Posted in Education, Writing

Why So Many Writers End Up Being Teachers


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

Another argument in favor of writing courses has to do with the men and women who teach them. There are thousands of talented writers at work in America, and only a few them can support their families and themselves with their work.

So many writers have to take day jobs to support themselves.

Stephen King is absolutely right when he says there are thousands of talented writers in America alone, let alone elsewhere around the world, and only a few of them can support their families and themselves with just their writing.

Of course those writers are out there. You might even be lucky enough (and work hard enough) to become one of them. It’s the dream of any writer, really, to be able to just write every day and be able to support themselves from that work.

But for most of us, we need at least a part-time job, if not a full-time job to help supplement our income. And teaching for many writers has always been a great position.

I’ve been an English instructor at the college level for seven years now. I love teaching. I love sharing what I know about writing to students. And I always think it’s a great position for those of us who like to spend part of their day creating.

So what are a few reasons why teaching works so well for writers?

One, teaching allows us at least part of the day to focus on our creative work. As a college instructor, I get to give part of my day to my teaching duties and part of my day to my writing.

This might not be the case if you’re teaching secondary education. I have had friends who teach at the middle school and high school level who say it’s extremely difficult to write during the school year. But, worst case, you still have a few lengthy breaks throughout the year, including summer break, where you can catch up on your writing.

Second, teaching is also great because you get to share what you know about writing to your students. You might not be writing, but at least you’re talking about writing, and giving inspiration to others. And what I find often is that the students then give me inspiration for my own work when we discuss writing. They have this ability to open up your mind to so many possibilities.

Third, teaching allows you to step away from the darkness and isolation of a writing room once in awhile and interact with incredible students and potentially other teachers about subjects you love.

There are so many writing courses out there, and someone has to teach them!

Of course there’s nothing better as a teacher than the opportunity to teach actual creative writing. I’ve gotten the chance to teach it here and there, and it’s always such a thrill.

Pretty much every college has at least one creative writing course. Many colleges have MFA programs where creative writing is offered as a degree. This country is filled with universities where creative writers teach other creative writers. Where writers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to support themselves manage to do so by teaching in a creative writing program.

So King is right: that’s definitely a bonus about writing courses. There’s so many people who want to learn how to write creatively, and do it well. Why not turn to the most talented of writers who may have something to contribute?

I begin my thirteenth semester as a college instructor this fall (wow!), and I’m looking forward to it. Teaching is a really sweet gig that lets me write and dream to my heart’s content, and I continue to enjoy the balance it gives to my long, creative life.

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