Writing and teaching both take an enormous amount of energy, skill, and commitment to do well. They also seem to go hand-in-hand as career paths. The list of successful writers who honed their literary craft while also teaching in schools and universities is immense: Stephen King, Joanne Harris, Phillip Pullman, and Maya Angelou to name just a handful. They didn’t sacrifice the quality of their teaching in favor of their after-hours writing, either. By all accounts, these people are generally considered to have been impactful educators.
So, it’s certainly possible to both provide educational insights and live a creative existence. But this doesn’t mean it’s easy. Particularly if you’re new to teaching, the prospect can be overwhelming. In fact, today’s professors and teachers are expected to put significant hours into developing their curriculum and performing administrative tasks. As a result, it can feel like there is no room to write, let alone develop in a meaningful way.
So, let’s take a closer look at how professors can successfully balance writing and education.
The work of writing and teaching can feel all-encompassing. Your mind is constantly engaged. This isn’t due to inhospitable environments, either. Many professors assumed the shift to remote working would give them more time and space to write at home. But this attitude ignores the potential for psychological hurdles that are in place when working from home. Remote operations during the pandemic can be a recipe for additional mental strain. The blurring of boundaries between work and home life along with the potential for increased scrutiny from employers is a recipe for burnout. The sense of isolation also tends to exacerbate anxiety and depression symptoms. The result is, rather than achieving space to write, the stress feels inescapable. As such, setting and maintaining boundaries is vital.
This begins with creating a schedule. Sure, it’s not the most dynamic and exciting of tools, but it is essential for keeping you organized. When done well, it formalizes the time you are going to be teaching, when you’re going to be writing, and — shock, horror! — rest periods. This isn’t intended to be a box you cram every little morsel of your time into until there’s nothing left for you. Neither should it be a focus for your guilt if you miss a writing session or two. Think of it more as a visual aid. You get to understand exactly how much time is in your day, how it’s divided, and what you can achieve.
Perhaps the most important part of setting boundaries is actually enforcing them. Be clear with your university or school and your students when you are going to stop work each day. Communicate to your family and friends that you’ll focus on your writing for specific periods of the day, and ask them to work with you to minimize disruptions. This is important for all writers, whether or not you’re teaching, too. Communicating your boundaries helps to keep the world around you supportive of your efforts.
One of the more difficult aspects of balancing writing and teaching is maintaining motivation. After all, there are myriad reasons you can convince yourself not to continue either as an educator or a writer. It can be wise, therefore, to cultivate the mindset that both activities are essential for one another’s development.
So, how is building your writing craft good for your job as a professor? Well, it’s important to remember your education should never end with the completion of your teaching qualifications. There is always space to pursue other areas of professional development, whether that’s technical training, leadership development, or classroom management. Though this is often done through formal training courses, self-taught professional development is considered important too. If writing forms any part of your curriculum, it is in both your and your students’ best interest that you keep upskilling in this area. Indeed, the creative thought processes built through your writing craft can be applied to various areas of your teaching. This includes creating an engaging curriculum and effectively communicating with a diverse student body.
Don’t feel bad if this looks like you’re making excuses to write — we all need to hack our psychology occasionally to find motivation. Even writers who aren’t teachers can benefit from this approach. However, it’s also important that you trade-off by finding ways your day job can impact your writing. There’s the old standby of human contact enriching your wellspring of realistic characters. But it can also be a practical benefit, too. The communication skills you use in class help you network in the publishing industry. Completing reports and grant applications on deadlines can help develop efficiency in your fiction writing.
Committing to Recharge
There is a saying often attributed to Charles Bukowski: find what you love and let it kill you. The toxic idea that to be a great writer you need to be so fully dedicated to it you wind up an exhausted, gibbering mess on the floor is nonsense. Professors who put in a full day’s teaching and then write until they fall asleep and then continue the cycle are unlikely to produce their best work in either discipline. You need to take time to recharge.
This doesn’t just mean taking breaks — although rest is certainly important. It’s more about pursuing activities that are neither teaching nor writing. Finding balance isn’t just about the division of time between the two careers. It’s about making sure other pursuits personally enrich you. This also tends to serve you by recharging your creative and professional wellspring. It’s time away to see new sights, explore unusual ideas, and have fresh conversations. This regular distance also provides perspectives on why you remain committed to both professions and want to continue.
Being a professor and a writer is not always an easy path, but you can find a positive balance here. By creating and maintaining boundaries and framing your activities as mutual development, you can keep productive in both areas. However, whether you’re a professor or a writer working in another industry, it is vital to take time to recharge. Occasionally step away from your core pursuits, and you’ll find you can return stronger.
Beau Peters is professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he has learned a slew of tricks in the business world and enjoys sharing them with others who carry the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.