Last week I started a masters degree in teaching. It’s a one-year accelerated program meant for people who already have a degree in something other than education and want to get a teaching certificate as quickly as possible. I have enjoyed my experiences teaching in the past, and I feel a weird sort of responsibility to do something with my life that has some kind of broader social value. The program has been very engaging and stimulating so far, and I’m really excited to be there. But MY GOD is it going to be a lot of work!
Because this is an accelerated program, expectations are high and the work load is brutal. From now until August I will be in classes eight hours a day three days a week, and four hours a day on Mondays and Fridays. The homework load already feels stifling, with substantial assignments being given out only days in advance of their due date. Over the next six weeks we’ll be reading three books on psychology, childhood development, and educational theory, plus articles on various topics.
And I’m still working fifteen hours a week at the bookstore (for the time being, at least).
Needless to say, my free time hasn’t so much circled the drain as been forcefully ejected from an airplane toilet.
Fortunately, I’ve been in this boat before. As an undergraduate, I earned two majors and a minor, often taking nineteen semester credits at a time. During my senior year I wrote two major research papers, completed two senior seminar courses, worked as a research assistant for one of my professors, competed on the Ethics Bowl team at the national level, and got married. And I managed to write the first draft of an (admittedly amateurish) novel during the course of that year.
My strategy has always been to carve out and delegate time for writing with extreme prejudice and absolutely no compromise. This is common advice given by professional writers. Pick a time during your day, or week of you don’t have time to write every day, and declare it, without equivocation, your WRITING TIME (in big, intimidating capital letters). Mine is Saturday mornings until noon, plus Monday and Tuesday nights after nine o’clock until I’m too tired to keep working. I’m absolutely allowed to write if I have time at other moments throughout the week, but during those designated times I prohibit myself from doing anything but sitting in front of my laptop, listening to good writing music, and staring at a blank screen until the words start flowing.
The fact of the matter is this: writing is hard. Really hard. It requires a substantial amount of mental effort to put words down on the page. When life gets busy, it can become difficult to get any writing done. No one else is compelling you to write (unless you are fortunate enough to have an editor or an agent breathing down you neck), and it is far, far easier to unwind, play some video games, watch the latest episode of KADO: The Right Answer* (or whatever your TV of choice happens to be) than to write when you have some down time. Without discipline, your stories go unwritten, your novel persists in stasis, and you cease to be a writer as defined as “a person who writes.”
Point being, you can write when you’re busy, but it isn’t easy. You have to want to write more than you want to do those other, easier things. Sometimes life might get in the way of your scheduled writing time, and that’s OK, but having a routine and sticking to it is the only way I’ve found to write when life gets hectic.
And, good lord, is my life about to get hectic.