one, sure. But I didn’t expect one.
And in the end, I didn’t have one. I gave him some tomatoes from the farm and we talked about heirloom plants. I told him his work had inspired my during grad school, and we talked about the MFA program at Chatham University. I had wanted to ask him about his writing process, how he works with his ideas, how an essay comes to him.
But I didn’t. Because it doesn’t matter.
As I drove home, I was grateful to have met him. He didn’t say anything that inspired me to work on my writing again, but as I listened to his and other instructors’ thoughts on the writing process, and as I thought about why we write, I knew that I just had to do it. I just had to make time for writing in my life. And no matter how my students write or what they teach me or how they keep me *too busy to write* I need to just make it happen. No one’s process matters but my own.