Why I Have to Write
Writing matters because it is when I am my truest self
In Writing the Journey, I write about writing. I share my travel and personal experiences through writing in a lot of contexts, but I also strive to achieve more as a writer. This is where I reflect on that process.
Yesterday a student who works for our school’s television station interviewed me as a preview for my scheduled talk with the creative writing club next week. I wasn’t super excited about getting front of camera and speaking to the nearly 4000 people in a school building where I honestly try to keep to my own little classroom, but she did a good job, kept it short, and was thankful for real answers.But I honestly had to think hard about one of her interview questions as she asked when I found the time to write.
I’m sure it’s a question that a lot of people wonder about teachers who write or create any kind of content.
Anyone who is a teacher or who loves a teacher knows that for generations, teachers have struggled to find a balance between work and their personal lives. It’s become a societal expectation that teachers work at school until long after the bell rings and take work home with them to spend several hours of their weekend finishing what they could not in the school building. Someday I might write about my struggle to focus on my marriage and family during the early years of teaching and how I slowly came to discover that I could love my job but not have it be my life. But that wouldn’t answer the question “How do you find time to write?”
The short answer is “whenever I can.” The slightly longer answer is “Saturday and Sunday mornings while the rest of my family is still sleeping.” The most honest answer is “I write when I have to write.”
I recently decided to re-read Stephen King’s excellent writing book, On Writing. The book is full of important advice for people who want to pursue the craft of writing and has a lot of gems that I highlighted as I paced around my classroom during Silent Sustained Reading time. As I thought about how writing has played such a significant role in both my teaching and personal healing process through a lot of situations, this comment by King made me stop and ponder how true it is in my own life: “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
I got into the blogging game long after nearly every writer I now read and admire had been building their audiences. My first blog became mostly a place for me to write about our home renovations and occasional reflections on travel and social issues. Then I transitioned to my WordPress blog, where I started exploring myself as a writer and I quickly discovered that the more I wrote about everything, the better I was able to process life as a wife, mother, teacher, Christian, and citizen. Writing everything down and putting it out there for a small audience (usually in the dozens) helped me make sense of life, especially when others spoke up to say “me too.” This became especially important when our lives fell apart in the early days of 2021.
In On Writing, King says “writing is not life, but…sometimes it can be a way back to life.”When I think about the writing that I did during those dark first six months versus this last year, I can see the significant difference between the writing that helped me fill the gaps of brokenness and the writing once those cracks were filled. I wrote a lot during those first six months and I wrote some important pieces, but they were about speaking my truth from the fringes. I wrote about the importance of raising the minimum wage and finally got an original piece published in Scary Mommy. I wrote about my changing views of what it meant to be pro-life and several other original pieces for Red Letter Christians. I wrote about our experiences living through the Big Freeze in Houston and how our solar panels saved us. But there was a lot I wasn’t ready to write about, not yet.
I kept writing because it prevented me from falling further down a dark hole. I wrote about my feelings and some of my experiences because I needed to get it down, but I wasn’t ready to write about what it all meant in the big picture. As I worked on my book, I could see how some of those pieces progressed. I could see how I was writing my way out. And I could see how I was finally able to move forward.
And now my writing has evolved again. The cracks will always be there, but instead of writing to find meaning, I’m able to write from the view up above. I can make meaning out of my years of experiences. I’m finally ready to go back thirty years and start writing about the childhood experiences of watching my family experience church trauma over and over again. I can write about how that impacted me as a child, young adult, and then as an adult with my own career in the Church. I’m ready to return to the camping memoir that I started over five years ago and approach it from a completely different angle, making it a book that both captures important memories and speaks to others.
And even with all of this being true, I know that I'm not quitting my day job. I'm still called to teach and writing has never been about the money. And despite the millions of dollars that Stephen King has made from his writing, I believe him when he says that he doesn’t do it for the money: “I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.”
I just have to appreciate my quite weekend mornings to get the thing done.
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I’ve written a memoir collection of essays based on several of my blog posts from the past seven years. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.
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As a former yearbook adviser, I can confirm that high school students are notoriously bad at giving real, meaningful answers to journalism students.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2020, p. 101
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2020, p. 249
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2020, p. 249
Could not agree more! I write because I have to write. Not every time I sit down feels urgent or like creative juices are flowing, but it’s necessary for life 😊
It's amazing how much I recognise from what you're saying. I have started out with teaching several years ago, as a means to have some financial stability while developing and working on my writing, and it has remained a constant struggle to create a balance in which I can actually write. But it is getting better, I have even written a reflection piece on it not that long ago ( https://roberturbaschek.substack.com/p/stress-happiness-and-motivation), after I once again realised that I need to shift my balance and focus so that I can do what I really want to do, which is writing. It usually follows more difficult, busy periods, and me realising 'it's not working like this', changing something about my life and refocusing. The result is always more energy, more motivation to do everything. It's quite a journey, being a writer.