I have a coffee mug that reads “Teacher by day, Blogger by night” and that’s a pretty accurate description of who I am and what I do. By day I teach English at a local school for kids gifted in the arts and sciences. By night I blog about writing, wellness, and women’s empowerment, I run See Jane Write, and I freelance for a number of local and national media outlets.
For years I worked to keep these two worlds of mine — writer and teacher — separate. I never talked about my blog at work and since I often shared my blog posts via social media, I never accepted Facebook friend requests from students and I kept my Twitter account locked so I could control who followed me. But then one day a student came up to my desk and said to me the words I never wanted to hear: “Mrs. Bowser, you know I read your blog.”
I wanted to hide under my desk.
I know it was completely irrational for me to believe I could keep something hidden on the Internet, but sometimes I am completely irrational.
It’s not that I ever write anything on any of my websites that I think would get me fired, it’s just that a part of me worried that if my students saw that I was essentially juggling another career it would make them feel I was dedicated to them, that I wasn’t serious about teaching, which is a particular concern for me because I was a full-time journalist first and teaching is a second career for me.
But I was completely wrong about that. My students LOVE the fact that I have a thriving writing career in addition to my teaching career.
I’ve had students write on my teacher evaluation forms that knowing that I am a writer makes them want to listen to what I tell them about essay writing and composition. They’ve said they know I’m telling them that writing is important because I actually believe that is, not because I’m paid to say so.
I’ve had students say that reading my writing makes them want to improve their own.
And I’ve even had students say that the work ethic I must have to juggle two careers inspires them to quote “stop watching Netflix all the time and do something with my life.”
Now, I must be honest with you.
I am very happy about all of this.
But I don’t freelance or blog for the benefit of my students. I wasn’t thinking about a single teenager or pre-teen at my school when I started See Jane Write. I do these things because I have to. I write because I just can’t help myself.
Writing isn’t just something I do; it’s who I am. It’s how I heal. It’s how I understand the world. It’s how I understand myself. I believe writing can be this for anyone, whether you’re an English teacher or not.
So I want to give you a few steps on how you can develop a writing practice and create a writing community for yourself.
Find your tribe. Love them hard.
In 2009 I left my job as a newspaper reporter in Louisville, Kentucky and returned to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama to teach English. Though I was fond of my new colleagues I missed the group of female writers I was surrounded by in my newsroom. I searched for a women’s writing group that would welcome poets, authors, journalists, and bloggers – all hats I’d worn at one point in my writing life – but I couldn’t find one. So I decided to start an organization of my own.
See Jane Write has become a national network of hundreds of women and an award-winning business. But you don’t need to do all that to have a writing tribe. Simply seek out a group of like-minded women, get together regularly to write, and find a way to stay connected and encourage one another in between those meetings (such as a Facebook group. You can join mine here.)
Write every day.
Writing is a practice. Just as athletes must practice to get better at their sport and musician must practice to get better at their instrument, writers must practice to get better at their craft. So write every day. You must practice just like athletes, so write every day. Each night decide when, where, and what you’re going to write the next day. It may be an entire chapter of a book in your home office before you go to work or a two-sentence journal entry in your bedroom after your kids have finally fallen asleep. But write something EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Learn to love deadlines.
Give yourself assignments and due dates just as you would give students in a classroom and find someone in your writing tribe to be your accountability partner to make sure you meet your deadlines. Your assignments could be to publish a new blog post every week or even three days a week. Your assignment could be to finally start and finish the book project you’ve been putting off. Or maybe you want to submit story pitches to some of your favorite publications.
There’s an Ethiopian proverb that I have in my classroom that has become my mantra: “She who learns teaches.” It reminds me to never stop learning and it reminds me that knowledge is meant to be shared, not hoarded. But I have learned that she who writes teaches, too. Just as I seek to teach women to live their best lives through my blog posts and articles, by having a writing practice and a writing career I am teaching my students the value and the power of the written word.