Finding a Work/ Life Balance as a Teacher/ Writer (During a Pandemic)

A view from one of the many my many after-work runs that help me clear my head before writing

In the past year, I’ve had more time to develop my writing than I have ever had while working a full-time job. To be fair, I have only worked a full-time job for two prior years in my life, one as an Americorps literacy tutor and the other as a first-year teacher, and both were extremely mentally and physically demanding. So maybe this year I’ve just found breathing room that wasn’t present during those other two years. It also helps that I don’t have children to take care of, and I’ve been able to do my job remotely during this pandemic. It’s still been a difficult year, since I had to switch entirely to a different mode of teaching- distance learning- all the while coping with anxiety and grief over the toll of the pandemic. I recognize that these aren’t the best circumstances for creative output, and I am probably one of the few lucky people who has found the time and energy to produce more during this pandemic. For me, writing is an escape from the stress of my job and the difficulties of everyday life. I’ve used it as a coping mechanism, so it makes sense that I’ve leaned on it more during the pandemic.

I started this blog three years ago positing the question of whether it was possible to be both a public school teacher and a writer. At that time, I hardly knew anyone who tried to pursue both. They seemed like worlds that did not often cross, except for when my students were reading and writing themselves. However, during the past year, I’ve discovered a whole community of other teachers who write or writers who teach on places like Twitter or WordPress or among teacher acquaintances I know from the Bay Area or UC Davis. There are a lot of people who are making it work, pursuing their passion for writing while also teaching, whether it’s K-12 public education or working at private schools or colleges. Being in touch with a writing community has really helped me stay motivated to continue writing despite the difficulty of finding the time to write and the challenges of developing good enough writing to be published.

In the past year, I’ve been published 3 times online, and I have another story forthcoming in a print literary journal soon. It’s nice to receive external validation from being published online, but more important than that validation is the excitement that comes from sharing my writing with other members of the writing community. I’ve found a lot of joy this past year in reading literary magazines, whether they are new online journals or print journals I’ve had sitting in my apartment for years. It makes me feel part of a greater literary community that is having conversations about important ideas, discussing racism, capitalism, language, and culture through literature. It doesn’t matter that these pieces, whether it’s poetry, short stories, or essays, are ephemeral and won’t be widely perused by the public. As long as there is a community of readers that care about them and writers who want to create them, literary journals are relevant and important.

As I approach the end of my year teaching via distance learning, I’m looking forward to the beneficial aspects of teaching in person such as building relationships with my students and being able to cultivate a culture of learning and creativity in my classroom. But I’m also worried that I will lose some of the work/life balance I’ve had to work so hard to develop during this past year. It may take a while to adjust back to the routine of in-person teaching, and during that time I don’t think it will be easy to write. I’m just hoping that I will be able to apply some of the lessons I’ve learned during this past year about maintaining boundaries between life and work to my teaching career going forward.

First of all, I’ve gotten better at creating mental boundaries between my life and my work. I no longer dwell too much on thoughts of teaching and replay scenes from my classes in my head during my free time. Of course, some reflection is positive and necessary, but I don’t let it occupy my mind as much as a I used to because I need that time to rest. In this case, rest means turning my attention to other things that I value.

Second of all, I have also gotten better at prioritizing what I need to do for work in order to complete tasks outside of classroom teaching such as grading, lesson planning, contacting parents, and filling out paperwork more efficiently. Reading the book Onward by Elena Aguilar really helped me figure out how to make the most of my contracted hours so that I can stop working relatively soon after the school day is technically over. Of course, I still have to work outside of my contracted hours. Otherwise, I would not be able to do the things I need to do to teach well. But I have minimized the time I work on weekends and after school. I used to let teaching take over both days of my weekend, but now I limit it to Sunday, even if it means Sunday is rather stressful and rushed. To me, having a rushed Sunday is worth being able to relax on Saturday. I know not everyone feels that way or has the same work rhythm, so teachers have to figure out their own ways to make things fit into the time they have.

It would help, of course, if we didn’t have as ridiculous of workloads as we do. However, I don’t let my endless to-do list of tasks rule over my time. If I complete everything I need to do to be prepared for the next day, and then some ongoing tasks, even if I have more I could do, I cut myself off. The problem with teaching is that you often feel that no matter how much you do, it’s not enough, but it’s also toxic to keep working when you need to rest. I’m getting better at stopping myself before I’m completely exhausted.

During my free time, I’ve developed routines for how to use my time after work so that I get to do the things that are important to me. I usually work out right after I finish working, then relax and help prep dinner (I’m lucky that my partner does most of the cooking). After dinner, I write. I don’t write every day, but I’ve figured out that this time is the optimal writing time for me to write on a regular basis. When I was first trying to fit writing into my schedule, I tried to block it out at 4 PM on a couple days a week on my calendar, but I just found that timing didn’t work for me. I can’t focus on writing right after I finish work. I need some time to decompress before I can turn to what is basically my second job. This is what works best for me, but everyone has their own preferences for when they feel most creative. I could never do creative work in the early morning, or even exercise early in the morning, so all of the “life” part of my work/life balance has to happen after work.

Next year, when I’m back in person I’m going to have to adjust my routine by accounting for the time it takes me to commute to and from my job. I will also lose some of my precious evening time because I will have to go to bed earlier. No more staying up until 10 PM writing for two to three hours straight because I was struck by a good idea (well I might still do this every once in a while and then just go to work sleep deprived). I don’t know if the work/ life balanced I have now is truly sustainable. I just know that it’s working for now, so I will relish it while I still can. I am hoping that once I’m back into the classroom, after an adjustment period, I’ll find a new version of work/life balance. I just hope it doesn’t take too long to achieve it and doesn’t require me to give up too much.

Hitting the Reset Button on Your Writing or Teaching

You may have noticed it’s been a couple months since my last post on this blog. As a high school teacher who also writes and blogs, I always bite off more than I can chew, and feel like I’m constantly caught in a cycle of falling behind on everything. However, I know that a lot of my students are currently trapped in cycle as well, a cycle of stress caused not by laziness but by disorientation.

Last semester I had a student who didn’t come to half the quarter of online classes, and when I finally got a hold of him, he confessed to me that he was just too afraid of how behind he had fallen to try to do any of the work. I made a plan with him to excuse him from a lot of the work he had missed so he could just jump into the class where we were instead of trying to play catch up. Ultimately, I ended up using this strategy for several students on distance learning, with mixed results. Some of them do become engaged in the class temporarily, only to fall behind and have the cycle start all over again, while others find that once they have a better idea of what is going on, they can mostly keep up. With distance learning, it’s hard to really know what is going on with the students that allows them to break out of the cycle of procrastination or keeps them trapped in it. But I’ve realized that I can at least figure out what works to help me move past it.

For me, the cycle of procrastination is like stepping into a chilly lake on a warm day. At first, it feels good to take baby steps into the water, and you enjoy the fresh feeling water on your toes and feet, but once the water reaches your ankles, and then your knees, the top half of your body feels strangely overheated while your bottom half starts to shiver and grow numb. You’re tempted to just leave the water altogether, or to ease yourself by slowing inching your way further into the lake. The best way to acclimate to the temperature of the water is just to dive in, but in the moment that feels like the last thing you want to do. Then, if you get the will to do it, you dunk your whole body into the water and find that after a few seconds, your whole body feels tingly. A few minutes later, you don’t even notice the chill of the water anymore.

I think a lot of people struggle with procrastination or with writer’s block reach the point of peak discomfort, where it seems like putting in the full effort to commit to some action will be more stressful than putting it off, so they just back away from the difficult situation rather than diving in. I’ve noticed that if I start to feel bad about not writing, instead of making a plan of attack, I will just preoccupy myself with other things to do while never letting go of that guilt that I’m not writing. I will be unfocused on what I’m actually doing while not making any of the progress I want to make. The best way to deal with this situation, I’ve found, is to try to find some sort of way to reset your swirling thoughts.

Taking a rest before diving back into the cold lake

“Resetting” might look different for you. If meditation works, I find that meditation can be useful to clear out your intrusive alarm bells in your mind pestering you about things you haven’t completed. If that doesn’t work, you could make the purposeful choice to do something else other than your writing or the work you’re supposed to do, something active or engrossing like working out, playing a sport, putting together a puzzle, or reading, and allow yourself to get sucked into it. While you might think this would not really help your procrastination, if you stop viewing it as procrastination and instead view it as resetting your brain so that you will be refreshed to try the hard thing that you need to do later, then you can let go of the guilt you are feeling and actually enjoy this activity.

Then once you feel refreshed, you can try again by plunging headfirst into whatever you need to work on. Of course, you might find that it’s difficult, that you need to step back for a moment and create a plan. But if you start to build some momentum by doing some of the harder cognitive work first, you might find it gets easier from there. I’ve heard from many self-help books and articles that if you are tackling an overwhelming list of things to do, you should do whatever is easiest and fastest first, so that you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. While there might be some merit to this, I usually only do this on days where I just don’t have the energy to tackle larger tasks. If you feel energized and refreshed, you should do whatever you’re dreading the most first so that you can at least chip away at it or realize that it’s not so bad after all and move beyond whatever is stymying your path.

For example, during my first year of teaching, I would put off grading longer essays as long as possible until I faced the prospect of grading several dozen essays in less than a week because grades were due. I no longer let grading pile up to that point during my second year. I try to start grading longer assignments soon after they are turned in so they feel much more manageable. It would be easier to start by grading warm ups which I just check off for completion, but I actually leave my warm ups to be graded later because they take so little effort.

In the past year, I’ve played a lot of rounds of golf. I already had a set of clubs from when I was in high school, and since golf has been once of the only available outdoor sports this past year, I’ve taken it up again. Relearning how to golf has reminded me that starting every decision fresh while letting go of the decisions you’ve taken before it is the key to having a growth mindset. It is what allows you to have a positive attitude despite failure. It might seem overly naïve to think that if you’re playing badly, as long as you really concentrate and focus on your next stroke, you’ll start to play better. But if you take this approach, you will find that you can more easily shrug off your mistakes and stay focused on each shot.

This approach applies to teaching and writing as well. Temporarily forgetting whatever went wrong the day before and trying again sometimes seems like the only way to stay sane when you’re a new teacher, or a teacher adapting to new circumstances such as distance learning. Your internet cuts out during a class? Fix it, and move on without dwelling on it. If you completely bomb a lesson, try to understand what went wrong, but don’t let it affect how you greet the next period of students. Of course it’s hard to do this. Being able to let go of your mistakes is also a skill you have to practice.

When I’m writing, I usually find the biggest mistake I have to let go of is the fact that I didn’t write as much or as often as I wanted to in the previous week or month. Procrastination is also a form of baggage. The more you dwell on your inability to get past it, the heavier it gets. While I do try to keep track of how many days in a row I meet my goals, whether they are writing, meditating, or eating well, I try not to beat myself up anymore for not doing “enough” of a certain thing. In the end it doesn’t matter if I haven’t picked up a pen in several days or opened a file of a story I’ve been working on. If I open it up today and work on it today, that is all I can control in this moment.

The hardest task I’ve taken on in the past year is attempting to write a novel, so naturally that is where I’ve struggled with the most procrastination. A year ago, at the start of the pandemic, I had not worked on my novel very much and only had about 30 pages written. Eventually, about a month into the lockdown, I realized that I was in a very privileged situation of having more time to write while still working. Of course, I wasn’t free from anxiety from the pandemic. I was lucky to be able to work from home, but I was still in constant fear of people I loved getting the virus. I completely understood why many people have declared that they don’t need to be productive during such a turbulent time, that surviving is enough. Still, I was able to use writing as a way to keep my mind off the pandemic, so I devoted myself to my novel.

At first, I dipped my toes into it by planning out the chapters, writing character backstories, doing research. Then I realized that I just needed to start writing, even if much of what I wrote would never make it into the final draft. I have taken this approach to writing before while doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I wasn’t satisfied with the results. Nevertheless, I tried to just let it out, because I believed in this story, and I knew I would not feel satisfied until it was on paper. I’m a major reviser, so I just have to keep telling myself that whatever I end up with on my first draft can be made better on the next.

My novel has come in fits and starts. I will go months without touching it, and then for several weeks I’ll find myself glued to my keyboard late into the night. Whenever I get stuck with writing it, I just try to make sure I take a break, reset, and then mentally brace myself for the challenge of writing it and push myself to do it. I accept that this doesn’t happen every day, and that it’s OK for me to work on only when I find the energy for it. It seems like an enormous task, but viewing every writing session as its own hurdle, I’ve managed to make a lot of progress.

This week, I reached 150 pages. I can’t vouch for the quality of what I’ve written, but I do feel like I have developed a better understanding of how to draft a novel from this experience. I’m not done with it yet. I am only halfway through the story I have in my head. Yet, I have confidence now that I will be able to keep at it until I reach its conclusion as long as I continue to do what I’ve been doing: keep diving into the cold water, swimming, and then taking a break to reset, again and again for however long it takes.

What I Learned from Organizing a DIY Online Writing Workshop

Photo Credit: EdTech Stanford University School of Medicine

My favorite classes in college and graduate school were undoubtedly my creative writing workshops. At the large public universities I attended, they were an oasis of humanistic growth and communal support. I was able to develop my craft while also getting to know like-minded peers, some of whom have become lifelong friends.  I had not taken a workshop or had much time to write at all since graduating from my MA in Creative Writing program, but when the pandemic and the shutdowns started, I had a strong urge both to write and to seek out connections to my writer friends whom I had lost touch with. So, I organized a free, do-it-yourself online writing workshop over Google Meet this summer with friends and acquaintances I met on social media.

I learned from this experience that I didn’t need the official stamp of approval from a university to create a communal environment where peers could share their work with one another, receive feedback, and bond over the experience of writing during a pandemic. However, having participated in many types of writing workshops before, including university courses and weekend writing retreats, I can see that this type of do-it-yourself workshop is not a panacea. There are some things you just can’t replicate online, and there will be some missed insights when there is no established author in the room. Here are some of the pros and cons that I discovered from this experience.

Pros

  • It’s free. I have no objection to established authors and poets who make their living from writing workshops. It is only fair that the people who have the most expertise should be able to charge for it. But for people on a budget during a pandemic, like me and my friends, it’s a hard sell to pay several hundred dollars for a weeklong online workshop or to pay tuition at a university for a part-time creative writing program. I have paid for workshops in the past, and I think those workshops were absolutely worth the price, but I also think that banding together with your friends to create a writing group is also valuable because it is accessible to everyone who has the time to do it.
  • You can receive genuine feedback without external pressures of grades or competition. When I was teaching creative writing during grad school to undergraduates, one of things I liked the least about it was having to assign a letter grade to people’s creative writing. It left me with an icky feeling. I worried that I was just giving high grades to students who adhered to my literary aesthetic. In my online writing workshop, no one had to worry about pandering to the professor’s tastes because there is no professor. We also didn’t feel like we were competing for the favor of the professor or the institution, as grad students in MFA programs often must do to secure fellowships or book deals. We were genuinely interested in helping each other improve, and we could also be explicit about our vision of what we want our writing to accomplish. That way, we could give each other the feedback that we needed to steer ourselves in the direction we want to go. It’s more democratic, although it is not immune to the pitfalls of people’s tastes. I know the MFA workshop has been critiqued before for marginalizing writers of color and women because it prioritizes the perspective of the dominant culture in advising people what literature should sound like. Since all the people in my group are shaped by dominant American literary culture in one way or another, we probably still passed on some of those biases in our feedback. Nevertheless, I tried to establish at the beginning of the workshop that if someone objected to advice they are being given, even if it was a view shared by several people in the workshop, they were free to raise their objections or even to speak in their own workshop if they felt the need to.
  • Another major advantage to setting up your own workshop is being able to set your own rules and norms for the group collectively. At the first meeting of my writing workshop online we discussed what we thought should be the norms of our group and why. This probably should be a feature of most writing workshops, regardless of the setting and who is hosting them, but this was the first time I was in a workshop where I felt everyone had a voice in creating the agreements on how much people should submit and how often, whether the writer should be able to talk during their portion of the workshop, and how we would approach sensitive topics. I try to create community agreements like these with my high school students whenever we are having a discussion, so it felt natural to do so for the writing group as well. After having many writing professors who swear by certain aspects of the workshop and craft being inalienable, it was nice to have the flexibility to make our own decisions.
  • You have a reason to hang out with other writers once a week. Many of us writers are introverts, although, not all, but even for the introverted it can feel like a Godsend to have structured social time planned into your schedule. I have hardly socialized with anyone in person for 6 months. It was really rewarding to get to know some new acquaintances who joined my online workshop through friends of friends and to forge deeper connections with friends I’ve had for years who live far away.

Cons

  • Your workshop is only as good as the writers you invite into it. I wouldn’t recommend creating a DIY workshop to writers who have not participated in a writing workshop before in any setting. If there are a few less experienced writers in the group, you will probably be fine, but if you’re relying on your peers in the group to critique your writing, you need them to have some experience with creative writing and some knowledge of craft because you are relying on them for support. Alternatively, you could incorporate readings from a book on writing such as Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich (an excellent resource, in my opinion) into your group to give you insight if everyone in the group is a beginner, but it wouldn’t be the same as having the mentorship of folks who have been in the writing world for a while.
  • Online meetings can feel awkward at times. By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the strange pauses that accompany online meetings, where you want to speak, but you’re not sure how to signal that you want to talk. You signal that you are ready to talk by turning on your mic, but then your sound and video are delayed for a few seconds, so by the time you start talking, someone else is speaking too. It’s harder to establish a rhythm when you’re discussing a piece in an online workshop, but using an online platform does have advantages as well. I’ve noticed that the chat function makes it easier for people to echo people’s ideas or express their enthusiasm without having to repeat phrases like, “I totally agree with what X said.”
  • There’s no incentive to revise unless you build it in to the workshop. In most of the workshops I’ve taken in an academic setting, the final grade for the class is based on a portfolio of your work that you submit to the professor during finals week containing some new writing and some revised work. This time, there are no grades to motivate me to revise my pieces, so I will probably leave my notes from the workshops in my notebook for a while before I return to them. Still, being in a writing community with others is motivating enough to overcome this hurdle. Reading other people’s work is invigorating, and hearing comments, both positive and negative, about my own writing is a powerful incentive to keep writing.

My summer workshop is over now, but I’m hoping that I can continue to cultivate writing partnerships with the folks who have been in my workshop so that we will hold each other accountable for continuing to work on our writing and our craft.

On Writing and Teaching During a Pandemic

My cat, Lady Sybil, has been a constant source of inspiration and comfort during this turbulent time.

One of my 2020 goals for the year was to post more to this blog. I know, I know, it’s August, but in my defense, for the first few months, I was very absorbed in my first year of teaching, and then a pandemic happened. After really struggling with time management and burnout my first semester as a teacher, I felt like I had just hit my stride when the pandemic hit. I had stopped working as late and had started taking care of myself more. I had developed strong relationships with my students, made major progress with classroom management, and was engaging my students in rigorous learning by incorporating social justice topics into my teaching. Then everything was put on hold. I’ve written more about this sudden transition to distance learning as I’ve reflected on the experience of the past 4 months. In fact, I wrote a whole essay on this topic, which I still hope to have published. That’s one reason it took me so long to return to this blog. I wanted to amplify the story of ending my first year of teaching in a pandemic on a different platform, but thus far I haven’t had much success with my submissions. I’m still hoping I will be able to get my essay on being a first year teacher in this turbulent time published before the end of the summer, but if that doesn’t happen, I will publish it here.

I’ve realized that trying to write timely articles and pitch them to places that pay writers money takes a lot of patience. It can be frustrating to submit something you think is timely only to be told it’s not quite the right fit, or that the publication has already received too many submissions on a similar topic. I have a lot of respect for people who are freelance writers for a living since they must have to hustle constantly to survive on pitched pieces. Many freelancers have been seriously impacted by the plunging economy, since the loss of advertising revenue is causing many magazines to cut back on publishing articles and paying writers. I feel especially grateful right now to have a job where I can earn a steady paycheck with health insurance.

 This fall, I will be teaching at a new high school, after my contract was not renewed at my previous school due to budget cuts. It broke my heart to leave the school where I was first hired, where I had spent a whole year getting to know my students, colleagues, and the community. I knew all along I had been hired on a temporary contract, but no one at the school ever treated me as temporary. At this point, I’ve come to terms with having to change jobs. It took 11 interviews over zoom to find a new teaching position, but I managed to find a job at a school not far from where I live that has a very tight knit community and where I have a lot of control over the curriculum I teach. I am excited to work there, although I am a bit daunted by the prospect of figuring out how to navigate distance learning with students I’ve never met before. I still have a few more weeks to plan for this strange new school year. Since my county is on the California state watchlist, we will start in distance learning, and we will eventually return to the classroom for hybrid classes once the state says it is safe to do so. I feel fairly confident in the county and state’s ability to determine what a safe classroom environment looks like because I live an area that has maintained strict restrictions throughout this entire pandemic. I just hope all the safety precautions will be enough.

I have been really privileged to be able to use the time I’ve been sheltered in place at home to work on writing, and I know that many people who have been directly affected by the virus or by the economic consequences of the shutdowns have not had the same opportunity. It took me a while before I could get back into writing even though I was staying at home all the time. At first, I was overwhelmed by the demands of distance learning, and I was too anxious to do anything in my free time but watch TV, read a bit, and listen to podcasts. Now, in the last few weeks of the summer, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing almost every day, sometimes for several hours. It’s a luxury I know I won’t be able to maintain once the school year starts in earnest, but I’m hoping that at the very least I can carve out the forty minutes or so I would have spent commuting if I were working on campus to devote to personal writing.

One of the positive experiences I’ve had during quarantine is having the time to participate in writing communities, whether they are online or in my neighborhood. A few weeks into quarantine, I saw a flyer about a new literary journal in my city started by a neighbor. I submitted to it and had the opportunity to be published in it. It wasn’t a prestigious journal, but it was nice to contribute to a community project and feel connected to the other writers in my city.

I’ve also been working on some shorter pieces which I have had the chance to share with a group of peers who joined me in a DIY online writing workshop that I organized this summer. I have really enjoyed the experience of interacting with fellow writers in an informal workshop setting. I have participated in writing groups before, but this was the first time I tried to create one that replicated the format of a workshop. There is something invigorating and inspiring about spending time in the company of other writers, whether it’s virtually or in person. When I first thought of holding an online workshop, I imagined creating a community similar to the ones I found in workshops in college and grad school. While it’s not quite the same, in some ways it’s better because there’s no pressure to impress a professor or to compete with the people in your workshop. I have more thoughts on creating a writing workshop with friends, but I will save them for another blog post or article once my group has wrapped up its last meeting.

The other main writing project I’ve been tackling is writing the novel that I’ve wanted to write since I was fourteen. It’s loosely based on my grandmother’s life growing up in the Ming Quong orphanage in Oakland. To write this story, I’ve had to do a lot of research, and I’ve been teaching myself how to do it as I go. I’ve mostly only read secondary sources, although I did have a chance to talk to my grandmother once before she died about her childhood, and the stories she told me in that conversation have become integral to the book’s plot. A couple years ago, I also interviewed Nona Mock Wyman, who wrote a memoir called Chopstick Childhood about growing up in the Ming Quong Home in Los Gatos (there were several homes for Chinese girls and women started by Presbyterian Missionaries throughout the Bay Area in the early twentieth century). I’ve also been reading The White Devil’s Daughter by Julia Flynn Siler which has given me excellent background knowledge on context in which these missionary homes were founded. Siler’s book has enlightened me to the repugnant history of sex trafficking of Chinese women in San Francisco Chinatown, which I never learned about in any history class in school.

On a side note, I’ve been expanding my understanding of systemic racism and the legacy of white supremacy in this country in order to be able to better enact anti-racism as a teacher and as a white-passing mixed-race ally.  I’ve found a lot of food for thought in Siler’s book. While it focuses on the experiences of women in the Chinese American community and does not address anti-black racism, I saw a lot of parallels in the book to the recent media coverage of widespread misuses of power by police across the country that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests. For example, in the late 19th century the police in San Francisco blatantly beat Chinese people in the street with little to no provocation while at the same time tacitly accepting bribes to allow brothels to continue to operate. The missionaries often operated separately from the police because if the police were involved, they might have tipped off the brothels and prevented the missionaries from rescuing trafficked women. Crazy stuff.

Anyway, I’ve realized that writing a novel is something I can do on my own, even though it feels like a daunting process. So far I’ve written about 24,000 words, over half of which I’ve been able to write since March. The hardest part of writing a novel when you are not part of a program or a fellowship is that you just have to believe in the power of your own storytelling without any outside validation. I know that the quality of my writing is probably not up to snuff since I can’t stop to second guess whether every sentence I write is warranted. Instead, I just plunge ahead, crossing my fingers that whatever I produce on the first draft will be salvageable, that I’ll be able to revise to make it good. It may never see the light of day, but I’m determined to finish this novel, even if it takes me several years. The legacy of my family history is one of the main reasons I wanted to become a writer in the first place. My grandmother never went to college, and she hardly talked about her life, the hardships she experienced or the joys. I am determined to tell a version of her story, a version very much mediated by my own literary interests and my own personal experiences. I don’t know if she would recognize herself in it, but I hope that if I am able to finish it and one day get it published, at least one of my readers will connect to her life through my writing.