Saturday, December 29, 2012

Potential Cage Match!: Teaching-Prep Time Vs. Novel-Prep Time

After celebrating the holidays with family, I've been able to settle back in to some spring teaching prep during the last couple of days. Yesterday, specifically, enabled by a quiet household and lovely family members that made food readily accessible, I was able to achieve one spate of work in which I was able to work from around 9:30 a.m. (which was when I woke up) until roughly 5:30 p.m., and then again from 10:45 p.m. to 1:45 a.m.

During these 11 hours I revised a single syllabus, prepped PowerPoints for the first two weeks of that class, and then close-read 65 pages of the somewhat-dense textbook for my other (new) class in the spring in hopes of selecting the best chapters to add to that syllabus. Thanks to staying up late doing the reading, I only have 40 pages left to go in that textbook, which means I'm close to determining a reading schedule for the other class as well.

This all reminds me that teaching (well) is a lot of work. Which, to be honest, scares me a bit, as creative writing also involves a lot of work. I'm not worried, really, that I won't get both sets of work done this spring. What I suspect/hope will happen, rather, is that the change of rhythms between the two types of creative work will become routine, each giving me a break from the other while the promise of a break from each will encourage me to work harder as to give the other some room in my headspace.

That's what I hope, at least. But there could potentially be a Cage Match a-brewing.

Here's the difference between the two, as I currently see it: early-stage Teaching-Prep Time is the one who would systematically make sandwiches, leaning back out of the reach of Novel-Prep Time's airily-waved dagger in a potentially successful attempt to avoid any blows. While it can threaten to take over and always takes more time than you expect, early-stage Teaching-Prep Time is delightfully discrete in many ways. One can easily list things one must do:

Structure the syllabus. Re-read the policy wording to remove redundancies and include any changes one wanted to make based on the particular class or recent semester experiences. Read or re-read the textbook and lay out the schedule of readings and assignments appropriately, working across syllabi to double-check one's grading load along with student workloads. (Re-)Envision how to frame the class and the material for the students and plan any supplementary readings. Begin to create or revise lesson plans and PowerPoints for each day accordingly.

One begins to sense the enormity of the task of filling approximately sixty 75-minute segments of class with meaningful discussions and activities along with planning useful out-of-class work, but--especially when one of the classes has already been taught once--it seems like a possible enormity. And when one finishes 11 hours of work in a day, one feels accomplished.

Early-stage Novel-Prep Time, perhaps because it's still a less-familiar activity for me (having only completed one Novel in a Drawer previously), but also because of its nature, seems more amorphous and even more time-intensive:

Read background works on the era and space and writing in the genre. Try to figure out how much poetic license one wants to take with one's era, location, and genre. Attempt to deal with the emotions raised by realizing one will have to deal with difficult emotions during the novel-writing activity. Re-read portions of helpful writing books that help one deal with such emotions. Re-start one's blog as a form of public accountability along with a way to process one's thoughts about process. Read through more background works looking for potential inspirations for characters and plot twists along with period and location-specific language and details to insert. Try to imagine one's way into one's characters' heads and envision some of their backstory and potential actions. Jot down ideas as they pop up, referring back to previous notes to try to come up with some sort of useful brainstorming treasure trove, if not an actual outline. Read more novels in your genre, typing in whole passages to get muscle memory for the style and to enforce close reading of the text....

Take break to try to get emotional space and claim more space for future Novel-Prep Time by completing delightfully discrete Teaching-Prep tasks. Back to sandwich-making for awhile.

I'm beginning to understand why Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Gilead, once said she gave back the money a year and a half into a paid 5-year period of full-time creative writing. I may feel differently once I get into it, but right now, I'm glad to have some more structured work to fall back on during breaks.

Yes, this could work nicely, at least during this holiday break when both activities will be occasionally broken by the other delightful activities known by labels such as Sleeping, Exercise, and Talking to Non-Work-Related People. The balance is bound to change once the semester starts and Students, Colleagues, and Creative Writing Classmates enter the picture. Hopefully I'll have gotten enough done during the break that I'll be able to handle it somewhat gracefully, but only time will tell...

I have a feeling that once the semester starts, it will be Sleep that may suffer the most injuries as a bystander to this battle between these two would-be time conquerors that are already threatening to rumble.... Stay tuned to find out.

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