Last Sunday’s New York Times has a great article by David Gessner about writing and teaching and survival as a writer in the academy. Read the entire article here. Gessner writes eloquently about the sense of captivity that some writers may feel, compelled as they are to work for a steady paycheck but losing valuable writing (and reading) time in the process. Not to mention being stuck having to read endless essays by naive but earnest students. He offers the example of prize-winning author, Wallace Stegner, as a kind of a balm: yes, you can do both and do both well, even if your heart isn’t in teaching. Stegner, apparently, embraced his retirement from teaching as the time to open the floodgates of his creativity. On the flip side, some of Gessner’s follow writers/teachers admit that they need the structure of teaching (or any day job probably) to keep from having too much time:
“I have two writer friends, successful novelists who could afford not to teach, who insist that rather than detract from their writing, their lives as professors are what allow them to write, and that given more free time, they would crumble. The job provides a safety net above the abyss of facing the difficulty of creating every day, making an irrational thing feel more ration.”
That resonates with me. I have a day job, a rather mentally consuming day job (not teaching), that forces me to structure my time, to keep a schedule, so that I have to write only when I can grab the time. I don’t have my days yawning before me, empty of everything but writing. That would scare me as much it would scare Gessner’s friends. I would have to at least do some laundry, something rational. Because as Gessner notes, “the creation of literature requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise.”
For me, then, the “balance” is not so much balancing my job with my writing as much as balancing the rational with the irrational. For someone from a working-class background (and an area of chronic low employment), this makes a lot of sense.