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Beating Burnout and Scribing Shipshape

I told my 5th-grade students that I was leaving teaching to become an author. I didn’t believe myself for a minute, but I needed something to say to them, didn’t I? The truth was, I’d had enough. After ten years in the classroom, the last school was the last straw. I won’t go into details, but it was toxic. So toxic, in fact, that I was making myself sick just staying there. I decided to let it go with no real idea of what I would do after I left. The kids were excited to hear about my next adventure. They knew I loved to write, so it made sense that I would take a break and pursue something new. I didn’t feel like I was embarking on a new adventure. I was too exhausted to feel anything.

Fast forward to November of the same year. I had put months between me and my burnout, but I wasn’t feeling the slightest bit better. It wasn’t called that at the time, but that’s what it was. I wasn’t working. I couldn’t bring myself to even look for a new job. I didn’t know what to do, and I was totally and utterly lost. Education, the thing I was best at and most passionate about, was no longer an option. I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted nothing to do with anything.

At the time, my partner was working on his Ph.D. in Wales. I decided that a change of scenery would do me good, and I started looking for things to occupy my time. I don’t remember where I found it, but I came across an organization called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November. Each day, you write a certain amount of words, and by the end of the month, you have a whole novel (or at least the start of one). This is what I decided to do.

I had nothing to lose, so I just got started.

I wrote every day, and what I thought would be impossible became the most important thing I could do for myself. My creativity was activated. I started to feel alive again. I was actually looking forward to writing each day. Most importantly, I had an outlet to process my thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe space on the page. And I did. I took all my anger, frustration, hurt, and love and poured it into Ben, Nate, Ellie, Ms. B., and all of the other characters you will meet.

I’ve held on to this novel for so many years. I’ve made so many changes, so many revisions. I added chapters and characters and took them away too. Part of me and my story lives in each of the characters in Shipshape. I won’t give away any more, but I wonder if you can find yourself in these characters too? If you can, then I have done my job. Somewhere in my archives are scrolls of dialogue, orphaned in documents I’ll probably never look at again. That’s part of the process. This novel will always remind me of that time when I wanted nothing to do with education and how I started to find my way back. I’m in the home stretch now; the end is near. This part of myself will be out into the world soon. Will anyone read it besides my family? What will they think? Will they tell me the truth? The inner critic has surfaced again, but as I remind her, it’s not mine anymore. It belongs to you, dear reader.

That’s the artist’s relationship with their art. You spend all this time creating something only to release it into the wild, knowing it will never be yours again. The intentional care you have taken to write each sentence, each word, will be in the hands of someone else. I’ve made peace with the fact that something I painstakingly toiled over for eight years will be devoured in days or even hours. But this, my friends, is the ultimate compliment.

About the Author

E. E. Dowd is an educator at heart. By day, she’s an education consultant and curriculum developer with a passion for global education and helping kids see themselves as changemakers. When she’s not writing you can find her traveling, finding new delicious foods to eat, and devouring books in hours. Shipshape is her debut novel.

Twitter: @eedowd27

Instagram: @eedowd

Book Description

Fifth grade for Ben Turner was supposed to start off like any other year at Riverside Elementary School. But with a puzzling scandal, a mysterious new principal who no one has ever seen, and robots that look an awful lot like people, Ben soon discovers that this is a year like no other. Will Ben and his friends be able to unravel the mysteries surrounding all the changes at school before time runs out? Or will they have to find out what it means to be shipshape?

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