One Sticky Note at a Time

So, compiling and editing a textbook soaks up a lot of time (#dayjob). So does finishing the middle novel in a trilogy (#Solynsbody). So does assembling one’s tenure binder (#keepingonesdayjob).

As some of you know, I teach English at a community college, and this year, I am “up” for tenure, meaning that I have to present my institution with evidence of my involvement over the last five years. This evidence takes the form of a four inch binder of certificates of attendance, copies of agendas, tons of emails, and lots of letters. Because I work in a community college, I am able to use my fiction writing as a contribution to the profession (something I wouldn’t be able to do at a research university–only my literary works would count there). This means that I’ve spent the last few months gathering up all of the fiction I’ve written since 2013.

And it’s a lot. Like,  really a lot.

I mean, I’m no Emily Dickinson with hundreds of poems or F. Scott Fitzgerald who whipped out a short story in a drunken afternoon, but I’ve been pretty busy for someone with a full-time job, a child, a husband, and many other constraints on my time. I try not to let it happen, but often writing falls to the bottom of the pile of Things To Be Done in a given day. I know what Stephen King says of course–writers write–but he also had lots of drugs to help him out in between double shifts at the laundry and teaching all day while he finished Carrie.

But that’s just excuses–and I’m not here to justify my lack of magnitude. I could have done more, sure, but I’m happy with what I did.

Well, what have I done? It doesn’t seem like much when in the thick of it–a story here, a story there, but taken all at once…it’s solid. I didn’t realize it until I starting working on my binder. To organize my information, I made little sticky notes for each story and put them on the sleeves I would fill with the copies of title pages. As I copied each page and put the evidence of my professional contribution in the proper sleeve, I removed the sticky note. When I was done, it was an impressive little stack of stickies sitting on my desk. Each sticky represented a story, an idea, a thought that I had turned into something concrete, something tangible, and finished, and available online for people to read.

So, to celebrate both my application for tenure and my accomplishments over the last five years, here it is–a list of my works all in one place:

“Sending Sally Home.” Into the Abyss. Witching Hour Publishing, 2013.

“Incompetence.” “True Love.” The Death of Jimmy. Witching Hour Publishing, 2014.

“Emergency Exit.” Behind the Veil. Witching Hour Publishing, 2014.

“Blood Journal.” On the Verge. Witching Hour Publishing, 2014.

Klauden’s Ring. Witching Hour Publishing, 2015.

“The River.” Bent Horizons. Witching Hour Publishing, 2015.

“Memory Game.” Serenity Rising. Witching Hour Publishing, 2016.

“Sunny Nights.” The Purge of Jimmy. Witching Hour Publishing, 2017.

“Of Goats and Witches,” “Marks,” The Red Glow,” “The Short Story,” and “Parachute Pants.” Stories My Friends Started. Witching Hour Publishing, 2017.

“Keepin’ it Cool.” Super Useless. Witching Hour Publishing, 2017.

“Old Friends and New Business.” Veiled Affection. Witching Hour Publishing, 2017.

Solyn’s Body. Witching Hour Publishing, 2017.

So while it may not seem like you’re getting anywhere when you’re in the moment, take a step back every now and again to see the Big Picture. Ferris Bueller was onto something there.

As Anne Lamott said, “Bird by bird.” Writing happens word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. It all adds up.

(read a review of Lamott’s book here).

Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

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Balancing Work and Play

As I gear up for the school year to begin again, I find myself juggling my new schedule in my head. I teach a lot. That means a lot of time in front of students, but it also means a lot more time spent grading papers.

And I wonder when I will find time for my writing.

It’s the age old debate: work vs play. The delicate balance of the things I have to do and the things I want to do–and don’t get me wrong here. I love what I do. I love teaching. I love explaining words to students and reading their words. But I also love the characters who live in my head, and I want to give them a chance to stretch their legs on paper and screen.

I know, I know. I had an entire summer to get writing done. And I did! I am nearly finished with the second book in Klauden’s Ring. I just have to tweak a few more things. But when my classes begin on Monday, I worry about getting sucked into the whirlpool that is the semester–when other people’s words become more important than my own.

I just need to manage my time a little better. Focus more. Wander less. Have a schedule. Say “No” to extra obligations. Make it a habit. Work in brief spurts. Even a few minutes counts!

I’ve heard all of those things. And I’ve tried them. And sometimes they work. And sometimes they don’t.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with the juggling act–work, play, homelife, family. I know that when I was in grad school I managed to teach and take classes and still had a brain leftover to spend time at home.

But I was younger then. And I didn’t have a child. And Netflix wasn’t around yet. And I didn’t have so many apps on my phone. (Back then, I was just excited to have a cell phone at all!)

Ah well. I’m happy to have such problems. And it will work itself out. It always does.

Lazy Summer Days

Summer means a great deal to someone in my profession. I’m a teacher, and even though I teach adults instead of teenagers or little kids, I still find myself counting the days left in the spring semester. I usually teach a class or two during the early part of the summer as well, just to try out new things that I want to do in the fall semester–those summer sessions are always my guinea pigs. Does that assignment work if I do it this way instead? What happens if I swap this out for that? Those summer students are always more open to these little trials of mine, it seems. They are, after all, crash coursing through what normally takes a solid 16 weeks to cover in a mere 6 weeks, so they start off running, continue to sprint while I add hurdles and dexterity challenges, and at the end, they stumble bleary-eyed yet triumphant across that finish line.

But then there is the the down time. Time that is suddenly, gloriously free of all restrictions and expectations. Time to read a book on the couch All. Day. Long. To binge watch those tv shows late into the night and even the next morning because, seriously, it’s not like I have to get up for anything. My daughter is old enough now to play quietly if mommy decides to sleep late–as long as I roll out of bed long enough to supply breakfast and snack and lunch, she’s fine. Sometimes, she snuggles back into bed with me, tablet in hand. Yes, I let my kid play with her tablet while I sleep in. It happens. It happens more when it’s summertime and I decide to let it go for a few magical weeks. There are days when I don’t know what day of the week it actually is–and I don’t care. I have nowhere to be and nothing to do until August 10th, when my daughter goes back to school, and August 18th, when I go back to campus for meetings.

Until then, though…glorious, wonderful freedom.

And before I even start to feel guilty for all of this free time, I remind myself of those days during the semester, days when I teach five hours and then come home with a stack of papers and grade until midnight or 1am while my eyes cross and my pen bleeds everywhere. It works out in the long run because of this time right now.

And I know it will end. And that’s good. Because endless days and nights of nothing would be tiring.

And I have actually been doing things besides reading cheesy books and watching cheesy television. I’ve been writing. Look-I’m writing now!

I know when I’m in the dog days of November, grading that mountain of papers, I will remember this time and sigh, and use that memory to go on, to grade just one more before I finally go to sleep.

But until then, I will relish each moment. Summer is the best.