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Those Who Can’t Write, Teach

NaNoWriMo, Teaching, Writing

So, November’s over, which means that whole NaNoWriMo thing is over. Someone asked me the other day how it was going. How many words had I done—forty thousand? Fifty? You’ve got to be joking, I thought. I’d have been happy to make it to ten. But I didn’t. Not even close.

I think that constitutes what the kids would call an “epic fail” in the NaNoWriMo world.
Gimme a break, though. Finding the time to write when you’re a school teacher is like chasing the rainbow’s end—especially at this time of the year, when the kids are winding up for Christmas, and you’re still trying to maintain the rules and routines you put in place back in September, as well as actually, like, educating. Then, of course, there’s all the marking, form-filling, staff meetings, after-school clubs, and whatever else the day might throw your way. By the time you get home, the last thing you want to do is sit in front of a computer and try to hammer out two and a half thousand words.

I can already sense one or two readers rolling their eyes and groaning: “Here he goes again—another whine about how hard it is being a teacher.” Wrong again. That’s not why I’m here. Yeah, sure, we do tend to get a bit angsty about our profession, but believe me, so would you. It’s an all-consuming, frequently frustrating, emotionally draining endeavour. Which begs the question: why the hell do I do it? Especially when I have this whole other thing to do… this thing called writing, which is just as demanding, time-wise, and comes with its own set of challenges.

Last year I decided to leave full-time, class-room teaching. It was brilliant. I was able get up when I wanted, work the hours that suited me, and put all the spare time I suddenly seemed to have into my writing. I completed a few pieces, did a couple of classes, and learnt a lot. And yet, seven or eight months later, I had my Godfather Part 3 moment: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” In this case, though, it wasn’t the Sicilian mafia doing the pulling. Nor was it the excellent rate of pay. (Newsflash: teachers do not get paid “excellently”.) No. The truth is… I kinda missed it. Aspects of it, anyway. Moreover—and not to sound too melodramatic about it—by staying away from the classroom, I felt that I was letting people down. Not doing my bit. Shirking my responsibilities as a member of society, and as a human being.

It’s not just guilt that brought me back, though. Teaching, for me—and for the majority of the other teachers I know—is in the blood. It’s instinctive. You do it because you can’t not do it. You don’t get it right every day, but you do get better at it, all the time, and that’s a good feeling. And while we’re talking about feelings, that one you get from knowing that you’ve helped someone—specifically, a child—to learn something, however small, or to gain an understanding of the world, or to discover what they’re really good at… that one’s unbeatable.

I know we’re getting into the realms of cliché and fridge-magnet sentimentality here, but these are the things that keep you going when the going gets tough. Teachers face all sorts of challenges, on a daily basis. Some you hear about, and others you definitely don’t. Sometimes you have to dig your heels in. Other times you have to relent, to compromise. Often you have to do things that are outside your comfort zone, that seem absurd. But you do it. You do it all, because you have a responsibility to the children in your charge, and everything you do is because you believe it to be in their best interests.

Writing is something else entirely, but again it’s something to which I feel a huge sense of responsibility. Mostly, I like to write things that are fun to read, that might make you smile. But here’s another newsflash for ya: that stuff is not as easy as tumblr might have you think.

Whether it’s for a blog post or a chapter of a story that might never see the light of day, writing, for me, is a painstaking process that involves everything from looking up words that I’ve been using for twenty years, just to double-check the meaning and make sure that’s actually the word I mean, all the way through to re-writing sentences, ten, twenty times, only to go back to the one I put down in the first place. I’m sure there’ll be writers going, well, yeah—sure. I do that, too. We all do. You’re no great hero, Matt Pucci. And they’d be right. I’m just doing my job. Except it’s not my job—not in the traditional, that-thing-you-do-to-get-money-to-eat-and-put-a-roof-over-your-head sense. Writing is something I do, because, again, it’s in my blood. I don’t do enough of it, but I do what I can, in the way that works for me. I write when the inspiration strikes, or when the marking’s done, or just whenever I can grab twenty minutes.

So, no. I haven’t completed the first draft of my novel. Do I regret going in for such a preposterous challenge? Absolutely not. I’ve got a handful of half-decent chapters under my belt and, more importantly, if you’ve spent any time with me this month you’ll know that I’ve used it as yet another excuse to talk about it. And, one day, when Hollywood comes knocking to buy the rights to MK boy-done-good (working title), you’ll be able to say you were there way back when, liking and sharing my Facebook posts, reading my stuff when nobody else wanted to, telling other people to do the same, and y’know, supporting me and that. TIA. See you for red-carpet selfies at the premiere…