Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I Teach Memoir Writing

I'm teaching a memoir writing class tomorrow.  I'm beyond excited.

This is a new class.  It's given me a chance to reverse-engineer my writing process and figure out why certain things work and others don't.  It hasn't even happened  yet, and already it's been a great experience.

My Dad was a teacher, and he always thought this would be a good career option for me. He was right, but I ignored him (the way teenage daughters often do).  Back then, the only image I had for "teacher" was someone standing in front of a chalkboard in a school, talking about the same math problem, frog dissection, or French verb conjugation over and over and over again each year.  It sounded kind of...dull.

Here's what I didn't know(and I'm still not sure if this applies to math, but there's never been a danger of me teaching math to anyone, so let's not worry about that here): teaching changes, each time you do it.  First, YOU are different - your perspective, what you've seen and learned in your own life, how you've grown. And second, because YOUR STUDENTS are different.  Each group brings something new to the table.  It keeps things unpredictable, and that's often where the gems are hidden.

Of course, there are certain topics in any field that will always come up. I doubt there has ever been a writing class where questions about how to navigate the forbidding world of publishing weren't raised...nor should there be.  But there are other questions--ones more personal to a specific writer's struggles or challenges--that move teaching beyond the instructive aspect, making it interactive.  That's the sweet spot.

I teach writing because it helps me write.  It re-fuels my love of stories, reminds me that as much as life tries to lump us all together into a few homogenous groups, each of our journeys has remarkably unique elements and surprises worth reading about.  And THEN it forces me to move beyond all of that wonder/amazement and focus on basics: How does one construct a scene?  What's the goal and how do you know if you've reached it?  What do you do with those scenes once they're written?  How do you finish the job?

I'm excited about tomorrow: as a chance to share what I've learned, encourage new memoirs (as a reader, it's my favorite genre, so it behooves me to keep the pipeline stocked!), and refuel my own excitement about what it means to share your story.

If you have a chance this weekend, consider: What do you love to do? Why?

(And if you're looking for a chance to write about it, come join me in class!)

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