Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Other Stuff

Term starts this week, and I'm about to have my first day back at the university. I love teaching; I get so much out of working with people, whether mature students or undergraduates. Most of the time problems are simple, and solutions straightforward (though not necessarily straightforward to implement). I wave my magic wand and people are amazed, although it's really only experience and common sense combined that allows me to make diagnoses and suggest solutions. It's a joy to be able to spot a problem, explain it and see the penny drop, to see someone who was confused rush off full of renewed enthusiasm for their work. I love it.

And yet...

Right now I feel a real reluctance to go back to teaching. I think: I'm a writer, not a teacher, so how come I do so much teaching and so little writing? I give to others, but what about giving to myself and my creativity? It's a struggle for me - which is ironic, given I seem to be teaching writers about conflict at the moment.

I was talking to someone yesterday about making time for writing. They had a full time job, and found that 'the other stuff' crowded out the writing. The 'other stuff' was all the necessary, day to day, functional stuff - cooking, cleaning, sorting, admin, domesticity of all kinds.

The thing about 'the other stuff' is that it is infinite. Even if you had all the time in the world, 'the other stuff' would never get done. There will always be more boxes to tick on the To Do list. We find ourselves prioritising someone else's laundry over our writing. We prioritise a telephone call from a heart sink friend. We prioritise going out with our mates, or watching Coronation Street, or doing a Su Doku puzzle. At some point we have to stop, and ask ourselves what we really, really want. Is it, for example, to watch TV or write?

And when you've answered that, go and do whatever your heart's desire tells you to do.


jacky said...

Or get up nice and early, walk the dog through blossomy fields, organise an alloted time to fight with the admin, and try to find the dosh to pay someone to do some of the 'stuff' if possible. Yesterday, someone tidied up my garden. It's no longer hanging over me, and right now, I feel able to use this time, to write, before I teach today. Brilliant blog, Sarah. Thanks.

wannabe a writer said...

You are so right, the other stuff does get prioritised over writing which is madness when we tell ourselves that this is the thing we most want to do.

I used to have a boyfriend who argued that after a certain amount of time the dust didn't get any worse - its just a question of being able to ignore it.

Perhaps we should be more like men and teach ourselves not to see the other stuff that needs doing although I don't think that's likely

Jim Murdoch said...

What amazes me is just how much I tried to do when I was younger. I say ‘tried’ but the fact is I managed it. The bulk of my prose writing was done while I was working in two of the busiest jobs I’ve had in my life. (One was as an IT trainer and so I know all about the pressures of teaching.) And, yes, I managed it but I also managed to fit in two breakdowns during the same period. People use the word burnout like they talk about the flu. No one has a ‘touch of the flu’ and no one has a ‘bit of a burnout’ let m tell you. You cannot do it all, at least not for any length of time. But when you’ve managed it for a week, is a month so hard? And then suddenly it’s been years since you’ve had a holiday, weekends have become that time when you catch up the work you couldn’t fit into the previous five days and you’ve completely lost perspective. You can’t do everything and even if you can you shouldn’t.

badas2010 said...

Years ago when I was running a busy small business with my wife and trying to write when I could, I paid a part timer to do some of my work during the day so I could write for a few hours each afternoon. I almost completed a longish science fiction story (which is still not finished!), and I worked out that it had cost me £3000 so far.
Prompt sacking of the part timer.
Regards, Barry.

Lizzie said...

Great blog, Sarah – a jolt to remind us what's important. The world won't spin off its axis if a little hoovering goes undone – or a lot, in my case.

It is hard to fit in all the other stuff, especially if you have a full-time day job, and write. I think perhaps you just have to be selective about the other stuff.

I'm off home now and hopefully will write, forgetting about stuff that needs doing!

Are you going to the RNA party?

Anonymous said...

Sarah, you never stop amazing me because when you give feedback on our writing you're able to refer to previous excerpts, remembering each students storyline, characters and plot. You zone straight in on the problems and then offer solutions. And all this is done with huge amounts of enthusiasm and encouragement despite whatever may be happening in your professional and personal life.

I couldn't wish for a better teacher and feel sure that if it wasn't for you, the chapters I wrote in 1993 would still be languishing on the hard drive. With your help it's grown to almost 30,000 words and I really appreciate how lucky I am to have such a marvellous teacher.

You put so much effort in, it's not surprising that sometimes you feel drained and ready for a break from teaching. Anyway, I hope this sincere given feedback keeps your adrenalin going for the next term in the same way that your feedback inspires me :-)

Ann Patey

Sarah Duncan said...

Oh Ann, I've gone all teary. That's so sweet of you.

Jacky, sometimes I think that if I got up earlier I'd never get to bed in the first place. But I do miss dog walking since my old boy died last year - so perhaps that is the answer.

Wannabe, agree with the exboyfriend on the housework front. I hardly ever dust, never iron, avoid cooking and yet we still survive.

Jim, that sounds heartfelt advice and I shall def try to take it.

Barry, I've done the same - with the same results. Then I gave up work altogether and just wrote; luckily for me that was a good decision in the end tho not without sleepless nights on the way there.

Lizzie, being selective is the answer. Sadly I can't make the party this year as I'm teaching (yes, I know, what have I just been saying?) but I'm hoping to do the conference.

Ginny said...

Sarah, you are talking to ME! I'm always happy when I'm writing even if it isnt going well, sitting at my keyboard is my fix. I usually spend a couple of hours writing every day, besides tutoring a writing course on-line But my husband's away for a couple of months and I've been taking over the jobs he usually does. Too time consuming! You've given me the jolt I need to stop sweeping up those endless leaves,keeping the pool clean, even washing the car. From now on we can wade ankle deep in leaves, the pool can go green and I'll get my writing time back! Thanks!