Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Teaching . . . and Learning!

I’m teaching a writing class at our local Arts Center. Six weeks, and we’re half way through, and I’m trying to cram in everything I know into one-and-a-half hour classes and hoping I’m not racing so fast that I’m leaving everyone dazed and confused.

We’re hitting what I hope are the high points for beginning writers: point of view, characterization, show don’t tell, dialogue. Also hoping to get in some info on the everyday sorts of things writers are faced with, things like time management (is there such a thing?), researching and marketing.

It’s been fun for me, and I hope it is for my students, too. It’s also been something of an eye-opener. Last week, I gave them a homework exercise. We’d been discussing characterization, and I wanted them to think about how a character’s background, education and upbringing affects who they are and how they deal with other people. I gave them a single scenario and had them write it in three different ways with three very different women as their main character.
And you know what? They didn’t just do well, they did fabulously! And they made me realize something in the process . . . I was looking at these exercises as very basic. Come up with a scenario, plop the character in, let her interact the way she would as the child of Russian immigrants, a kid who was raised on the streets, or a privileged trust-fund baby (the three characters I created for the exercise). Had I been the one doing them, I would have seen them as simple and with little room to stretch my creative wings.

How wrong I would have been!

My students (all adults) came up with incredible, imaginative, ingenious ways to make all three women not only true to their characters, but interesting and yes (at least in one case), a little devious, too. One student wrote the exercise as a "a man walks into a bar" story. Another added a touch of mystery. One told the whole thing through the point of view of another character who turned out to be as fascinating as the main characters we worked with.

I was impressed. No, I was more than impressed.

There I am throwing out all the info I can about writing. And there are my students, teaching me so much more. I think I’ve got my nose to the deadline grindstone so often, I never come up for air. Or to see that writing for the fun of writing can be just that–educational, challenging, playful. I sometimes feel constrained by the parameters of my books. Next time I do, I’m going to remind myself that there’s a whole big world out there and places our imaginations can soar if only we let them. All I’ll have to do is repeat these words, "A man walked into a bar . . ."


Sharon said...

That's cool. Around here you can go to writers seminars that last a few hours, but not classes, which would be more helpful. I'm not a writer, but my 14 year old daughter has knocked my socks off . Hope she doesn't lose the desire to cultivate her talents while she reaches for her other dreams :)

Casey said...

You're a good mom to encourage her, Sharon. Just tell her to keep writing and writing and writing. It's the only way any of us make it happen.

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin said...

My father, a retired college professor, insists that good teachers learn from their students, as well as teach them. {Smile}

I have to agree. When I got a job as a tutor, I discovered that the best way to find out how well I really know something is to try to teach it to someone else. {Smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin