Friday, December 28, 2012

From Grad Student to Assistant Professor, Episode One: Time Management

            After almost ten years of higher education—of interacting with faculty and observing them on a daily basis—this past semester, it was finally my turn. I love my job even more than I suspected I would, though being an assistant professor is much more than I ever imagined it would be: more fun, more challenging, more exciting, and, yes, more work. I've learned a lot over the past few months, including: most aspects of this career are truly great, departmental meetings are not fun and will take twice as long as they were supposed to, and time management is everything.

            Being a faculty member is a curious mix of freedom and obligation. The biggest thing to change for me this semester is the way that I look at, understand, and manage my time. In some respects, being an assistant professor affords me a tremendous amount of discretion regarding how I spend my time, which I love. The only hours that are truly spoken for are the ones that I spend in the classroom. However, teaching and time spent preparing to be in the classroom is just the tip of the academic iceberg. As a grad student, I never really thought about the job of a professor as being a 30-30-40 time split between teaching, service, and scholarship. As a new professor, however, finding a balance between the three has been essential.

            The way that I looked at my writing, both creative and scholarly, also changed when I started my job. The reality of the academic system is that as soon as you sign a contract, the promotion clock starts and everything you do becomes a quantifiable measure of your professional success. For me, this was actually a good thing because it made me block out time every day devoted to writing and sending out work, establishing a routine that I've struggled with in the past. I've also learned that designating time is a necessity, because  if you don't claim time for each thing that you want to accomplish, that time disappears.

            The service category was somewhat of a mystery to me when I began my job last August, and in hindsight I feel a little silly for worrying that there wouldn't be enough opportunities (ha!) for me to fulfill this requirement. Fear not, future professors—service opportunities abound. Committees and meetings are a fixture of the academic environment, and I had no idea how involved and time-consuming they can be. Though meetings themselves can be tedious, I ultimately really enjoyed the service-related work that I did this past semester, which included being on a job search committee, running an essay contest, and volunteering at events.

            My first semester as faculty was a wonderful experience. I get to teach thoughtful, dedicated students in a fun, dynamic environment, and I also get to pursue my own writing outside of the classroom. While the first semester learning curve was somewhat steep, and I certainly wouldn't mind a few more days of winter break, I'm very excited to have a job that I love and I'm looking forward to getting back to work.

Courtney Watson is an alumna of the FAU MFA program and an Assistant Professor of English at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia. Her writing has recently been published in 100 Word Story, Into the Willows, The Inquisitive Eater, and more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quiet and Drudge

Offer your craft two hours a day. Twelve hours a week.

Easy peasy, but it doesn't always happen. The writing comes in gangly fits of productivity. So I was thinking: Why don't I have the focus to regularly perform this act that I spend all my time fussing about? Discipline. I'm bad at it. I added an oath: Exercise every single day for 100 days. The idea was that if I could make my body do the things it didn't feel like doing, then – in my writing cubby – I would know where the switch was, the bio-feedback leverage to pull so I would quit circling the act of sitting and writing and sit and write.

The project goes further than discipline. Of course people have already figured out the connectivity between physicality and artistic endeavor – Mishima – but the act of doing it differs from the concept in that one doesn't necessarily gain understanding. Perhaps it's because the processes call and respond to each other. With fitness – you can easily measure progress; numbers and time, but movement towards writing goals aren't so clear. Word counts don't always reflect progress. However, the number of variables in the actions are something like similar in so much as there are too many unknowns. As it was easier to write the second failed novel than the first one – you can do more pull ups than you could three weeks ago because you understand more of the weight you're trying to hold. Even if you're not altogether sure why it feels lighter - you know how to pull harder.

I've found that the quietness of simple labor can also bring about a clarity of artistic decision. Intrinsically, this quiet can't be reproduced at a laboratory-desk area; you have to mow the lawn or lift weights – hardcore open-eye meditation. Your body and most of your vision distracted – there's a good chance the chatter in your head-space will shut off. Out in the sun, moving the weight of myself and my giant, can-headphones – it's easy to enter a space isolated from the chatter of intellectual distraction – where you're not trying to think of anything except what you're physically doing. Fall off the push-up bar wrong and it's your teeth. Guaranteed time to not think about writing is a thing most of us who spend a good amount of our time thinking about writing should consider.

The writing life has more to it than writing, but for me – finding words seems to be a kinetic act.
This is not to suggest that process can function like an oil-well. There are days that the writing session fails too soon and not much happens. But you did it. You wrote. It's become another thing you do with your time. So when those big ideas come along – you'll be strong enough to reel them in. Your books will get written.

Jake Henson graduated from the MFA @ FAU in 2011. He is a writer, painter, and enthusiast making cool stuff in South Florida.