Using Your Experience as a Teacher to Become a Writer
Writing can extend a teacher’s influence well beyond their classroom.
As educators, our profession is beautifully complex and dynamic. And, if we’re honest, overwhelming at times. It may seem hard to add one more thing to your already full plate, but we can use writing to get back to the joy of teaching, learning, and leading.
Personally, I write because I want answers, not because I have answers. Writing allows me to take an action-researcher approach to my professional learning and overcome challenges that stress me out. I share my learning/experiences (like I’m doing now), and it feels a lot less intimidating than claiming to be the total authority.
So, whether you are interested in starting a blog, you want to write for publications like Edutopia, or you’ve got a book on your bucket list, here are some things to consider to make your experience as joyful and productive as possible.
3 Keys to Success as a Writer
1. Know your why. Many will attest that writing is simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding intellectual experiences. The reality is, if we don’t have a compelling reason to write, we will likely opt out quickly. Consider your “why” for writing.
- Is it about being reflective to improve?
- Are you taking a deeper dive on a specific topic?
- Do you want to amplify the work of others?
- Perhaps you find it cathartic.
- Maybe it’s all of the above!
Also, ask yourself, “Is writing the best medium for me?” There are plenty of other ways to learn and share out loud. For example, you could host a podcast, create video tutorials, and/or present at conferences. If you wanted to share within your school community before going public, you could organize instructional rounds and invite peers into your classroom.
2. Create rituals and routines. Real talk: When I started writing my first book, my writing habits were a hot mess! I would block out massive chunks of time to write, but when the time came, I felt overwhelmed and I would let myself get distracted with other “important” tasks. Here’s an excerpt from the voice inside my head:
When was the last time I cleaned out the refrigerator? I should probably do that instead of writing. I can always write extra next time. Oh, and you know what goes great with a clean fridge… a well-organized closet! How have I let these things go?! Writing is important, but how can I write when my house is a disaster?”
The chatter in my head is a great distraction even in the best of times, but for me, a massive chunk of time to write was way too much at once. Enter one of my favorite James Clear quotes, ”A lot of people think what they need is intensity, but what they really need is consistency.” And while consistency is key, the rituals and routines we use to get there could look very different from one person to the next.
Ask prolific writers about their routines, and you’ll get all sorts of different answers. One person might wake up early and dedicate an hour each morning to writing as much as possible. Another person might set aside time at night after the kids are asleep, and they write at least five pages. Someone else might focus on self-imposed deadlines. Yet another person might block time on the weekends. Many variables come into play here, such as work hours, family obligations, and other commitments, not to mention personal preferences.
Rituals can also help us become more consistent. One of my writing rituals is also one of my favorite life hacks, called “temptation bundling.” I learned about it from Katy Milkman when I read her book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. The idea is to combine one thing you should do, but often procrastinate on doing, with one thing that you can’t wait to do. I love coffee, but I have to limit my intake (no one wants to be around me when I’m heavily caffeinated!), so I allow myself one cup of coffee when I start writing. It’s my temptation-bundling ritual.
3. Let your voice shine. Many of my favorite writers write like they talk. They don’t over-polish, and their personality shines through. It feels like a friend having a conversation with me at a coffee shop, not the person on the podium giving a lecture to thousands of people. They leverage their unique perspective, share their emotions, and are vulnerable revealing mistakes they have made. When we do this as writers, readers will feel more connected to us. My favorite writers are also sparing with jargon and the $5 words. Tip: If you struggle to write less formally, try using speech-to-text, or dictation. This might be too casual, but you can always polish it a little as you edit.
As educators, we all have a story to tell and wisdom to add to the conversation. Writing can be a joyful way to learn and share with others in our noble profession. What are you ready to write about now?