Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Writers as Teachers

First, let me begin by thanking Vicki for all she has done for this blog site and for all of us who have been fortunate enough to participate in it. Thanks, Vicki, for everything. Keep in touch.

Now to the business at hand.

It seems lately there has been a lot of talk about giving workshops and helping pre-published writers to break in. (That is, after all, a reason for many readers to visit our humble blog each week.) And it has reminded me of the pot-of-gold question every mid-list writer is asked:

If you could write full time, would you still… (work your day job)?

In my case, the day job is teaching English, and my response is always the same: I would, just not as much.

Like most writers, I feel an obligation to help other writers who are trying to publish. The late Robert B. Parker (as an aside: I just bought the final Spenser novel and can’t wait to read it) once told me that the publishing business was vastly different for John Grisham than it was from him, and in turn it is vastly different for me than it was for Mr. Parker. Alas, the publishing mountain has many levels on its corporate climb, and the three of us are on very different plateaus. However, Mr. Parker took time to speak to me when my first novel was released back in 2001. Likewise, another well-known mystery novelist (sadly also dead now) once wrote that his wife called him a “blurb slut” because he couldn’t seem to bring himself to refuse to blurb a book when asked. I’m not asked to do so often, but I know the feeling—I was lucky to get some nice jacket blurbs for my first novel, and therefore I could not imagine saying no to anyone who asked me to do the same.

Teaching can be similar, which is why many of us enjoy giving workshops. I had great educators over the years, men and women who loved what they did and thought of their occupation as a calling. They took pride and found joy in teaching a learning-disabled kid like me to enjoy and appreciate the literary arts. I have signed on to teach creative writing and writing fundamentals to non-native speakers of English for five weeks this summer in New Hampshire. It will be great to get out of the humidity in Connecticut for July and August, but there is more to it.

I was lucky to have men like Rick DeMarinis (“The Mortician’s Apprentice,” “Borrowed Hearts,” and many other award-winning novels and story collections) take an interest in my dribble when I was young and knew nothing save for that I wanted to write novels, and that I was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal. Rick once told me, “No one can teach you to write, but a good teacher can save you time.” I took his words to heart, worked my butt off, and sought advice often.

This summer, I probably won’t be able to teach anyone how to write, but, as Rick (and others) did for me, hopefully, I can save some kids a little time.

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