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Teacher and Writer

Updated: Apr 15

Two months have passed since I got back from the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York, and I feel like I’ve been swimming underwater that whole time and am just now coming up for a breath. Just one quick breath, mind you, and then down again, and it’s a loooong way to summer and the other shore.

I’m a teacher. I teach high school science: biology, chemistry, environmental science, and anatomy. I taught physics last year and next spring I’m taking on an astronomy course for the first time.

And I love it. I love my kids. I love the mentoring relationships I get to have with them. I love my subject, and the way that teaching pushes me to stay abreast of new understandings of the universe. I’m also very fortunate in having a supportive administration and in having year after year of students who are bright and curious and who can get as excited as I am over gene editing and electron configuration and quantum entanglement.

But teaching is all-consuming. It swallows me whole every September, and I don’t see the light of day again until mid-June.

I started teaching eighteen years ago, with the rough drafts of the first couple of chapters for a novel. I’d created a couple of characters and a wonderfully evocative setting, but I was still wandering blindly looking for a central conflict that could turn it into an actual story. The novel developed over the years, with my characters doing things along the way that surprised even me. After nearly two decades, I finally declared it finished last summer, at just under 100,000 words and after two professional edits. I’m pretty pleased with it.

I was riding that feeling of accomplishment as I went to the Writer’s Digest Conference last August. It was an amazing experience, and very encouraging. It felt like a turning point, like it marked my transition from being a writer to being an author. It also gave me a clear sense of what life is like after publication. One does not just sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in. If I’m to take this writing thing seriously, then I need to be doing it full time.

I spoke to eight agents at the conference’s “Pitch Slam” (sort of like speed dating, but with agents) and made eight submissions. That’s a good start, but it’s only a start—only the barest beginning. I need to be machine-gunning submissions, a dozen a month, collecting rejections by the score, and I need to be blogging regularly to establish a visible on-line presence and…and…and…

And forget it. Not while I’m teaching.

My solution: I’m retiring. The mortgage was paid off last year, my daughter’s been out of college for a while, and we can make it work financially. My blogging and sending out submissions will be a bit sporadic until then and any writing I do will be wedged in between preparing molar solutions and grading essay questions, but I have the opportunity now to clear away enough space to make a go of writing full time, and I’m going to take it.

My first novel took me almost twenty years to finish. My second will be done it that many months.

Starting in July.

Photography by Allison Slysz.

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