Saturday, October 26, 2013

Teaching...or Fellowship?

As I write this, I am sitting in a classroom with a half dozen other writers. One is T. Dawn Richard, who is talking right now. She's discussing story structure and asking the other five writers to write down the opening image of their book.

In an hour or so, we'll tag team the subject of character. And so it will go, all day long.

Wait. Those who can't do...teach?

I've never believed that line, actually. Sometimes the best coaches weren't superstar players but mid-level grinders who made the pros because they understood the game. Sometimes people like to teach something because it is something they are good at and are passionate about.

That's how I feel about teaching writing.

There's today's one-day intensive that I'm sure Dawn and I will teach again. And then there's the six week workshop I'm teaching at Auntie's Bookstore.

But am I really teaching?

On a surface level, sure. I'm teaching and sharing craft, technique, and passion. No question.

But it really is more about fellowship. It's about learning from each other. I am constantly astounded at passages that a supposedly "new" writer reads aloud or sends as part of an exercise. The raw talent and passion, the incredible turn of phrase, the obvious love for language...it is inspiring.

Life is full of exchanges. We give our employer time or product, and that employer gives us money. We give the grocer money, he gives us food. We give the lawyer money, she gives us a legal service. Exchanges. Sometimes we feel like we got a fair deal, other times maybe it was unequal.

Teaching is an exchange, too. You'd think that the balance would be heavily tilted in favor of the student, and maybe in some cases it is. But for me, I discovered long ago that the balance is really very much tilted in the favor of the instructor. I learn from teaching, I learn from the students, and the students are inspiring. Their success becomes, emotionally at least, my success.

It isn't just teaching writing. I've taught in my previous career in law enforcement. I coach youth hockey. And in both of those endeavors, the experience is very much the same -- you give everything you can to the act of teaching, but no matter how much you give, it seems as if more comes back to you.

My wife teaches middle school, which is exhausting. But I sometimes think her exhaustion also stems from the exhilaration of this kind of success with her students.

We are all on a writing journey. This blog is about a writer's journey, not a teacher's journey. But teaching the craft of writing makes me a better writer. Sharing time with other writers brings fellowship, which I believe makes a writer's life richer...which makes you a better writer.

And frankly, I've got debts to pay, to writers who have helped me that I can never pay back. So I pay it forward, hopefully with interest.

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