Making Time To Write: Confessions from a Poet-Teacher

It’s official, 2018 has arrived and when it comes to thinking about New Year’s Resolutions some of us might pinky promise ourselves to, “WRITE MORE, READ MORE, DEDICATE MORE TIME TO MY CRAFT!”

However, if you work in the field of education it can be quite the challenging task to mother both the teacher and writer that screams for attention. Li-Young Lee says it best in an interview with the Los Angeles Review, stating that teaching “[is] like giving blood. You’re using all of your energy, libido, creativity, and bringing it.” So how do we balance time between grading student essays and crafting our own writing?

In a desperate need to seek answers, I reached out to poets who teach for insight into their own daily routines and tips. For the next couple of weeks, posts from various writers will be offering their words of wisdom with hopes to inspire all of us to embrace and make space for both our passion as educators and the hunger we all crave, the freedom to create!


By Manuel Paul López


During the busiest times of the school year, the most exhausting, I try to at least, at the very minimum, open up an ongoing Word Document; and what I simply do is wave at it, the screen that is, gently, endearingly, wearily, to say hi, I’m here and so are you, both of us together in this ragged moment in time, waiting. Even if the moment lasts three fleeting minutes, that’s three minutes that I’ve engaged it as opposed to zero, and with that, I’m content until the next day. Of course my greatest hope is that those days are minimal, and that I do everything possible to make them as such, but they happen, they do. And believe me, it brings me great joy when the writing is there, when time is abundant, when the hours are available to tap words across the keyboard, to sit and wait, kick back on the floor and listen to records, to allow my eyes to take comfort behind closed lids and daydream peacefully of language that punctuates music all over the room and me like oxygen or incense.   Though there aren’t many days like that either, none that I can recall of late, which is fine, too. This is my daily practice, and the daily practice is that I’m there, here, writing this.



“Don’t sweat it—it’s ok,” I must often remind myself, “…but for real, get your ass up and work!” That’s my other voice.



Like many, I carry black journals everywhere with me, typically filled with half-hearted To Do lists, drawings, song and book titles, bits of overheard conversation, strange musings that more often than not, turn out to be embarrassing, sloppily rendered abstractions, but they’re me, it’s all part of the big, messy process—for me!—for me! This is how I navigate the world while doing something I equally love, which is teaching.



Read, read, writers read. So many writers of color to be read!



I don’t really have any specific method, ritual, or regimen. There have been periods when I’ve tasked myself with a minimum word count each day, or assigned a magical (read arbitrary) number of required pages at the end of the week, but that quickly became a replication of everything I’ve come to despise—the top-down approach, the bureaucratic order domineering my ability to think and behave freely, to dance while on life’s death clock, and that’s the only requirement that I hold for myself these days: I must, if I choose, at least when it comes to writing, feel free to dance while on the tiny clock of my own zany design.




Poet’s Bio: 

Manuel Paul López’s books and chapbook include These Days of Candy (Noemi Press, 2017), The Yearning Feed (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), 1984 (Amsterdam
Press, 2010)
and Death of a Mexican and Other Poems (Bear Star Press, 2006). He co-edited Reclaiming Our Stories: Narratives of Identity, Resilience, and Empowerment (City Works Press, 2016). A CantoMundo fellow, his work has been published in Bilingual Review, Denver Quarterly, Hanging Loose, Huizache, Puerto del Sol, and ZYZZYVA, among others. His work has been supported by the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst Fund. He lives in San Diego and teaches at San Diego City College.


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