Student Teacher


I don’t devote a lot space in this column to the craft of writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a life-long student of it. I am habitually interested in how we render the world into language, noting word choices in everything I read from poetry to magazine ads, and observing story arcs in novels, movies, and situation comedies. At this point, I don’t even notice I’m doing it. I understand now that this is how I taught myself to write – by being an every-waking-hour-in-the-day student. I used to believe this is how everyone did it.

When I first started teaching, my plan was to under no circumstance teach anything about the craft of writing. Because I couldn’t remember learning it myself, I doubted it was possible to teach it. It felt like showing someone how to walk. Everyone would just have to figure out. It’s what people do. Instead, I would teach the thing I had most needed to learn, which was how to write fearlessly on purpose. That, I could remember learning.

Turns out, however, a lot of people really want to learn the craft of writing in addition to how to write fearlessly. So, begrudgingly at first, I began teaching classes on how to write memoir and personal essays. To my surprise, I loved it. I loved it when my students didn’t understand something I took for granted, I loved the challenge of learning how to teach what I felt like I had always known. There are some days I feel like I have learned more about the craft of writing since I started teaching it than in all those years when I was self-taught.

This irritates me a little. Apparently, I’ve carried a little pride about how I learned to write, believing secretly that if you need a classroom, maybe you’re not a writer. That I am called the teacher rather than the student is irrelevant. The classroom says: Now we have come to learn. It is like the blank page itself. You don’t really know what your story is until you put it there. This essay, for instance, was supposed to be about something else entirely, until it got sidetracked in the second sentence.

The page taught what I wanted to say, and the students teach me what I want to learn. I don’t really know what I want until one of them asks a question I can’t answer, and then I’m interested, then I’m on that search for discovery, and the every-waking-hour-in-the-day student keeps learning.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.