Sunday, 7 June 2009

Guest Post: Being A Writer, by Dave Dittell

Few writers make much money from their writing alone, and most depend on other work to provide them with a living wage. Dave Dittell is one of many writers who amazes me: how can he be as productive as he is with so little writing time available? I offer him my thanks for this contribution to my blog, and my admiration for all that he achieves.

Wake up, shut off alarm, don't snooze. Used to be a snoozer, but now you're not. Now you're a teacher. It seemed a perfect fit for a budding writer, a chance to immerse yourself in the English language. Your day job would be related to your dream job; it felt like cheating.

Yesterday: taught all day, wrote all afternoon, prepared and graded papers into late night. Now it's early. Still dark out. Four hours sleep. More papers to grade. You spend five minutes per paper max, but it's still too much. Can you really help someone become a better writer in under five minutes a day?

Coffee. Bathroom smells like coffee-pee. Spit out showerwater yellow with caffeine. Never spend more time showering than it takes to grade a paper.

Teaching is two jobs. The in-class job and the out-of-class job. Your third job is writing. You need at least four hours of sleep, so writing is only part-time, even though you'd do it all day if you could.

You have meetings, you have projects. Projects move forward, projects fall apart. Class goes well, class falls apart. Every day, inside your class room, you stand before them and provide hope and strength and knowledge. You represent opportunity; you represent it so well that your class has a future fireman, a future astronaut, a future Air Force pilot. And eleven future engineers, which you think is funny. There are no future writers, but then again, you're a future writer.

Should they want this?

Grade papers. Run-on sentence, run-on sentence, fragment, fragment, run-on sentence, past/present inconsistent, run-on sentence. Same mistakes every week, but they're getting it. Some of them could barely write in English when they first walked through the door. Run-on sentence, fragment, fragment, singular/plural inconsistency, run-on sentence. How can you get Jake to try, Sarah to stop thinking about her mom's cancer, Frank to stop disrupting class? Can you really bring yourself to mention ADD to a twelve year-old's parents?

When you write, you think of them.

When you teach, you think about your stories.

Mouth tastes of reheated coffee. You used to drink coffee and not sleep for hours. Now you sip right up until the moment you collapse.

Get to school early and jot a few notes on your lesson plan. Come up with a good line, an important plot point, and tuck it into your back pocket.

Class starts in twenty minutes and it's the only time of the day when you have absolutely nothing to do. No papers to grade, no blank page, no vocabulary words to pretend you didn't look up the night before.

This is the twenty minutes of the day you most look forward to, more than the writing, because, during the writing, all you can think about is how it's still just the part-time job.

Dave Dittell is a 25 year-old screenwriter currently at work adapting a comedic novel for 363 Entertainment. He operates Alphabet Soup Kitchen, a blog dedicated to young and struggling writers, and has volunteered and worked in education throughout the past five years.


Unknown said...

I'm behind on blogging because...well, finals are now, and I've got to grade my students' essays before I can blog about writing.

This is the most perfect thing I've read in days.

It's my life exactly.

I'm going to print it out, and look at it everyday this summer as, for the next two months at least, I am allowed to make writing my full time job!

Thank you so so so much for posting this. It really touched me...because it IS me.

Jane Smith said...

It's great, isn't it?

I could NEVER be a teacher.