I know I was born to love. I know I was born to write. I know I was born to teach. Therefore, it follows that I was born to love to teach writing. See how that works?
If you didn’t know, October is Computer Learning Month, among other ‘awarenesses’ (Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month…). I didn’t know either, actually. But a friendly reader of my blog, Mr. Bob Clary, Community Manager from Webucator, Inc, contacted me in hopes that I would write a post “in honour of teaching writing”. And as I’ve been back in the classroom doing guest speaking/lectures since school began, I think it’s fitting to write about teaching. Thanks Bob!
He asked me: If you were training an apprentice writer, how would you pass your knowledge onto them? Not just grammar and syntax, mind you, but the real work and passion of great writing.
A solid question. Here’s the thing, I’ve not ever had any ‘formal’ training as a teacher. I don’t have my Bachelor’s of Education (although the thought has passed through me many a times). I’ve never taken any ‘how to teach’ courses, and sometimes this causes me to feel ‘less than’, but the I snap out of it. The reason is two-fold. 1) I’ve been and continue to be a student. And one can learn a lot about teaching when one is a student. Funnily enough, this past September, I actually did the math regarding how long I was a student.
Elementary School – Gr K-8 = 9 years
High School – Gr 9 – OAC = 5 years
University = 5 years
For a grand total of 19 years!
I’m 36 years old, which means that I’ve only NOT been in school for a total of 17 years. I’ve been in school more than I’ve been doing anything else! Furthermore, I’ve only been out of school for 9 years – doing things like working, getting married and starting a family. It’s mind-boggling to think/realize how much ‘schooling’ has been a part of my life. And really, being educated happens in and out of the classroom, so if I think about learning in general, I never really stop. (And I don’t want to!)
Because I’ve been doing my craft for longer than I’ve been in school, and I’ve surpassed the 10,000 hours of doing my craft that ‘they’ say makes you an expert in your field, I feel confident that I know what I’m talking about when I teach writing classes. I write every day, and that means something. I read every day, and that means something too. I believe that everyone can write, and that literacy is a tie that binds humans like few other ties.
I am able to pass on my knowledge as a writer because I can give real-life examples and experiences of what it means to be a writer. I can share my writing process, and in doing so, ask you questions about your writing process – and explore what it means to be a writer.
I can pass this on by writing about my process, by speaking about my process through these blog posts, through non-fiction articles, through videos and interviews, and/or in an actual ‘teaching’ environment via a guest lecture or a course/workshop I am teaching.
Teaching comes natural to me. I prepare myself for each ‘stage’ – be it at the front of a classroom, at the front of a bar/restaurant/library or actual stage – so that when I speak, my heart, brain and soul are tethered together, and I can deliver information in an entertaining yet informative way that is inspiring, thoughtful, provocative and useful.
Over the years, I’ve taught various writing courses. From English Communication at the college level to memoir writing to poetry to elementary school kids. I’ve taught poetry workshops and led weekend-long writing retreats. Yeah, I guess you can say I’ve got a passion for words!
It is always my intention to teach what I know, with an open and honest vulnerability that there are still many things I don’t know, and together with the people in the class, we set out to learn together.
Teaching is an intimate interaction for me. So, typically, by the end of a class/workshop, we’re all hugs and smiles and tears. I always challenge myself to go ‘deep’ when I teach, and offer a safe, comfortable space for those in the space with me to go ‘deep’ as well. I find the best stories come from digging deep – and offering ‘memory’ a place on the page.
When you’re staring at a page (or screen), how do you turn the words into wine?
For me, the biggest challenge is getting to the page/screen itself. Because my life is filled with family, career, friends and creative endeavours, I’d say I give the least amount of time to writing. It’s more about turning whine into action and/or worry into words. I’ve had to train myself to time-manage (literally, using a timer for various activities so I can include writing into my life) all the creative things I do, and be ready to sit and write at odd and/or scheduled times. This means I don’t write when inspiration ‘hits’. It also means I don’t wait for inspiration either.
A massive part of teaching about writing is teaching a person how to recognize her writing process. Basically, I have to gently intrude on one’s life schedule, have her write it out, and have her honestly and realistically see where writing time will fit in. Few of us writers have the freedom of ‘wake up and write all day’ lifestyles. In fact, I don’t think this dreamy writing life actually exists for anyone! We need to live so we have things to write about, right?
When I write, I have a story to tell. There are characters or descriptions or ideas or voices that come out of me – and I let them come out and I give them a home on the page. It’s not about wine so much as it’s about meat and potatoes. (I’m not much of a drinker, anyway! Cheers!)
If you’d like to try something at home, to see how you feel about writing, I suggest doing a hand-written, timed-writing exercise. What is that? Well, you take a topic, set a timer, and hand-write about that topic for an allotted amount of time. With new writers, I start with 3 -5 minute timed writes. And after I give a topic, I follow it with this – don’t stop writing! Even if what you’re writing is: I don’t know what else to write about this topic! Doing this allows your brain and body to feel time as well as feel the flow of words that come out of you.
THEME: Favourite place to walk
TIME: 4 minutes
In today’s high-technology world, learning has spread out of classrooms and into our homes and literal ‘laps’ on our laptops. We can use on-line courses to learn individually or with groups via on-line classrooms, Skype, video-chats, etc.. I’ve taken/taught courses on-line, through snail-mail (who knew?!), done/taught classes via Skype, and done workshops while listening to a teacher. I’ve enjoyed all of these ways of learning, as both the teacher and the student.
What teaching means to me is ‘extend’ and ‘receive’. I can extend my knowledge to you. You can receive my knowledge. You can extend your knowledge to me. I can receive it from you. Give and take. Share and discuss. Love and be loved. Teaching enables me to continue learning and continue ‘mastering’ my skills as a writer as I practice and share my writing experience and knowledge with you.
Writers write and writers read. And we’re mastering the craft by doing both. I’ll raise this one by also adding, writers teach. At least, this writer does.