Writing about Writing

Right now, I should be grading. Or writing up my lesson plans, which are due by midnight tonight. I’m reading two books as well for school.  Teachers work after hours. Today is Sunday. These are the things that keep me from doing the things I want—like writing—for pleasure—or reading a book I’ve never read.

I have 180ish students, 140 or so in AP Literature and Composition, about 40 in English IV. Since a week ago Saturday, I’ve graded approximately 92 essays. Not that I’m counting. Okay, I’m counting. And I have approximately 49 to go, give or take. I try to grade 10 a day and complete the task over the course of 2 weeks. Yesterday, I graded none. I brought 27 home for the weekend. This morning I graded 3. Sometimes I obsess over the numbers. I count and recount.

I even took those same 3 essays with me to the coffee shop yesterday for my monthly meetup with my grad school cohort. I met my friends to catch-up and write, but I was at a loss for ideas, so I thought I might grade. If you’ve been reading for a while, you might have noticed my posts shrinking in length since I returned to teaching. I even featured an essay from my grandmother in a guest post recently. I wrote the introduction. 79 words.   

My grandmother has been quite popular on the blog. Her words resonate across years, and people around the globe have embraced her. Grandma would be so incredibly humbled to know. An idea dawned. What if I used the memoirs my grandmother left behind as inspiration for poetry or fiction? I bounced the idea off my friends. They liked it. However, I didn’t have the copies with me, so that idea would wait.

I opened my laptop and the Submittable page that tracks my literary magazine submissions. Last attempt. September 25th. Declined. Eleven submissions since June. Six declined. One in progress. The rest received yet unopened. It was time to try again. On my favorites bar, I clicked the link to Poets & Writers. If I had stayed at home, I would have graded some essays, but now I was on a mission to write.

Poets & Writers has a database of over 1200 alphabetized literary magazines and journals. From June to November, I searched for suitable publication matches, working my way from A to D. Yesterday, I landed on Dead Housekeeping. They accept essays of 250 words or less, “each focused on a task or series of related tasks as executed by people we’ve lost to death but still clearly see living.” I thought of my mother and her love of gardening and the tips she left behind. I said to myself, I can write 250 words.

37 thoughts on “Writing about Writing

  1. Go Crystal! If I was in one of your AP classes, or English IV, I’d gladly wait for my grade. After all, my Mrs. Byers is a writer too; she practices what she teaches.
    I’ll always remember what Steve Seskin ( hit country song writer) said at a songwriting workshop. “So you want to be a song writer? Okay. Write 100 songs. Done? Alright, throw them in the trash. Now you are a songwriter.” I think he meant the way to get better at writing it to write— a whole bunch. But I was too timid to ask.☺️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh Crystal, you take me back to my last decade or so, the students, the grading, the lesson plans! Most of which I found easy to let go, but I dearly miss my students. You amaze me with how much you accomplish even when working more then full time! I love your voice, your energy, and the inspiration you naturally offer others! Thank you so very much, sending love and hugs, C

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I would love to do away with grades and just show up and teach. I’m fairly certain they would still learn something. Thanks for your encouragement, Cheryl! It means so much to me. One more week until a two-week holiday!!! And my kids have some independent work on the calendar which gives me some extra grading time during school this week, too!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. When school is in session, teaching is a 24/7 activity. With your dedication, I know that you’ll find a way to grade all of your students’ essays. Finding time to read and write won’t be easy. I used to get a lot done during my then daily two-hour work commute by bus. All the best with your short story submission 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sometimes I have to listen to myself to realize the insanity. The number of students was my one hesitation in taking this job. They are good kids—smart and talented. There’s just a lot of them. I only grade one essay per six week grading period. At the end of this week, I’m finished for 2021.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Jane, you remind me of my first mentor, during my first year of teaching, who would say at the end of the day when she was leaving, “Crystal, go home.” I needed that then. I need it now. New jobs are hard. I’m working toward finding balance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s the problem with writers (or, more broadly, with Liberal Arts-types), Crystal: so deeply does the written word captivate us, we’re incapable of jotting down a mere sentiment. No, it must be profound. We know how dramatically a well-crafted phrase moves us, and by God, we’re going to be equally effective!

    It makes filling out Christmas cards an agonizing trek. Maybe, if we start each year by Labor Day, we can make it. Though just, at that. Maybe you can relate.

    Could be, you could offer punctuation, not comments. Go through each paper, noting “!” or “?,” as appropriate. How’s that?

    Hmmm, I didn’t think so, either. We’re creatives, and wordsmith we must. Everything’s got to sparkle, no?


    Liked by 2 people

    1. In the beginning of the year, they need comments. For the AP LIT test (they take in May for potential college credit), they write three different essays (poetry analysis, prose analysis, and literary argumentation based on a theme). We’ve now practiced all three. Next semester I could probably move to rubric-only grading and speed it all up. Better yet, have my students grade each other based on samples/the rubric. Each scenario takes a little training. We’re getting there. (Have I mentioned I really don’t care to teach toward tests? Especially those created by big business.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Nope, most teachers likely share your disdain for orienting everything toward the tests. Particularly when they’re young, bright eyed and freshly minted.

        You teach at a school that celebrates artistic expression, Crystal, disposing students to your innovative approach, I’d reckon. Especially intriguing is your opening the floor to students to critique each other.

        It’s good preparation for “the real world,” and handling the realization, “OMG, I’m an adult!”


      2. I appreciate your “real world” logic, Keith. Students have scored each other before, and I use writing folders to track student progress. The first (and only) time they graded each other, I had all students grade three essays anonymously (using a sample set of scored essays and a rubric). So each essay received three scores. Each grader had the opportunity to agree with the first grader (and second) or not. Each student had three opinions. Those grades were overall consistent with how I would’ve scored the essays. You’re right! I must do this again.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Aha, the pain of grading papers I can understand. I’ve helped a good few of my teachers grade test papers and oh man, it hurts even more when the writing is barely legible 🤦🏻‍♂️


  6. I often find myself in this place… So much to do but all I want to do is write for me… But then when I do get the chance to write, I put it off.. For a better time, when my thoughts are not so muddled… So I just started jotting ideas, one-liners on my phone when inspiration hits and when I do sit down to write I don’t put pressure on myself to finish in one sitting… I allow myself to piece it together as best I can in that particular sitting… Seems to be working… But like all things, it’s a work-in-progress! 🙂


  7. The Gaiman quote is perfect. I learned to write in high school/college but gained as much insight, or more, by writing a blog. There’s no better crucible for honing your writing abilities. Say what you think makes sense and readers will quickly let you know that they don’t understand you. There’s good and bad with that.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s