Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dreaming of Writing

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”

- E.L. Doctorow

My job has me utterly exhausted. I’m sure I head to bed before any of my students. Some nights, it’s as early as 9:15 pm for an alarm waking me up at 6:00 am.

Why am I so tired?

It’s the newness of it all. Each class has its own set of concerns. I’m teaching periods I’m not as familiar with that I have no lesson plans for. Each class is basically being set up from scratch. And the paperwork! So much grading to do. And so many parents to contact when students don’t.

Then I come home and the next part of my day begins. At least one of my children has an activity. Every. Single. Day. Then there’s laundry, cooking, cleaning, help with homework, and so on. If my husband didn’t help with cooking, I don’t know what we’d eat. Some days even instant macaroni and cheese is too much effort, so I’d probably serve the cardboard box sprinkled with cheese powder.

It makes me look back fondly on the days when most women weren’t allowed to work because it’s really hard to do it all and do it well.

So I’m tired.

When my head hugs the pillow, it’s really hard to shut out the classroom. I think about:

The students who don’t care

The students who have a bad attitude

How a lesson could’ve gone better

What to teach in the next lesson

How to teach the next lesson

Everything I have to catch up on.

And I can’t sleep.

The solution?

I stop those thoughts that make my heart race and focus on my WIP. The one I’m about 26k words into and don’t have time for right now. Other people write with full-time jobs, but I just don’t have the mental stamina.

I’m not physically writing it, but I’m thinking about it. The next scenes are clear to me. The twists and turns are sticking to my brain. Character growth, conflict – it’s just waiting to be written. The only thing I’m not completely sure about it the ending and whether or not the antagonist will die.

These unfolding scenes steady my heart.

They make sure I won’t forget.

They keep my WIP close to my heart, even if I don’t have time to give it the love it deserves.

I hope to take advantage of vacations to return to it. When I have time, I believe the rest will unfurl like a red carpet.

“When I look up from my pillow

I dream you are there with me

Though you are far away

You’ll always be near to me

I go to sleep

And imagine you’re there with me

- Davis, Ray. “I Go To Sleep” Sia

Those of you who work full-time, especially teachers:

How do find/make the time to write?


  1. Hey, first of all, hang in there. It's incredible that you're doing SO much. I'm not a teacher but I do find myself being tired as a med student. (We did a sleep study and found that our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns change when we start new routines.) While thinking about writing is not technically writing, I do believe it is a great deal of it. The fact that you're brewing up parts of your story means that you're on your way!

    One thing I found that helped me was to create a 30 minute chunk of time (I did it during my lunch hour) to JUST write. I turned off the Internet and locked myself away. Even though it was just half an hour, it felt better than "nothing." Also, keeping a tiny notebook for quick inspiration bullet points helped!

    Good luck and props to you for handling it all!

  2. Theresa, I completely understand. I'm going through this to a lesser degree. I am worn out, going to bed at 9 p.m. and keep dwelling on how I could have done things better at work. I do get writing time in, but only on the weekends, and not much time anymore now that it's holiday season.

    I hope you find time to relax and get writing done soon! I'll be thinking of you.

  3. That is overwhelming! Hopefully you'll settle into a pace that will allow you to relax a little and maybe even write some!

    I think about my WIP as I go to sleep, too...and I usually have a brilliant idea to add, but I don't remember in the morning. I NEED to put a notepad or my voice recorder by the bed.

  4. Oh Theresa Milstein!! No wonder you've got a cold!! Your immune system is wrecked cos you're really run down with so much to do so little time!! I think you care so much, so much and your students are the luckiest students on this planet - even if the silly ones don't know it - they will when they're older and looking back - they'll remember how you cared!!!

    I hope you hang on to your WIP in your head - I hope you keep all your characters and thoughts and plot twists safe and alive and thriving until that time when you can have a breather and release them all on paper!!!

    Hang on in there - you're doing GREAT!! Take care

  5. You've got two full-time jobs (teacher and mother), and you're feeling guilty for not getting in the writing? Stop beating yourself up over this!

    There are crazy times when you won't be able to write. And that's okay. It's not gone. It's just lying dormant until you have time to get back to it.

    It's okay. You don't have to do it all right now. We know you'll do what you can when you can. Cut yourself some slack. The book will get done in its own good time.

  6. @ Saumya, I'm sure being a med student wreaked havoc with your sleep schedule.

    Creating a 30-minute chunk of time sounds like a great idea. I had been doing that sporadically, but I got too mentally tired to keep it up. Maybe I'll give it a shot again soon.

    @ Shelley, school and holiday business isn't very conducive to writing, is it? I hope you get to recharge and write during your break.

    @ Vicki, I hope I settle into a pace soon too.

    I hate losing ideas. A notebook bedside wouldn't do me any good because I'd just disturb my husband, so I get up and flip open the laptop.

    @ Old Kitty, between 90+ students with the ability to spread germs, lack of sleep, and stress, no wonder I'm sick!

    When I'm writing, I feel guilty about other things I should be doing and so I have been putting it off. But I vow to write without guilt during the break!

    @ Liz, you're right, I'm too hard on myself. I love my story and don't want to let the dream die. Before this new job, I was being so productive. But that's life.

  7. Amen. Find the time - you're writing is beautiful and it brings you (and others) joy - don't forget that.

  8. Your day sounds emotionally draining! I'll count my bessings that I get to write at work on occasion. And I don't have kids, which leaves time at night as well.

  9. Bless your heart.

    Last year, another teacher and myself began in a room together and it was horrible. The stress, the scrounging for lesson plans, the whole 'from scratch''re right. It's amazingly exhausting.

    Just don't give up and, hopefully, after the break, you'll be refreshed. If school kids are anything like daycare kids, something seems to happen after the Christmas break. They're smarter, grasp things easier, more mature.

    Crossing my fingers and saying a prayer.

  10. @ Mr. A, thanks. I'll work on finding the time.

    @ Alex, I'm glad you have time to write. When I subbed, I often wrote or edited during breaks. Those were the days!

    @ The Words Crafter, thanks. I assume anytime you switch grades or have to work with another person, it is in many ways like being a first-year teacher again.

    I'll see if I see the same difference with the older ones as you do with the younger ones. I used to notice a difference with 5th-graders, but it was often more attitude!

  11. Hi Theresa, don't be too hard on yourself. Take some "me" time and relax.

  12. It shows how dedicated you are to your work and your students when you keep thinking about it even when you're not at school. I think that you're doing a great job as a teacher and a mother. You don't have to write every day, and right now it sounds like you should get some well-earned rest instead. Since I work multiple jobs, I'm not able to work on my fiction as often as I like. But I keep thinking about it, like you do, and even if I can only get a few pages written, that's still something. But first you should rest.

  13. I hope you get some rest, Theresa and enjoy a lovely family Christmas.
    It is just your first term, so maybe the New Year will refresh you. The writing will find its way into your life when it settles down.

  14. @ Nas, I'll try.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, I know you have a lot to balance with classes to teach and your thesis. We can't always write when we have other responsibilities. But it's frustrating to miss doing something we love.

    @ Brigid, I am hoping to be in a better rhythm next year.

    I hope you have a nice Christmas with your family.

  15. Hang in there. I don't work full time. I'm home with two monsters, but I hear ya. My heart goes out to those who do and have kids. I really don't know how you do it.
    Hang in there!!

  16. Theresa, you are a brave woman! First, you dare to sub. That's a thing in itself. Second, you dare to do it and be a mom. Third, you try to write. Be nicer to yourself and understand why you are passing out so early!

    The other thing you could try is writing shorter pieces. For me, anything lengthy starts to feel unmanageable. Maybe you could write brief chapters. These can pack a punch and make you feel like you have completed something. And they are easy for readers, too. If you want to combine chapters later, you can do that. Just some thoughts from someone with ADHD! LOL!

  17. It isn't easy, Theresa! And you're right, teaching is exhausting. Sometimes I write a little during my prep period (if I'm fully prepped - ha ha) or I stay after school for an extra hour. Once I get home, it's hubby and the kiddos until bedtime. You just have to squeeze it in when you can and when you have the energy for it. :-)

  18. Hi Theresa .. it is one step at a time .. but I'm so glad you're mulling over your scenes in your book and working them through ..

    Life is tough .. and this will be a huge experience for you & one that you won't give up on .. however difficult people can be ..

    Be at peace .. and enjoy the positives .. Hilary

  19. I teach sometimes in my job, and on those days, I'm especially drained. Like teaching opens a creative vein and bleeds out. I'm not sure what advice to give other than, try to slow down and don't put pressure on yourself. You can't do everything all the time.

  20. I know how you feel. I'm not a teacher, but I do have a full-time job. A very stressful, data-driven, analytical job. Some days, most days, actually, it's difficult to come home from a job like that and write.

    Sometimes I find that instead of trying to force myself to write right away when I get home, if I let myself relax and simmer down, I can sometimes get a bit of writing done right before I go to bed. But I can't always even do that. I try to write on the weekends, or lunch breaks when I'm still semi-fresh. Basically, anytime I can summon the energy to get a few words down - even if it's only a couple hundred words - I write. Even if I'm not writing a lot at once, I just do what I can, and then - like you - I always think about it and planning it in my mind so that the next time I can sit down, I already know where I want to go with it.

    It's tough, and it takes a while to figure out what will work for you (I'm still trying to figure that one out, really) but I think it's just important to do what you can, when you can. No one can really ask for more than that. Good luck with everything Theresa!

  21. When I was subbing, I'd write during planning periods. But I've never taught full time (and had to plan my lessons and grade papers!) and written. When I was teaching full time, I had no children and no writing aspirations yet (I take that back, one night I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote three chapters of an mg. must find that!) Good luck!

  22. @ Christine, I miss the time I had when I worked part-time and spent more time with my children and writing.
    That said, it's not so easy running a house and taking care of kids either.

    @ Katherine, thanks for the reminder. I begrudge my lost writing time, but I'm still accomplishing other things.

    Shorter pieces may work. I don't write short stories very often. I wrote one for Fangtales, and I'm waiting to hear if I'm in the anthology. They announce in January. But I wrote that piece before I began working full time!

    @ Shannon, it's good to know I'm not alone. You're a seasoned teacher and have to figure out how to squeeze it in too. Then I worry, will this be what's it's like for the rest of my working life?

    @ Hilary, thanks for the encouraging words. I hope to get some more written this week. I miss my WIP!

    @ Terry, you understand. For me, planning for and giving at least four presentations per day is draining.

    @ Jessica, I told myself I'd write when the kids had their activities, but I'm usually still too tired. By the time dinner is done, it's after 8pm and I just can't do it. I can barely sit up by then!

    But you're right - it is the best time I have, so I have to try write something, even if it's only a few-hundred words.

    @ Kelly, that was the routine I had when I subbed too. Ah, those were the days!

    I hope you find those three chapters.

  23. Gosh, just reading this made me tired, Theresa. And I know how you feel. I have MEVER had a more exhausting job than teaching, and things go around and around in your brain all night. That said, it DID get easier. So hang in there! Sending your some Christmas hugs!

  24. Thinking of you, Theresa. I hope you find the balance and energy you need to get back to your writing.

    Hope you get a nice long break to recharge and spend time with your WIP.


  25. Poor thing! So sorry, Theresa.

    I know it's hard and sometimes things have to be put on the back burner. When I'm super busy but mentally have to write, I get up early and give it at least an hour of my time (yeah, 4:30-5:30 am is ungodly, but what can you do?).

    Here's hoping you find time to write this break!


  26. @ Talli, I feel it getting easier. I'm used to the daily grind, but I need to spend more time trying to be innovative so the lessons will be more exciting. But if I do that, less writing time.

    @ Jamie, thank you. I look forward to writing again.

    @ Jackee, thanks. I'm impressed you get up so early. If I did that I'd be in bed by 8pm!

  27. I so admire women who work and have families and run a household - it seems like an amazing amount of work! I'm sure it will get easier with time, once it's not so new, though. Hang in there!

  28. When my mind's racing at night, I do the same thing as you: I think about what I am writing and plot it out. It usually puts me to sleep. Obviously, it's really boring.

  29. I was a teacher for a while and I know how much planning goes into it (sigh).

    I hope you get a little break during the holidays.

  30. @ Susan, it is an amazing amount of work. I'm glad I didn't have to do it when my children were small.

    @ MIssed Periods, ha! I was thinking the same thing about my writing. What does it say about me if thinking about the next scenes puts me to sleep?!

    @ LR, if my children didn't have so many activities I think the prep would feel less overwhelming.

    I'm looking forward to the break!

  31. I wish that was my case, but whenever I dream of a scene, I often forget it the next day! =(
    I usually write late hours, and that leaves me more tired. Still, its the only solution I've come up with so far. That and fixing plot issues during the day, whenever inspiration hits me. Hang in there, I know exactly what you're going through!

  32. Hi Theresa - hope you get a bit of a break over christmas -

    I don't know how you do it...but keep going! Hang in there, maybe like you said, its tiring because its new? I hope so...
    and maybe your kids (whispering now..)- could give up an activity on one of those days...?

    (ps Most my cooking tastes like ot looks like cardboard and cheese!:)

  33. @ Clara, if you're squeezing writing in like that, you're committed. It's nice to hear from writers who are facing the same time/energy dilemma.

    @ Words A Day, it's two days of Taekwondo for both + my daughter takes ballet two days. My son takes himself to piano, which helps. And when free swimming is back in session, I switch with another mother so it's only every other week. If only my daughter would drop Enviro Ed, but that's on break because Harvard students are on break.

    What a list! No wonder I'm so burned out. This is the first year it's so packed so wouldn't it figure I have a full-time job.

  34. That's the thing about being a writer, teacher, and mom (and wife, and daughter, and blogger, and..._. You have to be on your A-game ALL. DAY. LONG.

    Hugs to you and Merry Christmas. Time for some down-time, huh??

  35. @ Erica, that's exactly what it's like. Dealing with children virtually nonstop from 7am-8pm means I'm in active-mode for too many hours.

    Have a happy new year. Yes, I'm happy for some down-time. : )

  36. I don't work outside my home, but I still find it difficult to schedule writing time. It's hard to pick up after, feed, and care for seven other people. Yet, I often think about my stories, and that gets me through difficult times. Have you ever considered writing a book about your teaching experiences? I'd buy it! I hope you can get some rest over Christmas break. Have a wonderful holiday season, Theresa.

  37. @ Roxy, writing time is hard to schedule unless that's your full-time job.

    I have considered writing a book about my teaching experiences, but right now I like it for the blog, and want to spend my writing time on fiction. Maybe in the future. Happy New Year!

  38. I hope you're getting some much needed r & r.

    Teaching is tough. At various times I'm hit harder by the dayjob and I have less time to write until things balance out.

    Sometimes it's so hard to sit down and work on my wips, but I challenge myself with a quote like Doctorow's.

  39. @ Medeia, I'm enjoying the break. I like your philosophy of looking for inspiration.

  40. Sounds like you have a difficult job. My mother is a full time teacher and it is not easy. I feel your pain. One day I subbed for my mother and I told her that was it. It was to much for me. I give a lot of credit to those able to do the job it is not for everyone.

  41. @ Flutietootie, thanks for the comment Subbing is not easy. It took me awhile to feel comfortable with it.

  42. I just came to wish you a belated Happy Holidays.
    hang in there.

  43. I can sooo empathise with you Theresa. I used to be a speech and language therapist and it was soo stressful and I would lie awake fretting just as you do or create treatment coherent plans in my sleep, which left me unrested. Eventually I gave up the day job. True, I'm considerably poorer, but Good for you for finding strategies that help you cope. :O)

  44. @ Madeleine, thanks. Sounds like your job was stressful. I have a friend who had the same job, and she was stressed the whole time too.