Saturday, May 26, 2018

When the Writer becomes the Teacher

How many of you teach writing? For a while, to pad my income, I actively sought writing gigs but backed off that because it was A) a lot of work finding gigs, and B) I didn't get a lot of interest. It was embarrassing touting myself as a "National Bestselling Author" and have zilch in terms of students signing up. I did have some success, don't get me wrong. I taught Writing the Graphic Novel at Front Range Community College and for the last TEN years, I've taught craft seminars at Lighthouse Writers summer LitFest. Just last week I taught a craft workshop at the Westminster Public Library. And like many of you, I've presented my fair share of panels, gratis, at various cons.

In my classes, one of my guiding principles is that I have specific take-aways for my students. I want them to feel that their money and time was well spent. I also like to include quotes to illustrate that this writing game can be a challenging biz, even for big-name writers like Hemingway, for example. Although I personally don't like writing exercises, or "prompts" to use MFA jargon, I rely on them because that way I don't have to talk for the entire session. I listen to myself enough as it is. For the most part, I seem to cycle though the same topics though the classes have different titles each time: story structure, characters, premise, and the big one--motivation. Something else I've noticed is that students, especially older ones, seem to be seeking the one secret trick that will get them published. One time I mentioned that I listen to ambient soundscapes as I write--cafes are my favorite (I'm at Starbucks without paying $$$ for a latte)--and when I shared a specific Youtube address, my students feverishly wrote it down. Older students also don't seem too interested in speculative fiction or mystery and instead prefer memoir. Understandable, I guess, though I don't teach it.

Every once in a while I'll have a student challenge me, which I find annoying. I certainly welcome different opinions because that's how I learn, but when some pompous nitwit wants to make a point at my expense I don't like being in the position of defending myself. When it happens, my ego kicks in, but I tend to downplay their response and move on.

Lately I've been a mentor in the Regis University Mile High MFA program. My personal take-away from that is how motivated and well-read these students are. They definitely keep me on my toes. One objective of the program has the graduating students identify how they'll use their MFA degree after leaving school. Not surprising, teaching is one avenue.

No comments: