He said so much that I thought was important so I tried to keep his words as close to exact as I could. As of right now, it’s a disaster. A disaster I’ll hopefully fix…
Zack Bean has spun creative writing wisdom at Montana State since the fall of 2013. His interest in writing began in high school after taking part in a summer program, but he didn’t always know he wanted to be a writer. “It’s the first time I encountered creative writing as a discipline. It was interesting, but didn’t take right away. I barely wrote that summer. I was just reading and listening and trying to connect that to what I had read in school.”
First a chemistry major, Zack realized early on that the life of a chemist was not what he envisioned for his life. “I switched to creative writing because I envisioned my future as a chemist. I had a friend who graduated and was doing work for 15 bucks an hour, which wasn’t that bad in 1999, but I could already do things I hate for that much money,” he says with a laugh.
When asked about how he got to be a writing instructor Zack’s answers reflected how important self-reflection is. “I took creative writing and literature classes and really enjoyed them. I think probably for me, my interest came more from the movies as much as it did for literature. I wanted to be a filmmaker but I couldn’t afford to go to film school and I didn’t like the idea of working with that many people with that much money at stake. It just seemed really, I don’t wanna say doomed, but I could say, interpersonally, that it was not a good match for me. I was really an introvert. It wasn’t until I began teaching that I was really able to talk to people.”
After switching from a chemistry major, Zack was a creative writing and mass communication double major, but ended up dropping mass communication his last semester. “I was like 6 hours away from a communications degree. I could just that these were not my people.” When it came to finding his people Zack found home in the creative writing field. “I had a couple classes I really enjoyed, one with a writer named Molly Giles. I wrote a story in there that she thought was pretty good. This was maybe one of the first times that I thought I could do this. A couple years later after I graduated, after bouncing around job to job for a couple of years, I decided I wanted to go to grad school for creative writing and I wanted to learn about writing. That’s how I ended up applying to MFA programs, which ultimately led me to PhD programs. Even after getting my PhD I didn’t ever think I had to be a creative writing professor.”
Even though he didn’t have to become a creative writing professor, that is what he did. So I asked him what a typical day looks like.
“I’ll start with the obvious and say, part of my job is to be a creative writer. Most days the first writing I do is early in the morning before the kids get up and that’s working on whatever my creative project is at the time. Usually it’s an hour, hour and a half from 5:30/6:00 to 7:00 in the morning. That’s what we generally think of as ‘creative writing’. Sometimes that’s all the time to do it. Other days I can get back to it later and work. Typical days are hard to address because I don’t think many of my days are typical. I might teach one to three classes a semester. My day constantly shifts. The number of hours I’m teaching shifts, but I’m generally writing all the time. Sometimes it’s ‘I need to send emails, whether that’s to a student or to a colleague. I would say I spend an hour sending or responding to emails.”
“I’ll use today as an example. I do a lot of writing as a professor, whether that’s writing a syllabus or notes for classes I teach. Yesterday, I spent most of the day with a pen in hand, reading stories for a class I teach tonight. Making margin notes, or lecture notes. I probably spent six or seven hours doing that. I’ll probably spend a few more hours today doing that.”
Since Zack is a creative writer who also teaches creative writing, I imagined his own writing must intersect with what he teaches:
“Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Like right now I’m teaching a class on the short story, while writing short stories, so sometimes it’s hard to separate those two. If I’m reading five or six stories and talking about how they work, if I go back to my own writing, I’m very likely to see some connection or some opportunity that I otherwise might not have seen.”
Sounds like an awesome way of using both aspects of his writing life. “So, in a sense, it almost solves some of your own writing problems by teaching?”
“Solves some, or creates them,” he says with another laugh. “I’m not which, but it definitely feeds into my writing. I can’t always separate the two. Sometimes, but not always.”