Writing Vacation

This is an opposite land kind of term: instead of taking a vacation from writing, this winter break I took a vacation from daily life tasks and made writing a priority. I blocked out Tuesday through Friday (today!) for revising a book chapter I was lucky enough to get accepted in an edited collection coming out in 2012, Death, Desire, and Delirium: Feminism in the Worlds of Neil Gaiman. if anyone is interested in my chapter on Death, I have an upcoming presentation at Rhetoric Society of America, and editors Tara Prescott and Aaron Drucker will be leading a roundtable for the book at PCA/ACA, a conference I am going to try mightily to fit into my travel budget. If I can, I will participate in that roundtable as well as attend the Ray Brown lecture by George Takei.

So, I finished my revision yesterday and am using today to do other writing, like this blog post. One might ask, why am I writing about this? What is so unusual? Nothing is unusual about this at all, and that is why I’m writing about it. Trying to find time for the long thoughts, for the sitting at the screen seemingly not doing anything at all or for the drive to nowhere when much of the thinking time happens that makes, for me, writing work, finding that time during the semester is is near impossible for the responsible writing teacher who gives her students their due in both time and attention. Last semester I taught beginning poets, advanced undergrads seeking to hone their writing in preparation for graduate school, and mixed undergrad/grad students investigating gender and pop culture representations of female heroics. Understandably, the best way to approach all of these courses meant a lot of student writing and my respecting their efforts by giving feedback during the writing process when it could help rather than limiting feedback to the end in the form of a grade. Grades are good, but if writing is to improve, it’s the intermediate feedback that counts. Faced with student needs, my unspoken one day a week for prioritizing my own writing got shoved aside so often that for the first time in my scholarly life, I missed a deadline for a CFP and I won’t be in a collection that I was very much looking forward to. I’m not assuming that my proposal would have been accepted, but not writing it up and sending it in means it died before being born.

Once again, this is not unusual. I love teaching writing, teaching writing theory, teaching in general. No complaints there. I also am extremely driven by a need to write, learn, and write to learn. One of the best things about my job is that it is defined by those needs. However, much as my own writing (in the form of publications) is valued in annual assessments, that value is not reflected in available time. So, I took a writing vacation. During the semester though, it gets harder to do. I will schedule writing time in my spring semester right on my iCal, something I have done in the past. I did not do that last semester, and surprise! Finding the time to write got very hard. Even with that, an actual vacation where I can write without interruption will still be needed, and I guess I should count my blessings and start planning blocks of writing time for this summer.

This sort of thing is so hard to explain to family and friends outside of academia. For them, vacation is vacation, and vacation is the time when one can frivol. I’d love to do that, but not really. I can’t turn off that interior life, the one that always questions, that makes connections, that is always…thinking about things. If I went to the Harry Potter Universe (which I would love to do, by the way), I would come back with a journal article idea, guaranteed. In fact, just writing this brought a good idea to mind along with a possible venue. Hey! I just wrote my way to a reason to go to the Harry Potter Universe, but I also turned it into work. So, I still don’t field those awkward “What are you doing for vacation?” questions well. If I could only answer something understandable like “Going to Florida.” My answers always have an element of catching up on work in them. To be truthful, I think the winter break is assumed work time. When else could course prep be done? What other time is there to write? Until I schedule  vacation time that actually is vacation time, it won’t happen. I have colleagues who do just that; maybe it’s time I do so as well.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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