Teaching writing

Words matter. They have the power to heal, convey love, hate, complexity, as well as whimsy. Some people are obsessed with words and how to arrange and order them—we’re called writers.

A decade ago, I gave myself permission to call myself a writer. This wasn’t an arbitrary decision. I based it upon things I was figuring out about myself at the time. Looking back, I made the right choice.

Ten years later and well more than 10,000 hours of toiling on my craft, I’m now teaching writing to others deciding whether words are worth the effort—it’s not a choice for writers—we take on the task and hard work of writing, whether we are a best-selling author, semi-obscure blogger, or somewhere betwixt and between these two poles of public awareness.

Teaching writing is different than merely setting down words on a page. The act of writing offers both freedom and it sometimes is akin to agony. Teaching for me is about craft and evaluation. Preparing to teach forces me to become intentional about why I’m doing what I do and have to think about why and how, as well as promoting how often—I always say, “everyday, if you can.” Sometimes you can’t, for all manner of reasons.

People that don’t write (or can’t) sometimes impugn those who can. These attacks are not usually malicious; most often they’re rooted in ignorance. Better, it’s more about them and their misunderstanding about what it takes to write and write regularly, not to mention, getting your work out to a wider audience. Still, ignorance or not, this kind of unsolicited criticism hurts and can even be damaging. Then again, when someone says something stupid like, “someday, I’m going to write my book,” I’m thinking, “yeah, right; have at it, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.”  Talk is cheap and writing, especially developing something linear and following it to completion, like a book, is really hard work and will test your will to persevere. And then, when it doesn’t sell as many copies, or people that ought to know better—people that know you and know you write—never even mention you’re writing, then you are starting to get the picture (I hope). I’ve learned that to write for any length of time requires a tough hide and your primary motivation has to be intrinsic.

Writing for work and business isn’t writing to live. Of course, if your writing doesn’t allow you to make a living from it, then this further complicates the process and can disrupt the rhythm of writing. In my opinion, success in writing isn’t necessarily connected to economics, but in a capitalist society like ours, economics introduces complications that some writers aren’t able to overcome.  It also falsely equates success in writing with book sales, which in my opinion are two different things altogether.

Each time I gather a group of new writers or those dancing around the edges of the big tent of writing enamored with the romantic notions of being a writer, I learn something fresh about my own efforts to push forward. I’m also reminded anew about why writing can be so damn tough on writers (and those who love them). It makes me better, and maybe more important, aware of what I’ve accomplished and what it will take to get to the next level if I choose to take the necessary steps to continue upward.

Writing isn’t conspicuously different than other creative crafts, or even occupations and positions; crossroads call us to make, and all too often demand decisions. Those decisions often are a choice between doing what’s easy, or comfortable, or making the necessary choice to be better and dig a little bit deeper.

The writer’s craft is a tough one, which is another reason why many talk about it and few really get after it.

Down East Books booth at the 2012 Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls