Welcome back, guest blogger, SJ Rozan! SJ, author of the Lydia Chin and Bill Smith mysteries, is tackling another aspect of the writing life today: teaching. Without further ado, take it away!
I'm back again with my final entry in this trifecta of guest blogs for the Femmes Fatales. My subject: the public side of the writer's life. My first post was about doing a panel, and thus hanging with other writers; my second, on leaving town for public events. Seeing as how I just got back from a terrific teaching gig in Florida, I'm going to talk about teaching, workshops, and all that jazz.
I love to teach. I really do. I've never sought out a regular, normal, semester-long teaching job, because I travel so much and it would involve too much co-ordination. So what I do is time-limited workshops and classes. In the general way of things, I'll consider (and likely agree to) any invitation that includes airfare, a hotel room, and some form of honorarium. Partly, this is why I travel so much, which is why I've never sought... You get the idea.
The Miami gig was at the Writers' Institute at Miami Dade College. (These are the same fine people who put on the excellent Miami Book Fair, and if you're a writer and you get an invitation, go! If you're not a writer but you're a reader and you live anywhere near there, I suggest you put it on your calendar and also, go!) I taught a 3-day course in crime writing. I had seven stellar students (and if you're reading this, mis estudientes, know I do mean you even though you're the one(s) who thought your work was junk). This was a class, not a workshop, so although we did in-class exercises to illustrate various points, the students didn't bring previously-written work to share and the ratio of me yapping to students' work being critiqued was higher than usual. I was wiped out at the end of each day, as I always am when I teach (probably another reason why I've never sought...) but the terrific thing about teaching is, it's as energizing as it is exhausting. I gave assignments I've given dozens of times, and the responses are always different, always new. It's a cliché, I guess, but I learn as much from teaching as the students do. I either see a new angle to an element we're working on, something I never thought about before, based on a student's answer to the problem I give; or a student asks a question that forces me to articulate and therefore be precise about a concept that until then had been one of those undeveloped, fuzzy-edged ideas we all carry around.
I especially love to teach beginners, people who've wanted to try this writing thing for awhile but never have, until this moment when they nervously and self-consciously stick their toes in the water. I enjoy the steep learning curve. Working with people who are already experienced is rewarding in a different way, because the technical level of work is, as you might expect, consistently higher; but the incremental improvements beginners make are greater, and tremendously exciting. The most exciting thing -- and this happens with both experienced students and beginners -- is the moment when someone stops thinking of her- or himself as a butcher, baker or candlestick maker who writes, and becomes a writer with a day job. It's a mental shift all writers need to make, except maybe those high school lit mag, college creative writing program, MFA folks -- the ones who knew this about themselves from Day One. Most of us didn't, though, and were adults when our identities changed. I was half-way through my second book, had just sold my second short story (the book hadn't sold yet) and was still working full time as an architect, when it happened to me. The shift has nothing at all to do with whether you ever sell anything. Selling a work makes you an author. Writing makes you a writer. And I love to see my students make that shift. It doesn't always happen -- sometimes it takes a number of classes and workshops, and for some people it never happens. But sometimes it does, and that, plus all the other benefits of teaching, is enough to keep me coming back.
And: If you've been thinking about sticking your toe in the water, or you've been writing for awhile but want a concentrated time and a gorgeous place to do it, my next teaching gig is in July, at the Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy. Two weeks in a four-star hotel, folks, two weeks of workshop and the company of other artists. And great food. Do come -- I promise you you'll work very hard and leave all revved up.
Okay, SJ signing off, until such time as I'm invited back here to run my mouth at the Femmes.