Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Teacher as Student, and a Giveaway Reminder

I love learning. If I had unlimited resources, I'd be a full-time student for the rest of my life. Instead, I'm a teacher, which is the next best thing.

[Speaking of teachers, if you're a teacher, librarian, or homeschooling parent, be sure to read the end of this post for an update on our current giveaway contest. And if you're not a teacher, librarian, or homeschooler, please help spread the word to those who are.]

For me, being a teacher is as much about learning as it is about teaching. To prepare for my classes, I not only reread the assigned text, I also research supplemental resources. Currently, I'm reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I don't read horror stories, so I'm not a fan of Stephen King's fiction. However, I've heard wonderful things about this craft book for years. Ten years, to be exact, as the 10th Anniversary edition came out this past July. So I decided it was about time I read it.

I have to say, the timing is perfect. I'm currently teaching a six-week "Craft & Critique Workshop." The first aspect of craft I discuss in the workshop is characterization. Last night I shared with my class two things about characterization that I learned from King's book:
“Everything I've said about dialogue applies to building characters in fiction. The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how the real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see. You may notice that your next-door neighbor picks his nose when he thinks no one is looking. This is a great detail, but noting it does you no good as a writer unless you’re willing to dump it into a story at some point.”
"Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity . . . ." 
These aren't exactly new ideas for me. I received similar instructions from my teachers at Vermont College. But sometimes, I forget. That's why I consider myself fortunate to be a teacher--it forces me to remember, and it prods me to "practice what I preach."

Last week, Esther posted about Signature Quotes. The following is another quote from Stephen King's On Writing. It's rather long for a Signature Quote, but it really spoke to me when I read it:
     "You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
     I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s
writing damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else."
If you're ready to take writing seriously, I suggest you go "back to school" this fall by reading (or re-reading) a book on the craft of writing. Below, I list a dozen books that have helped me as both a teacher and a student. Do you have a favorite that's not on this list? If so, please share it in the comments.
  • Bauer, Marion Dane: What’s Your Story? A Young Person’s Guide to Writing Fiction (While this book is aimed at young people, it’s a great introduction for adults, too.)
  • Bell, James Scott: Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish
  • Bell, James Scott: Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming your First Draft into a Finished Novel
  • Burroway, Janet: Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • Card, Orson Scott: Characters & Viewpoint
  • Frank, Thaisa, and Dorothy Wall: Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction
  • Hemley, Robin: Turning Life into Fiction
  • Kress, Nancy: Beginnings, Middles & Ends
  • Novakovich, Josip: Writing Fiction Step by Step
  • Stein, Sol: Stein on Writing
  • Strunk, William, Jr., and E.B. White: The Elements of Style
  • Wood, Monica: Description (This book has the clearest explanation of point of view that I’ve read so far—I recommend it to ALL my students!)
Happy Fall!
Fall begins today, Sept. 22 (if you're in the northern hemisphere).
And now for the Giveaway Update I promised: There are only 12 days left to enter our giveaway contest for classroom teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents. You can win your choice of either a 30-minute Skype visit from a TeachingAuthor or a set of six autographed books—one from each TeachingAuthor! The odds of winning are great, as we've had only two entries so far. (Is everyone waiting until the last minute to enter?) Read this post for details. And if you're not eligible to enter yourself, please spread the word to all the teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents you know.
Happy writing, and happy fall!


Michelle Markel said...

So many good ones- thanks for posting these. "Writers Workshop in a Book" by the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and "Chapter After Chapter" by Heather Sellars. Perhaps a writer should restrict herself to reading just one per month!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing, Michelle. One a month is a great idea, or maybe one per season, so you can get some writing done in between. :-)

cbrothman said...

Thank you for sharing all of the resources.
Ralph Fletcher, autor of Writer's notebook,and Live writing Breathing life into your Words, are two book that have given me insight on teacing writing to my class and to myself.

Mary Jo said...

I also just finished King's On Writing via audio book and took away so much, I'm buying it for my writer's reference shelf, as I know I'll come back to his tips again.
I'm reading "Make a Scene" by Jordan Rosenfeld (and taking her revision class)both which have helped me with the arduous task of revising my "completed" novel.
And last night at a YA author event, Alyson Noel recommended "Story," by Robert McGee.

I second the Ralph Fletcher books for young writers as well as us teaching them!

Carmela Martino said...

Yes, I agree that Fletcher's books are great for both students and teachers. I've heard good things about McGee's STORY, too, Mary Jo. I don't know Rosenfeld's book.