Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Learning and Learners

I'm working hard on my course right now, and learning heaps. There's nothing like being able to take a chapter of your novel and apply all the exercises and coloured markers as you go, then return to the manuscript and rewrite. What comes out can be a revelation. For a start, I've ended up with an extra 500 words, a 15% increase. That's because the course is about developing character emotions and depth, and if you've done any work on showing-not-telling stuff, you'll know that at high points in the story, showing works so much better, but takes more words.

So ... I'm still working through it all (the course is called Empowering Character Emotions by Margie Lawson), and realising that I will need to go back and re-read and re-do the exercises several times. Is it because my brain is getting old? I don't think so - I think it's more a case of I've settled into certain patterns of learning (skimming and taking what I think I need), and I'm having to deliberately slow down and concentrate and go over things to get top value.

All this has got me thinking about ways of learning, or not learning, that I've seen over many years of teaching writing. You may not have taught, but I bet you've seen one or two of these in a class you've attended:

* I already know everything. I'm a fantastic writer, I'm brilliant, but undiscovered. You are here to acknowledge my brilliance. And that means that boring stuff like grammar and punctuation is irrelevant in my case. Besides, the editor will fix that.

* I'm here to learn but you're wrong. Never mind that I've paid good money and am spending valuable writing hours in this room, and just because you are the teacher and you're widely published doesn't mean you know anything about what I write. Because I'm special.

* I don't want to show anyone my writing. Yes, this is a workshop and that's what you do, but someone might steal my ideas. No, I can't send my workshopping by email, because people steal stuff on the net too.

* I only want to write what I want to write. Why are we doing these stupid exercises in class? How will an exercise on writing dialogue help me write better dialogue? Why do I have to listen to what other people have written? After they've listened to me, I'll have a snooze, thanks.

* What do you mean - I need to rewrite this? Everything I write comes out perfect first time. I put a lot of thought into it. So it's fine as it is. OK, I'll fix the apostrophes. And the bit where the character with one eye is looking through binoculars. That was meant to be funny. Didn't you get it? It works for me.

* I was up really late last night. Not writing. At a party. So I'll just put my head on the desk and have a quiet nap. I'm not disturbing anyone. What's your problem?

* What do you mean, my novel sounds like a re-run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I think I've been really original. No, I don't read horror or vampire novels. Or any other novels, really. I watch TV though. Yes, I've seen every episode of Buffy. How did you know?

* Yes, this is science fiction (or romance, or horror, or middle grade). No, I don't read that genre. But look how much money you can make from it.

Thankfully, these students and writers are very few and far between. Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of working with/teaching hundreds of keen, enthusiastic people who really do want to soak up every single thing they can, and improve their writing as much as possible. That's why I'm still doing it. And I love being a student, too. Better get back to my homework.

1 comment:

Kristi Holl said...

This was priceless, Sherryl! Having taught writing for 20+ years as well, I recognize those students! As you say, it makes those who really want to learn stand out like shining stars--and makes the teaching worth it. The more we publish, the more I realize we have to learn. That DOES make it fun though!
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog