Thursday, August 15, 2013

Am I Equipped to Teach my Craft?

Last year I taught English literature, and this year I'm adding creative-writing lessons to the brew. When I imagine telling people I teach creative-writing lessons, I can just imagine their sarcastic smiles, the barely-disguised patronage in their voices: "Oh really? How nice. And what books have you published?"

This raises a question: must one be a published author to be equipped to teach creative-writing?Or, on a more basic level, must one be published before one can consider oneself a writer? 
My short answer is "No".
My longer answer is still "No".
And it all depends on your definition of teacher... I don't believe that a landscape-designer must have a degree in landscape-design, have built their business till it earns 300k a year, have been featured in the newspaper, and have a commercial on the television before he can bring a young man on as an intern. If the man has the skills, the man can --no-- has a duty to pass those skills on to whomever is looking to learn. This is not to say the landscaper ought to assign his intern a college degree with a tin-foil medallion hanging around the youth's neck after the boy has worked for a summer. But to lay a foundation for the young man, to start him on the path toward his goals, to give him an appreciation and an understanding of the way it works, surely the basic and valuable knowledge of experience is enough to qualify one person to teach another.

I do not have a college degree in literature or journalism, nor do I have a book published. But I have quite a few skills that other aspiring writers do not have; things that I believe equip me to teach the art of creative-writing. Some of these things?
Passion: Earnestness is contagious. I love reading, and the whole reason I began to write is so other people could enjoy reading as much as I. Now my love of writing is quite as cemented into my being; if you love something enough, there's not much hope that people will be able to avoid catching the infection.
Experience: I have steadily grown better and better since I began writing nine years ago. The change is immense, and I can truly say my talent has quadrupled (or even quintupled) since I first got this mad idea to write a novel. If you don't believe me, ask me to send you an excerpt of A Year With The Manders.
Determination: Did you know that many aspiring writers have actually never finished a novel? So if you have finished a novel (or more than one!) than good on you! You obviously have what it will take to be that writer. And, in addition, you'll be able to coach a younger writer through the wilderness of plotting, writing, revision, and self-editing - something an author who has never finished a book cannot effectively do. I have written 5 full-length novels, though only 2 are what I'd consider "viable options" for publication. Three more are in progress. Still, those three unusable debut novels were the necessary stepping-stones to where I am now. And the best part? I actually finished them; I didn't give up halfway through and try something else...something with... OH I KNOW! Talking, sparkling, FLYING horses. With names stuffed full of the letter "y".
Skill: I'm not trying to be my own plug here, but I believe that I do have some measure of skill in the art of creative-writing. I came up with a definition for creative-writing the other day, and though it's of my making, I think it's true of any solid novelist out there:
"Creative-writing is the ability to look at the same world everyone else looks at every day, but to see it in a way no one else has seen it before."
I call myself the "cock-eyed optimist" sometimes because I always see the world a little different than the next person...and I have used it to forge my own flair for the whimsical, poignant, and pretty that has become my literary trademark.
Criticism: I've been in a critique group and when that disbanded, I have continued to send my work to friends and "colleagues" to get their honest criticism. I ask for all the bad things in the project as well as the pats on the shoulder. I want to know my weak points, and learn from them. Not only have I benefited from it in my own skill-set, but I have also learned how to give criticism: something that is a vital skill for a teacher to have.
Well-Read: Since I learned to read the age of five, I have not stopped loving books. Formerly, my mom would not let me read what she called "twoddle" and as I grew to make my own literary choices, I had an inherent knowledge of what's good writing and what's shabbiness. This has helped me be able to detect the same in my own (and any students') work. I'm not the sort that looks at a chop-job and thinks, "What beautiful prose! What effective description!" It's instinct now, knowing the quality of the cloth. Beyond knowing literature, I am constantly reading books on grammar and story-craft, books on self-editing and revision, blogs from older, more experienced writers...and putting it all to work in my life.
Age & Maturity: I'm not looking to teach creative-writing to adults or college-aged people. I'm looking to teach students between the ages of twelve and sixteen or seventeen. Because I'm twenty-one and have seven younger siblings, I'm good at this sort of thing. I know kids, I love kids, and I can handle them. There will be a large enough age-gap between me and my students to make me actually useful.

These are the reasons I think I'm ready to start the job of teaching the art of creative-writing. Yes, my only students right now are my siblings and my cousin, but that is only more experience. Someday (any day now?) I will get another student, and then another, and some of these actually might pay me. I am not setting myself up as a college-level teacher and a New York Times best-selling author. I am setting myself up as a sensible, intelligent, experienced young woman who would like to tutor kids and teens who are interested in writing; I know a heck of a lot more about it than most adults. Do I have more to learn? Of course--but even Suzanne Collins should never stop at success. Do I know enough to teach my craft? Yes. Remember. I am teaching kids. To reiterate: I don't believe you must be a published author to teach creative writing. I am not here to teach a workshop on how to be published; I'm here to teach the difference between mediocre and great writing, and to provide a spring-board for young minds. And I'm ready, willing, and capable. Let no man stop me with petty excuses. 


Anne-girl said...

I'm glad you are doing this. I think you'll be really really good at it.

Esther Brooksmith (wisdomcreates) said...

The appeal of having a published writer as a teacher is based on a kind of "proof" that they write something that other people think is worth reading. You, by sharing your work with others, have some of that same appeal through your books and stories and blogs.