Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


The Wide-Reaching Effects of Teaching

In this round of posts on how teaching or mentoring affects our own writing, both Stephanie and David have touched on the fact that teaching is also a learning experience for the teacher. I strongly endorse that fact!

In my early days of writing, I worked in solitude by trial and error—writing, rewriting, and only reluctantly sharing the results with a few others. Then I tried collaborating with another writer, which involved a constant process of sharing, editing, and plugging away at an ultimately successful two books. My next stage of writing involved moving ahead on my own and enrolling in a MFA program. This was a huge step forward for me, as I went into the program with the intention of learning everything I could and soaking up ideas and advice from all my mentors and fellow students.

During the process, I discovered another love—that of teaching the craft of writing. But I also discovered that beyond the basics of good grammar, spelling, punctuation, and proper sentence structure and format, there is no true right or wrong way of writing. Everyone’s approach, experience, and voice is different. The workshops that I now teach at Misty Hill Lodge are not lectures or “lessons” as such. My goal is to offer opportunities for writers to explore ideas, expand their knowledge of the craft of writing, engage in lively discussions with other writers, and, above all, to WRITE. Over the past five years of teaching, I have learned every bit as much from my “students” as they have from me. There’s nothing like preparing a lesson plan to force yourself into studying a topic and pushing yourself to a deeper level of understanding in order to get the idea across to others. Often just one comment from a student adds another depth of meaning to the topic. My own level of writing has grown by leaps and bounds since I began teaching, and I hope I never stop learning and improving!

Two months ago I began mentoring a young 12-year-old writer, who plans to apply to the Literary Arts program at the Barbara Ingram High School for the Fine Arts. How I wish I had had this same opportunity when I was 12 years old! I can’t help but wonder how that would have changed (or sped up) my own writing career. One day I hope Kimberly will look back on a long career and remember a mentor who helped her get started. Maybe she will then do the same for some other aspiring writer.

Oh, the wide-reaching effects of teaching!


Mentee or mentor?

Once I had my first book published, I thought I knew it all. Why should I take writing classes or go to workshops? Those things were for folks who couldn't get published. What a mistaken attitude I had...and one that slowed my writing career by years.

One of the smartest things I ever did was to sign up for a children's writing class taught by Judy Delton at the Loft Literary Center. This was years after my first book was published, and boy did I discover that I didn't "know it all" like I had thought. Judy's class was good for me for many reasons. She gave me honest, sometimes painfully blunt, feedback on my work, which helped me grow considerably as a writer. She taught me the value of regularly producing new work. And she brought me in contact with a community of other writers who have become good friends. Without Judy's encouragement, I would have never had my first novel, Absolutely, Positively Not, published, and I'm proud I was able to dedicate the book to her.

This past year I was asked to be the teacher for a master picture book writing class hosted by the Loft, the same writing center where I first met Judy. Although I've taught writing to children for many years, my initial reaction to this offer was "No way! What could I possibly teach other adults?" But as I get older I'm getting braver at stretching myself, so reluctantly I agreed. The experience was wonderful. Just like Stephanie said in her previous post, I learned so much as I read and critiqued the work of the participants in this class. And to my pleasure, I discovered that I did have plenty of things to say to adult writers, many of them things I learned from my mentor, Judy. I think she would have been happy with this circle.


Mentor or mentee?

Our topic this go-round is how teaching and mentoring affects our own writing. For the past few years, I've been teaching Children's Writing for Gotham Writer's Workshop. The courses are all online, with lectures, discussions, and assignments, as well as a Booth, where students post work and everyone comments. Though I'm the teacher, I find myself learning so much from the students and what they have to say. And suggesting things for them to do in their own writing really causes me to evaluate those same things in my own writing. It makes me more aware of what I need to focus on in my own work.
I'm always learning more about writing. With each novel I write, I learn more and more about the process, as I hopefully get better at it. Honestly, to me, writing isn't like other subjects. I used to teach high school social studies and that is a subject where you can know all the answers. In subjects like history or economics or psychology, either something is a fact or it isn't. Writing isn't so black and white. I feel I will never know all the answers, and teaching is one way to keep learning...