Friday, March 1, 2013

Looking to the Ivory Tower

If you’re looking for a way to subsidize your writing and earn extra income, you might consider teaching. Teaching has always been a traditional financial base for writers. It’s often the first route freelancers explore, and for good reasons. The time you devote to it is relatively flexible. Let’s face it, the ivory tower can beckon invitingly after several years of scratching out a living as a freelance writer—the chase after editors, the haggling for peanuts, the worrying over the paying your mortgage or rent can all be debilitating.

What's waiting for you, if you decide to pursue this possibility? Aside from the benefits mentioned above, there are a few problems you may encounter as well, mainly stiff competition in a tight job market. If you want the kind of security that comes with a full-time position, you'll need an advanced degree. Without it, you'll face an uphill struggle. But if you seek a full-time position, will you have time to continue writing? Chances are once you get used to a regular paycheck, you’ll not want to go back to earning a living as a full-time writer.

The answer is to seek part-time employment, but not just any job. The work that will give you the most benefit and will fit nicely into your schedule and creative side is teaching continuing-education courses at local school nights, community colleges, and universities. Pay for these jobs generally runs from a low of perhaps $20 an hour teaching courses at community school nights to $40 an hour teaching at universities.

Most writers gravitate toward teaching the obvious—writing and journalism. But it's possible to devise a course based on a specialty of yours. If you’re an expert on money management, for example, you could offer a beginners' course on budgeting and finances or even tax preparation. If you also do photography, consider a course in basic digital photography. If you’re a science writer, you might create a course based on a fascinating topic, if you handle it broadly enough, might appeal to a wide assortment of students.

If you write travel articles and books, why not put together some travel lectures based on your articles and travels. These can be done individually or grouped into an armchair traveler series. Whatever your specialty, take advantage of it.

Before you plunge headlong into teaching, do some market research. It’s not unlike what you normally do to sell your writing. Ask someone in college continuing-education departments what types of courses students request most often. Find out what they’re looking for before you approach them with your own suggestions.. Plan ahead and prepare your resume to impress.

Remember, academics will be impressed that you have published. They’ve faced the publish- or-perish syndrome for years. The simple fact that you’ve managed to get your words in print can be a big plus for you. Today’s students want courses taught by people in the field. They seek first-hand advice and expertise. If you do teach a writing course, they’ll seek your insight into the latest techniques.

The fact that you're going to give students as much opportunity as possible to talk with you, a successful writer, about how you do things, what your frustrations are, how joyful it is to be your own boss and see your name in print, will give you a decided advantage.

In continuing education, there are no rules. It’s usually up to you how you want to put your courses together. You’ll need to produce a simple course proposal that includes a description of the course and a weekly outline. Most continuing education courses run from one or two weeks to as long as ten weeks. Each class usually runs from an hour and a half to two hours. You’ll be paid by the hour and only for the time you’re actually teaching, so take that into account for any writing courses. Remember, it takes time outside of class to read students’ work—time for which you’re not paid.

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