WRITING LIFE: When It’s Not About Time Management by Kimberly Coyle

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I arrive to the soccer field late. The game has begun, and I use my sleeve to wipe the damp metal bleachers before taking a seat. I glance at the other parents, all of whom are absorbed in either conversation or the soccer game. I spy my daughter warming the bench across the field, exchanging gossip with a friend. I file this mental picture away for later. Maybe it will inspire a short essay about her adventurous spirit, or a poem about waiting and anticipation.

If she’s not paying attention to the game, then I have the excuse I need to pull a sheaf of wrinkled essays from my bag for grading. I slide the stack onto my lap and I write comments in the margins as I glance up every thirty seconds. When my daughter enters the game, I rest my pen, but my mind continues to wander. I remember back to the days when I spent these sitting moments crafting sentences in my head. Now, I make a mental note of how many papers I need to get through in the next sixty minutes to avoid grading until midnight as soccer balls and tan limbs and ponytails blur past, dividing my attention.

Later in the evening, after a seven-point soccer win and a mere three papers graded, I scroll through the twenty-two tabs I left open in my phone’s browser looking for an article I’d saved on time management. The tabs are filled with articles on writing tips, submission opportunities, and literary criticism, but there is always at least one article from a random blog or business magazine designed to help me manage my time better.

I read everything I can find on this topic, but always come to the same conclusion—I’m already pretty good at organized living. I’m no wizard, but my house runs fairly smooth, my class preparation is always complete, and I manage to write the occasional article or essay on deadline. Logistics aren’t the problem, I realize. It’s the lack of headspace and the constant switching from the language of parent to teacher to creative.

Before I began adjunct teaching English Composition and Research Writing, I was able to stare out windows and allow my mind to wander. Now, my mind automatically fills with ideas for the classroom, critical analysis, or a plan to keep up with the required readings. Watching shadows slide across the meadow through my kitchen window feels like a luxury. It is a luxury—one I took for granted until it no longer existed.

There is time to write, I remind myself. I carve it out of moments and mornings and weekends. But, the space where creative, generative dreaming takes place—often in long stretches of silence—is shoved aside by work that requires me to take action. I must print the papers, grade the essays, attend the soccer game, write the sentences.

In the classroom, I often forget I am a writer. I forget my current work-in-progress and the submissions sitting in editor’s in-boxes. I forget that the lessons I’m teaching have been lessons I’ve learned myself through trial and error. I bring Professor Coyle to the classroom, a teacher intent on making connections between seemingly disparate ideas and subjects, a teacher who wants the skills I teach to transfer into every aspect of my students’ future.

For a time, I thought my role as teacher and as writer were mutually exclusive. But, over time, I realized that I bring my experience and the curiosity of a writer to my students, even if I rarely speak of or think about my own writing in this context. Their ideas, critical thinking skills, and writing are the ones that need encouragement and formation.

When it’s time to indulge in my writing work in the wee hours or on weekends, I often feel Professor Coyle settle into the room with me, too. I rarely, if ever, use my students as material (although it would be terribly satisfying and occasionally juicy). However, the ideas and themes we discuss in class make an appearance in my own writing again and again. As a writer, the classroom is where I subconsciously practice the art of paying attention. This is the true work of an artist – to pay attention and tell about it, just as poet Mary Oliver suggests.

I find that my work as an educator and a writer are symbiotic in nature. Each informs the other even when there appears to be minimal overlap in the required skillset. In the classroom, I teach and practice paying attention. On the page, I tell about what I’ve noticed through my experiences as a teacher. Looking for areas of connection between my roles has kept me from resenting or favoring one over the other. This ability to make connections and see relationships where there appear to be none is the single greatest gift teaching has given me as a writer. I practice it when creating a syllabus, when trying to follow random threads in a freshman’s research paper, when gathering ideas for a story, when writing the story for readers. I believe this has even made me a better parent.

I still inevitably click on every article that promises to help me manage my time better. It’s my particular weakness as a type B person living in a type A world. My schedule can always use tweaking, and I often want more time to write than I actually possess. However, reminding myself that writing and teaching are mutually beneficial to one another limits some of this frustration.

When I see how much richer and more connected teaching makes my writing, I know that for now, I need it. I need to sit at the soccer field with a lap full of essays taking mental snapshots of my daughter for my own essay later.


Kimberly is a freelance writer with an MFA in creative nonfiction. She writes regularly online and has written for Ruminate blog, Dayspring’s (in)courage, The Write Life, Fathom Magazine, and In Touch Ministries Magazine (both online and in print). When not writing, she teaches college writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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