What Writers Do When They're Not Writing

by Eriel B.M. Fauser

In a perfect writerly world, you could live, eat, and breath your craft. You could fill all the crevices of your time with the clacking of a keyboard and scratching of a pencil against paper. And because that perfect writerly world would just happen to work this way, the mere production of content on your Word file or in your Moleskin journal would generate some mad skrilla for you to build a livelihood. No publication necessary. Yet, the writerly grind doesn’t yield instant profit, so we must seek out ways to support our habits and stimulate our minds until we’re ballin like J.K.

Cecily Sailer struck that balance between passion and profession. She received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston, where she also taught undergraduates within the Department of English. Her resume is decorated with an array of pedagogical experiences, including work as a writer-in-residence and teacher for Writers In The Schools; an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea; and a writing coach and consultant for Write by Night.

Six years ago, Cecily joined the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation where she now oversees and manages Badgerdog—a program housed within the APLFF that services writers of all ages and skill levels. Every Badgerdog workshop is led by a professional Teaching Artist and facilitated on a “read, write, share” platform. Many current and former Bat City staff members have worked with Badgerdog, including Nick Almeida, Katelin Kelly, Taya Kitaysky, David Schaefer, Noah Weisz, and many others.

Badgerdog provides magical, nourishing experiences for young writers. Teaching Artists bring in whichever works of literature they think will model the best writing, so Badgerdog’s young writers have thrilling encounters with authors not covered in school: My middle and high school writers have learned from Leonora Carrington, Frank Stanford, Angela Carter, and Mirabai, to name a few. The writing instruction is just as encouraging of risks and the pursuit of creative joy. In my four years with Badgerdog, I’ve been blown away by what the students conjure up and how much they unleash their imaginations and conceptions of language. Students—even the rare reluctant ones—often tell me how much they appreciate the nonrestrictive environment Badgerdog creates, the space to write and explore whatever they want. It’s amazing that students as young as eight or nine years old are reading Lorca and Tomaž Šalamun and being encouraged to write poems just as wild and weird.
— Taya Kitaysky, Badgerdog Teaching Artist & Former Bat City Managing Editor (shown above)

E: What attracted you to Badgerdog?
C: While working on my MFA at the University of Houston, I started teaching with Writers in the Schools, which was later quite instrumental in the formation of Badgerdog. Their teaching model changed the way I thought about writing instruction, and education more broadly. I wanted to be part of something that infused schools and learning spaces with a different approach—one where creativity and expression were essential parts of the learning process. I wished I’d had a writer in my fourth-grade classroom—what that could have done for my development as a writer. I wanted as many kids as possible to have that opportunity.

E: How does this work benefit your own writing process?
C: Well, the 9-5 doesn’t really help my writing schedule [laughs], but this kind of work keeps me in a community of writers. It’s inspiring to see the kind of democratization of writing that happens in programs like this. I get to read and hear the work of such a wide range of people in our community—from second-graders writing about red chili Cheerios to older folks writing about their childhood homes or their gratitude toward their spouses. It’s a constant reminder of the joy and impact writing can have, and it helps me go back to the work of writing more easily, with greater inspiration.

E: How does teaching pair with the creative mind?
C: Teaching, like writing, is a creative process. It requires spontaneity, an attention to audience, a particular intention, and a good ear for yourself and the others around you. It’s great exercise for a writer to start with a text and try to work backwards, asking yourself, What do I want my students to learn from this? How can this poem or story aid my students in their own writing practice? How do I get them from text to understanding to idea to craft?

E: Why is creative writing an essential outlet for students today?
C: We try to provide kids and teens with a different view of what writing is, how it can be done, and what it means to be “successful” at it. Now that most schools have to bow to the authority of standardized tests, writing practice for kids is often about “proper execution” and fidelity to a very particular and, frankly, uninspired form of writing. Then its becomes a drill, very mechanical, stifling. As a result, too many young people think writing is done to justify advancement or prove competency—a thing to do in order to be deemed competent. We try to reframe and dismantle that by provide students with as many examples as possible of what writing looks like and can look like, how it can speak, what it can contain. We ask students what they want to say and then we start to ask what might be the best way to say it. Often, the first question kids ask us when we start a workshop is “Where do you want us to write our names?” or “Do I have to double-space?” This is what writing means to them—doing it correctly so as not to be chastised or corrected, to meet expectations. We’re saying, whatever’s in there itching to get out—that’s what we want to hear about. You can put it on the page however it makes sense to you. Its yours.

Badgerdog hosts a variety of writing workshops for youth, teens, and adults in the Austin Public Library, schools, and sites around Austin. Interested? Explore their website for information on how to become a student or a Teaching Artist.

Eriel B.M. Fauser was born and raised in the candy painted, bayou city of Screwston, Texas. She received her B.A. from the University of Houston in 2015 and is now pursuing her MFA in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin’s New Writer’s Project.