A Professor Writes Back: Why I Stay

“AADUNA IS GOING TO PUBLISH FLIP AND FLOP!!!! I just HAD to let you know!!!!!!!! Thank you so much for everything that you taught me in this class!! I’m so excited!”

– former Advanced Composition student, March 2014

“I just wanted to send you a quick email letting you know that the second piece I wrote for your class “Fat” was accepted by Crab Fat Literary Magazine, the one that I submitted it to for class! I never expected to get published so quickly!

Thank you so much for everything!”

– former Advanced Composition student, June 2015

“At this moment, I am very aware that your classes were the most influential in my entire college career. In case you don’t hear it enough, feel good about what you do. You have made a difference more than you know. Not only did you teach me, you indirectly are teaching my son now as I talk openly with him about stereotypes and have to re-teach history lessons his school is teaching him. “

Thank you for that.”

– former Introduction to Contemporary Indigenous Rhetorics student, September 2015

“Your help and guidance is what I credit a lot of my success to so you have definitely been a blessing and beyond thankful that you were my professor and that you took the time you did with me. You have a very approachable demeanor and create a great classroom environment so I wanted to thank you for all your help.”

– former Writing for the Workplace student, September 2015


I am a professor.

I stay in academia because of students, time, and the opportunity to make a difference.

Ian Bogost laments in a recent Atlantic piece that “No One Cares That You Quit Your Job,” and asks for more “staypieces.” Please consider this my response to that request.

The messages (above) that I receive regularly from former students about their successes, their new view on the world, their ability to navigate difficult situations because of something I taught them or helped them do, is why I stay. I teach over 200 students a year in a variety of writing and rhetoric courses, and often do not have any immediate gratification.

Teaching is labor, learning is labor, and the process is fraught with frustration and challenges because I require my students to step outside their own comfortable wheelhouses and see the world through a new lens; a lens they didn’t even know existed. Take my former students from the comments above. In my Advanced Composition classes, I teach the genre of creative nonfiction, from what this genre is and where it came from to writing, revising, and submitting two original creative nonfiction pieces for publication outside the university.

My students spend the semester in a constant state of shifting understanding as they learn to accept that they are better writers than they realize, that they have stories worth writing, and that they can do the work to make those stories publishable.

I stay in academia because I can make miracles happen in 15 weeks.

The truth is, academia deserves criticism for being an imperfect work environment.

I don’t know anyone who stays in this industry who doesn’t have moments of doubt, wondering why am I still here, given the difficulties? My own answer starts with the students, and then moves to time.

Tom Hanks’ character in A League of Their Own makes an astute comment about baseball to Gina Davis’ character toward the end of the film that also applies to academia: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

As many “quit lit” pieces have noted (such as Oliver Lee’s recent Vox essay), constant budget cuts lead to an atmosphere of crisis, which is stressful. Change and innovation in this professional world moves at a glacial pace, which is frustrating. Begging for money for things like travel to present research, which is also a requirement of our contract, is time-consuming, humiliating, and often unsuccessful. The atmosphere of “do more with less” is exhausting. Our adjunct colleagues are treated like second-class citizens, which creates tension, sadness, and despair for them and for those of us who are tenured and heartbroken at our own impotence to change their plight.

Yes, there are problems. Yes, there are soul-shattering disappointments. Yes, there are seemingly insurmountable odds. But we tend to forget that all careers have these characteristics, cloaked in different surface details. I spent eight years in advertising as a media buyer and planner and ten years as a freelance journalist, working with a wide range of peoples and organizations, and learned these lessons. Perhaps that is why the frustrations of academia haven’t driven me to pull the “I quit” trigger.

I also stay in academia because this career gives me the most valuable commodity of all – time. When school is in session, much of my time is spent teaching, prepping for class, grading, attending and conducting meetings, doing committee work, advising, mentoring, responding to emails, writing letters of recommendation, presenting my scholarship at conferences, conducting programmatic assessment, and handling all of the other unseen work of the university.

During the semester, no matter how busy I am, I manage to carve out snippets of time to do my own writing and research. And then winter break hits – five whole weeks to revise an academic journal article or write a new creative nonfiction piece, even while teaching an online winter course. Fifteen more weeks of high speed, high intensity, demanding work, and then summer. Three and half months of time during which I can prepare fall courses, create student events, rally support for projects, write letters of support for colleagues and former students, write blog posts and new academic and creative pieces at my leisure, on my own schedule, in between working in my garden, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. Pure heaven.

Finally, the value of what I do as a professor does not directly connect to my salary, which is more than I ever made as a self-employed journalist. Influencing how people think, impacting how others see the world, and helping individuals see their own potential and future possibilities in a new light is more valuable than money. This does not mean that I want to work for free. I am a hard-working, highly educated professional, and deserve a good salary and health benefits, as any other professional expects in any other field.

What I do and why I stay goes beyond money. As Taylor Mali declares in his excellent performance “What Teachers Make,” “I make a goddamn difference, now what about you?”

Rejection, Acceptance, and Opportunity

Yesterday, I received a rejection for a creative nonfiction story that I crafted this summer. It was from a high profile and very competitive journal. But that’s okay. It’s okay because they received over 550 stories in response to their call, and I’m a writer, which means I immediately submitted that same story to four other journals for consideration. Because rejection is part of life as a writer. Remember that.

Last week, I received an acceptance for a creative nonfiction story that I wrote two years ago. My first round of submissions resulted in form rejections, so I went to my writing group for advice, received clarity, made some important and substantial revisions, and then submitted to a new round of journals. That second round of rejections were Golden Ticket Rejections and that gave me hope and confidence that I was almost there. That was last year. I changed the title and submitted it to another round of journals this year. And yesterday, it found a home. I’m a writer, and rejection, revisions, rethinking, and resubmitting are part of the process and the life. Remember that.

Today, I received an acceptance for a creative nonfiction story that I wrote in June. Only three publications have considered it and the third one said yes. That feels good. Because I’m a writer, and sometimes acceptances happen fast. Remember that.


I’ve had some more scholarly public writing published this week, including a post on Teaching Tolerance asking readers to “Reconsider Columbus Day” when teaching this week, and a piece on Bitch Flicks about a terrific Native American film called Imprint that has a strong female lead and a poignant “ghost” story. Because I’m a writer and I’m always seeking out new venues for my work. Remember that.


Finally, I want you to sign up for my Creative Nonfiction Workshop this January in NJ. I know it is the Jersey shore and it is January, but the Stockton Inn is GORGEOUS, comfortable, and has a heated indoor pool, a bar, and good food. All necessary elements for an energizing writing weekend. Sign up with a friend if you can because this experience should be shared! Even if you come alone, you WILL meet so many writers of a like mindset – it’s amazing. I love teaching this workshop and teaching with Murphy Writing of Stockton University. If you are a teacher, you can even get course credit for your professional development! Here’s the actual pitch from the Getaway site and the link when you want to register. Only 10 participants means that you will receive my personal attention to your work. You will improve your skills, gain confidence, and have fun. Treat yourself and register today. Because YOU are a writer, and deserve this trip. :)

Writing workshop in New Jersey
January 15-18, 2016
Led by Amanda Morris

Creative Nonfiction Workshop NJCreative nonfiction has been called “the music of what happened” (Blake Morrison) and “the hum of perpetual noticing” (Cynthia Ozick). It starts with writing many small moments—a childhood memory, a dream, an image from the TV news, a funny remark overheard, even a stubbed toe. In this workshop, we’ll do exercises to evoke moments that might become stories. We’ll practice strategies that draw readers in. As we share material generated in class, we’ll look for narrative potential and implicit themes and discuss ways of turning these pieces into larger works such as memoirs, humor essays, travel stories, or contemplative essays.

*Limited to just 10 participants.*


“Amanda Morris is an excellent teacher in that she gives individual attention and zero’s in on what would help you the most. She packs a lot of information into each class and challenges her students while encouraging them at the same time. This is my second year in her workshop and I feel she advanced my writing.”
~ Susan, Creative Nonfiction Participant, Newtown, PA

Click here to register!

Outreach, writing, and workshops!

Greetings, lovely people! Finding time to write can be challenging when your job and personal/home life keeps you busy, but we writers find a way!

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a high school English class about contemporary Native Americans, which is related to my specialty of Indigenous Rhetorics. Showing these students such indigenous meaning makers as stand-up comics, fashion designers, and musicians was absolutely delightful.

Another aspect of my faculty position is a requirement to write for publication. For promotions, we are required to write academic essays that appear in scholarly journals that are often only accessible if you have access to the paywall, usually through a university library. Although I enjoy writing in this genre, I enjoy my public writing even more because I have the opportunity to investigate more subjects that are important to me and because public writing has a much bigger audience. One of the reasons I am a writer is because I enjoy having others read my writing, so the bigger the audience, the better! My latest post on Feministing discusses the importance of women embracing our ages to fight the national narrative that women aren’t allowed to age.

Finally, one of my greatest joys is teaching. My students consistently bring equal measures of joy and fear, and excitement and trepidation to their writing practice, which in turn enlivens and informs my teaching practice. Every student teaches me something and I strive to bring this accumulation of knowledge to all of my classrooms and workshops. If you would like the opportunity to work with me, I will be teaching the Creative Nonfiction workshop at the Murphy Writing of Stockton University’s Poetry and Prose Getaway this January 2016 in New Jersey. It is a wonderfully supportive and productive weekend and I hope to meet you there!


Special Post: So you’re going on the academic job market

This post is just for those of you in grad school or who are going on the academic job market this year. (If you are a fellow academic or a grad student, please share this widely. This advice is important.)

(For the rest of you, academia has a “job season” and it’s right now through May of 2016. For academic professionals in English Studies, Writing, Rhetoric, Literacy Studies and the like, job ads went out in early September, application deadlines loom around November, and in-person interviews will be held at the MLA Conference in Austin in January. Oh and by the way, if you are lucky enough to score one of these interviews, you’ll have to get yourself to Austin on your own dime – no reimbursement from any source. Assuming you make it through the MLA interview gauntlet, then you wait to find out if you’ve made the top three list – those get on-campus interviews between Feb and April. And then you wait to find out if you got a job offer. You might not know this until mid-May. No stress in this process at all. Nope. None. *sarcasm*)

So…you’re going on the academic job market. You seek a tenure-track position at either a research university or a teaching university. Great.

You’ve likely got some killer teaching experience and great student evaluations and solid faculty observations.

I bet you’ve also got some kick-ass administrative and committee service, too.

And, of course, you’ve either written and defended your dissertation or you will have this done by next fall in time to begin a job.


What’s missing from this picture?

Any guesses?

I’ll wait.

Give up?

Here’s the answer to the missing piece of this applicant picture: Publications.

How many encyclopedia entries and book reviews have you written and published in scholarly outlets? You should probably have at least one of each by now.

Do you have an article under review at a scholarly peer-reviewed journal? No?

If you are like some of my friends, you are scared. You are afraid of pulling the trigger on your own publication path because you feel like a student and not a professor.

But you’re at the jumping off point. It’s time to put that fear aside. That fear of looking foolish, not being accepted, being laughed at, being rejected – it’s time to ignore it. Fear is the ultimate enemy of success and if your objective is to land a tenure-track job at ANY university or college in this job climate? You damn well better have an academic article in the publishing pipeline somewhere. Under review is good. Getting a “revise and resubmit” request is better. Actually revising and resubmitting that piece is better still. And accepted for publication is the best yet.

If you are going on the job market and don’t have any of these essentials, take a breath.

Breathe. I can see you hyperventilating. Breathe.

Find a journal in your field. Now go to Amazon and find a book in your field that was JUST published (filter by publication date – most recent). Now email the journal editor and ask to write a review of that book. Tell the editor that you will submit that review by November 1. Chances are good the editor will agree. Once she does, you add that line to your CV – book review in process, due Nov. 1. You’ll have to buy the book because it takes too long to get the review copy from the publisher (but keep this in mind for next time). When you get the book, read the intro, the first two chapters, the final chapter, and one more chapter that is most interesting to you. Write the book review and submit it on time. Now you can change the CV line to “under review” at that specific journal. That counts.

At the same time you are doing the above, pick a chapter from your diss that can easily be re-worked into a shorter article. Find a journal in your field. Revise that chapter into article form and length according to that journal’s guidelines. Compose a cover email and submit your chapter-turned-article ASAP. You will get a confirmation email that the editor received it and will get back to you. Now you can add a line on your CV with the title of the article and the journal with that lovely parenthetical (under review).

(I can hear the complaints. But I have classes! But I have to teach! But I have to finish my diss! Yes. And you want a job, correct? Well then. Get on it.)

If you’re still feeling saucy and ambitious, find a web site, blog, or zine – write and submit a guest post on a subject related to your field but also applicable for the audience of said online outlet. Once it is published (and this will happen quickly), add that as a publication credit on your CV. It’s not as impressive as the scholarly stuff, but it shows you are writing and contributing to the broader conversation and are committed to such conversations. That counts.

Without at least one significant scholarly publication (in progress), you are not competitive in this job market. I would give you a hug of consolation if I could. I’ve seen too many good, smart, and talented people lose out on jobs and interviews because they didn’t have any publishing agenda or record. Please believe me, I speak the truth. If your committee did not push you to publish, shame on them. You need to show you are an active new scholar committed to your field and the only way to do that is through publications.

Best of luck in this journey and feel free to share your stories in the comments. You will find me a very sympathetic audience.

Writing is labor

When we think of labor, we often think about unions and steamfitters and autoworkers and construction crews. What about writers?

Writing is labor, too.

Sitting down to write an essay or fiction story or poem or annual report or academic grant may not require you to wear steel-toed boots and get your hands dirty, but there are many forms of labor.

Writing is intellectual labor. Paying attention to your world, tapping into your experiences and memories, researching an unfamiliar culture or practice, thinking about how this sentence can be turned and changed and altered until it sounds like the sweetest tuning fork – that is labor.

Writing is emotional labor. Crafting a story or essay about a personal experience requires feeling that moment all over again, tears and anger and laughter and all. Writing can be cathartic, but the emotions drawn up from the deep well often set us back, makes us think and reconsider, and might even prevent the words from coming to the surface.

Writing is imaginative labor. Imagining a place or a person that doesn’t exist requires a great deal of creativity. Imagining that place or person that doesn’t exist and being able to render that place and person as realistic is an even greater feat. Our imaginations work hard to re-create scenes from the past where the details are now fuzzy – we must imagine them into clarity while being honest and truthful in their representation. We imagine ideas coming to life in tactile form, spinning out of our brains and through our fingertips onto the page or screen. We imagine. And it is exhausting and exhilarating and time-consuming.

And unlike these other, more tangible and visible, forms of labor? Writing is labor that never, ever stops. We don’t work from 6 – 2 or 9 – 5 five days a week. We writers mull ideas over as we watch mindless reality TV, gaze at the garden with a cup of coffee cooling in our hands, and sit in traffic on the way to work. A writer’s mind never stops, never shuts off, never quiets. It is always seeking, thinking, searching, connecting.

That is the beauty and curse of being a writer. Our labor is a 24/7 operation, but we thrive on those flashes of insight that come from the constant hum of ideas rolling around in our imaginations as they collide with daily experiences seen and observed. We love that moment of startling clarity when we know just the right words to use in that scene or ending.

Writers labor, and deserve to be paid for this labor that brings the world fresh stories, new ideas, and original insights.

The Best Writing Advice Evah!

In response to my crowdsource request for “the best writing advice you have to offer,” here are the results, with a few of my own thrown in for good measure. Because advice is always best when passed along. :)

1. “Revising is easier than writing. Start somewhere. Anywhere.”

2. “Ever see the film A River Runs Through It? Tom Skerritt is the boys’ father and is teaching them how to write. His son comes in with an essay, Skerritt marks it up, hands it back and  says “Half as long.” I’ve always been a fan of concision. (Just not in this comment.) There’s also a book!

3. “Write what you know. Simple, classic, and true.” (The classics never go out of style!)

4.  “Most of the best writing concerning our given topic normally comes at the end. For example, that aha! moment happens more often than not at the end of the paper/essay and it is where the real creative parts of your thoughts begin. If you are struggling with an essay because of a lack of substantial information, or really trying to rethink your thesis, Start at the end. Find that part where your thoughts really coalesce. Once you find that spot, start from there and REWRITE. I can’t stress the idea of “rewriting.” Rewriting as not as starting over, but a way of restating exactly what it is you are trying to say in the first place. In doing so, you create something new. The end is often the beginning and the best part of your writing! I have used this every time I struggle and it has helped tremendously every time I am stuck or revising.”

5. “Breathe, [insert your name here]. Breathe.”

6. “I find I get the best results by trying to weave together two ideas; call it the Reese’s Theory. It lends the prose a complexity and depth and sometimes generates that elusive unplanned creativity – you know, ‘Wow, did I write that?’ It also helps me to concentrate on the idea content instead of the style. As advice goes, perhaps it is not all that useful to others, but in that instance when you struggle to decide between two equally compelling concepts – I say, try using them both!”

7. “Not only does the First Draft of something NOT have to be perfect, but it doesn’t even have to be GOOD. It is a “Zero Draft,” and once you have gotten it out of the way, you can comfortably begin.” (I love this idea of a “Zero Draft.” It would make writing it a lot less intimidating, I suspect.)

8. There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to writing. Polished, clean prose? Yes. Well-written, well-structured, and well-organized? Absolutely. Perfect? No way. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to achieve “perfect.” Stop chasing the unicorn.

9. “Think of writing in small chunks or “islands.”  Then writing doesn’t seem so big and scary.” (I now do this with almost everything I write and it really works!)

10. “Always end your writing for the day in the middle of a thought or a paragraph. It cuts down on writer’s block the next day, because you know exactly where to begin.

11. “Give yourself the space and time to write. Schedule it, and prep your writing space accordingly.

12.  “Speak from the heart when you write.” (Another variation of this excellent advice is to spill your guts on the page. I love that. And it really does result in prose that other people want to read.)

13.  “Do 3-5 minutes of freewriting right before you begin your writing session. Sketch out the scene you are going to write or the next part of your article. It will put you in the right mindset so you can dive right in instead of facing that blinking cursor cold.”


And because I’m not superstitious in the least, I’m leaving it at 13. Now what are you waiting for? Go tackle that writing project! :)


Seven Texts to Teach Instead of “Ceremony”

I’m over on Teaching Tolerance this week with my suggestions for high school teachers who typically teach Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Check it out!

Seven Texts to Teach Instead of “Ceremony”

Also, a quick report on the New Hampshire Writing and Publishing Retreat that just ended yesterday (Friday, August 21, 2015):

I’m so proud of my participants. I love helping writers come out of the shadows and into the light and this week was no different. These folks worked in teams of two to do global and local edits on one piece of prose (either fiction or nonfiction) that they brought with them. I taught them where to find great places to publish their work and how to critically analyze both the journals and the submission guidelines in order to make better and more accurate selections. Finally, I taught them about elevator pitches and cover letters, both of which they practiced, revised, and perfected before submitting their one piece to three different journals that they researched and selected. They hit “SUBMIT” together yesterday morning and we celebrated mightily. As one woman said, “My heart is pounding so hard!” It was an exciting moment as these writers stepped into the publishing pipeline for the first time. These are the moments that make my heart sing as a writing teacher and coach.

Lastly, a heads-up: I will be teaching a basic creative nonfiction writing workshop with Murphy Writing of Stockton University this January in New Jersey. If you want to learn how to write this flexible and exciting genre, as well as have ample time to create new pieces, consider joining me! I will also be available to do one-on-one tutorials if you want some personal help! Click here for more information (registration opens September 4):

Murphy Writing of Stockton University Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway in New Jersey January 2016


Join me for a Writing and Publishing Retreat this August!

Fellow writers! Please join me for a delightful summer writing vacation this August in New Hampshire. If you write fiction or nonfiction and feel like the publishing industry is this intimidating monolith out there…put those fears aside and come work with me for a week. Better yet, find a writer friend and come together! I promise to change your mind and show you that you CAN publish your work! Join me and learn how to make every writer’s (publishing) dream come true. I will show you the way.

Here’s the official description for my workshop and the link to the web site for more information is below. Hope to see you in New Hampshire!  – Amanda

Writing and Publishing Retreat

Most writers want to publish their work, but too many stop short of the final goal due to lack of know-how and fear of rejection. This interactive workshop will support and encourage you as you deepen your understanding of the publishing process. Whether you are writing fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction or personal essays, you will gain confidence and coaching on how to publish your writing including:

  • Knowing what your audience and the market want

  • Locating ideal outlets for work—literary journals, small presses, blogs, magazines, regional publications, etc.—and learning how to match your writing to their submission guidelines

  • Learning how to write an effective cover letter and elevator pitch

  • Understanding how to build an online platform that will impress agents and editors

Bring your laptop or tablet and a work-in-progress (up to 3,000 words) to put through the stages of revision while learning how to navigate the business of publishing. Before the retreat ends, you will submit your finished piece to one of the markets you evaluated during the week. Once you know how to approach this mysterious industry, it will be a mystery no more. Your work is almost ready, so let’s get it published.

Limited to 12 participants—Led by Amanda Morris

“As a first-time attendee, I was very impressed. My workshop leader, Amanda Morris, was full of energy, interesting, encouraging and inspiring. I would come back just for her, but I very much enjoyed the whole experience!”
~ Susan, Newtown, PA

Live Free and Write Summer Getaway for Writers (all details here, including price, dates, etc)


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