I had an opportunity to teach a class in memoir and personal essay at the Write on the Sound Writers Conference this past weekend. A tweet came through the tweetosphere afterward by one the attendees complimenting the class. “Informational, yes,” it read, “but even more inspiring.” Yes, I have an ego, and that ego enjoys being praised. But there is another part of me that was glad to read this message for other reasons. I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve learned a bunch of stuff. I’ve learned about the importance of contrast and what I’ve come to call The Intentional Arc of a story. I’ve learned a lot about showing instead of telling and about using more nouns and verbs and fewer adjectives and adverbs. I’m happy to share all of what I’ve learned if I can figure out how.
I’m just not sure how much all that stuff I’ve learned will help if the student doesn’t believe she can tell the story she wants to tell. I don’t know how remembering to use contrast will be of use if the writer thinks that her story is like every other story out there, so why bother starting? If the student believes that no one wants to hear from her, that her story doesn’t matter, that in fact she doesn’t matter, then nothing I have to say on the dry business of nouns and verbs is going mean anything to her. A woman dying of hunger does not need a recipe for chocolate cake.
Which is why my real job as a teacher is simply to inspire the students, to tell them a story that goes like this: Your story matters because you want to tell it. That’s all you need to know. I happen to love this story. I can’t hear it often enough. I sometimes forget that it’s true. But when I’m really telling a story and not simply repeating it, it is more like listening than talking, and so I get to hear it too, and so I get to believe it, and maybe so do these people called students, and then storyteller and audience are one.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.