Philosophical Monday: If You Write, Should You Teach?
I don’t know how long I can survive in captivity.
So I’ve never read or heard of David Gessner (picutred)
before, but he wrote this really fascinating article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about being a former full time writer that teaches writing to college and/or grad students.
Now, until a couple of years ago I felt that I wasn’t “good enough” to teach writing. I mumble, I trail off, public speaking makes me nervous, really bad writing makes me mad, and my copy editing skills aren’t nearly what they used to be. Of course, this was all before I actually went to graduate school for writing and realized that none of those things really stand in the way of being a good writing professor if you have know-how and can at that very least make your edit points understood.
Also, university teaching, Gessner points out, has all sorts of sexy perks, including insurance, students who actually want to learn what you’re teaching, and perhaps most important to the lonely writer, these things called hallways, behind the doors of which are other people. And though you could argue that you no longer have time to do your own writing, Gessner argues back that eating up time is actually another perk of a university job:
Young writers think all they need is time, but give them that time and watch them implode. After all, there’s something basically insane about sitting at a desk and talking to yourself all day, and there’s a reason that writers are second only to medical students in instances of hypochondria. In isolation, our minds turn on us pretty quickly.
Coming off a writing weekend, during which I nearly became completely feral while my husband, CH was out of town, I definitely identify with that statement. And I was thinking about looking into creative writing teaching jobs in New Zealand (my dream scenario country of choice, since Hawaii is riddled with writers), until Gessner started listing some of the drawbacks, which I think were handily summed up by his fellow writer-turned-teacher (and someone else I’ve never heard of or read) Mike Magnuson:
“What teaching has done for me is make me not want to read anything, written by anybody, for the rest of my life.”
So there’s the rub. It is seriously understating to call the head of my writing program a bit cranky — and now that I look back on it, I can’t really blame him. I might be cranky, too, if I had to watch newbie grad writers making the same mistakes year after year.
Which brings us back to our original question: If you write, should you teach. Pros: Learning from and teaching your students. Cons: Coming to hate all your students over time and having your own creativity sucked dry. Even Gessner wonders how long he could survive in captivity.
Either way, if you’re a writer and considering making this leap, you should probably read this article first.