Some musings on writing and teaching in 2018 & some goals for 2019

2018 A Look Back: Writing and Teaching

I wrote my goals for 2018 in the front of my planner last year. As I transferred info from one planner to another, I was pleasantly surprised; I had actually accomplished a few of my bigger goals. I finished Stagecraft—a novel I’ve been working on longer than I care to say. I started it back when we lived in New York after reading Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, a noir thriller about cheerleaders. I thought to myself, I can do this type of story with musical kids. And that’s exactly what I set out to do.

Unfortunately,  the first go needed a lot of revisions. My agent’s feedback was good but included major changes. And then we moved to Austin and had Darcy and moved to Dallas, etc. So, finding the time and space to work on a long piece of fiction became more and more challenging. But I’m proud to say that in May of 2018, I sent a finished manuscript to my agent. Now, we wait. Margaret sent the book to five editors, all imprints of large publishing companies.

I also set a goal of publishing two more articles. I know that’s a really low number and I’ve pitched upwards of 10 different stories but only two got published. Between finding the time to do good work and matching myself with a publication for that work, two new articles felt like a manageable expectation. I wrote a short story for The Dead Mule School ofSouthern Literature and a braided essay about my son’s school farm for Thrive.

I wanted to expand my tutoring services in 2018. When I started tutoring, I really hadn’t anticipated how much I would enjoy working one-on-one with students. My only experience was in the classroom where I had to manage anywhere from smaller groups of 10-12 to a class as large as 32 seniors (Hello,Class of 2007!). I decided that I would take on a few more students and offer a writing class in the summer. Everything went really well. Having consistent clients is the best possible compliment to my work as a tutor. And it’s always nice to get a phone call from a new parent that begins with, “Hi! I’m a friend of [current client’s] and I was hoping you might be able to fit in my son/daughter…”

Finally, I wanted to do a great job as a long-term substitute at Hockaday, an all-girls K-12 private school here in Dallas. I haven’t taught in a traditional classroom since Jackson was two-years-old. I went back to teaching right after he was born and then for two years after that as a part-time teacher. It was one of those work situations where it was great and convenient until it wasn’t.

So, when the chair of the Hockaday English department contacted me about the position last winter, my initial reaction was “Sounds like a lot of unnecessary stress for me. No, but thank you for thinking of me.” But I think that reaction was borne out of fear. I thought about all the reasons it would be wrong. I hadn’t taught in six years. Preston was far different from Hockaday (really, the only thing the two schools have in common is the all-girls factor). I have two kids and two schedules to juggle. C.K. travels more than he did when I was teaching at Preston. And I hate grading papers. And I’d have to do so much reading to get ready for it. The reasons piled up and so did my fear.

But I’m happy I said yes. Hockaday is a lovely school with even lovelier students. I enjoyed doing the reading over the summer. I got to read or reread some amazing literature. With the help of my husband and parents, juggling the kids’ schedules was doable—not easy, but doable. I kept up with working out (Hello, 5:30am class!) and I kept up with the chores (mostly) and even better, I learned to ignore the stuff that doesn’t need to get done. (Yes, it’s okay that the playroom is a mess.) Most importantly, I learned that I could work and be mom. And I found a little piece of my pre-motherhood identity that had been lost, a piece of my soul that is fed by great literature and even better class discussions.

2019 Goals: Writing and Teaching

My great hope for Stagecraft is that an editor will love it, have to have it, and publish it right away. Picture a lady named Maxine wearing big tortoise-shell glasses saying that. And then it gets published and the readers just love it and have to have it and tell their boozy book clubs about it.

After talking to Stagecraft beta-readers, I have a good idea for a sequel. I have about 8K words of the sequel. The working title is Curtain Call and it’s a flash-forward ten years to an alumni show back at Whispering Hills Country Day school. I want to answer the questions I left open-ended with Stagecraft and put to rest the conflict between main characters Skylar and Hannah once and for all.

Just like last year, I want to publish two more articles. I think I’d love to pitch an article about my grandfather and his time at the FDNY. Maybe I’ll pitch that to the new NYT column “TIES.”

I’m also working on a NSFW short story that follows a character from my pilot Soccer Domme into a neighborhood New Year’s Eve party that turns into a swinger party. I’ve been meaning to “play”with Kate Wright’s character more. Maybe it will turn into a good short story. Maybe it will turn into a chapter from Soccer Domme the novel.

Either way, one of my main writing goals is to be more disciplined about my craft. You don’t get better at something without a lot practice. Even if you are talented, you still have to hone your skills. I want to start writing every day. Whether I’m working on fiction or personal essays or posting more to my blog, I want to carve out some time in my agenda just for writing.

I’m good at focusing when it comes to teaching and grading and prepping classes. I think it’s because teaching is so structured. Class starts at 8:30 so that lesson better be prepared. It forces the time management on you. But writing is different. All the motivation comes from you. All the drive to sit at the computer and draft or revise comes from within.

And writing a long piece of fiction requires reflection time—so much thinking about your characters and their back stories, and their anxieties. All that thinking time doesn’t show up on the page, but you have to do it. Characters won’t be authentic unless they live with you. I find focusing on this aspect of writing difficult as well. I want to start drafting. I want to be editing sentences already. I don’t like spending time with bigger ideas, with characters and the many tentacles of their personalities.

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