Pay attention, I might assign homework

I’m in teaching mode right now – having just spent 2 hours at the local library teaching a fiction writing class the other night.  I enjoy teaching classes, and I know many other writers who also teach.  But why teach? you ask – good question :)

To supplement their income.  Let’s face it, unless you’re J.K. Rowling or one of the dozen or so top best sellers, writers get paid squat.  Most have day jobs – I personally was shocked to find this out – and truthfully, if it wasn’t for my husband’s income, I would need a job, too.  Of course there are exceptions, and there is a sliding scale from mega best seller to newbie on the market. 

To make a connection.  Writing is a lonely profession and it’s always nice to get out and be with others.  And it’s even better to hang out with other writers (published and unpublished). Your family and friends may be supportive and understanding about your need to create fictional worlds – but there’s nothing like talking to a fellow writer.  They get “it.”  They don’t look at you like you’re insane when you mention having conversations with your characters – or when you wonder what’s the best way to strangle someone.  Other writers are literally willing to put their necks out there when a colleague wants to see if they could strangle someone with cassette tape (no – too thin – you need to wrap a lot of tape around the neck and it’s doubtful the person will stand still for that J).

To refresh and relearn.  When you teach a writing class, you need to be prepared and know what you’re talking about.  Sure I know all about dialogue…or do I?  Preparing for a class, while time consuming, is a great refresher course.  Besides, writers are always learning – it doesn’t stop (or shouldn’t stop) with publication.  Did I know all about dialogue…er… turns out I didn’t, and now I have a few more tips to help me in my own writing.

To pay it forward.  We all started as newbies – everyone.  Lost in the writing world – what’s proper manuscript format?  What does show not tell mean?  What is an advance reading copy?  When I started, there was no….prepare yourselves – are you braced?….good…..there was NO internet.  I’ll wait for the gasps of horror to subside…………….  Without the web to help, I fumbled along in the dark for quite some time until I found Writer’s Digest Magazine and writer’s conferences (weekend-long series of panels and workshops to help the newbie learn what proper format is – plus good for that whole connection thing I mention earlier).  Now – I can’t help those who helped me – because they’ve been doing this a lot longer and still know more. But I enjoy helping those who are starting out and a bit lost even with the vast information available.

I started teaching before I sold a book.  Drafted….er…volunteered to be on the programming committee at my local library, we had a brainstorming session and tried to fill the gaps in our community.  I suggested writing classes – none of the local colleges offered any community classes of that nature, and those that did were too far away.  Brilliant idea, Maria…make it so.

Two problems – space and instructor.  The library had no meeting rooms (old building has since been re-built).  And even though we had a great college in town, no English professors or any professors were willing to teach a community class (italics = sneer).  When I called to see if I could use/rent a classroom on campus – I was given the run around.  Looked like a dead end until I received a call from the lady who ran the college’s retirement and distant learning program – basically they offered community classes to retired people and wanted to offer writing classes.  She would let us use a classroom, offer the class to the entire community, and take care of all the registration and money hassles.  The catch?  She could never find an instructor either – all we had to do was provide the instructor.  I expressed my frustration to a friend, and she looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Maria, you idiot, why don’t you teach the class?” 

So I did.  We offered a basic writing class – 1 hour a week for 6 weeks and charged $20 a person (even in 1999 this was cheap).  All money was donated to the library so no one could complain too much about the instructor’s lack of publishing or teaching credits.  We had so many people who wanted to sign up – I had to teach two different classes (I like to keep them small – 14 people max).

Eight years later I’m still doing it.  I learned a lot about what to do and what to avoid.  Had repeat customers and glowing evaluations. Learned not to get too depressed when a student quits coming. Learned to avoid looking at the frowners and concentrate on the smilers.  The fees are a little higher ($65 for 2 hours/week for 6 weeks), I’ve earned a Masters degree in writing, and I get paid now (see paragraph on supplementing income).

This current class is a bit bigger than I like.  16 people and a few on the waiting list – I’m too nice, I hate saying no.  It was a great group of people over all – a couple of frowners and am not sure if they’ll be back next week – I’m pretty good at reading faces, but I’ve been wrong before.  I had a young girl once who looked so totally bored, but she came week after week.  And then she signed up for the next class.  Go figure :)

Any horror stories about being in a class or teaching a class out there?  Come on and share….we won’t laugh….too hard J

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There are 3 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Kate Elliott

    I’ve never taught a class – I’d be too intimidated, I think. I’ve tutored, though. I don’t mind one on one!

  2. 2. Kelly McCullough

    I teach very infrequently, but I always find it rewarding. When one of my students won a spot in Writers of the Future I totally teared up.

  3. 3. C.S. Cole

    True Horror story: As a relative newbie to writing, last spring I attended a class in a far away city that asked the crowded room to write dialog for ten minutes between two characters, one being a deaf dentist.

    Okay, fine.

    After the time was up, the instructor asked for volunteers to read their work. An hour later, we were still listening to writers wax on and on through their written dialog, some in very animated fashion as though they were auditioning for something. At the end of the second hour, the instructor admitted they didn’t really have an agenda but wanted to allow ‘the brave people in the room’ to lead the class.

    I should have walked out after the first twenty minutes.

Author Information

Maria V. Snyder

Maria V. Snyder has been writing fiction and nonfiction since 1995. She has published numerous freelance articles in magazines and newspapers. Her first published novel, Poison Study appeared on the shelves in 2005, and chronicles Yelena’s challenges in surviving her dangerous job as a food taster. Magic Study follows with Yelena’s efforts to learn about her magic while searching for a rogue magician turned serial killer. Fire Study chronicles Yelena's adventures with a Fire Warper and was released in March 2008. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Maria earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology at Penn State University. Much to Maria’s chagrin, forecasting the weather wasn’t one of her skills. Writing, however, proved to be more enjoyable and Maria earned a Master of Arts degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. As part of her research for her Study novels, Maria signed up for a glass blowing class to learn how to shape molten glass. The first thing she learned is it is considerably harder to sculpt glass than it looks. Maria now has an extensive collection of misshapened paperweights, tumblers, and bowls. When she’s not traveling, Maria lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, daughter and yellow Lab. She is working on her next MIRA novel, Storm Glass, due out Spring 2009. Readers are welcome to contact Maria by e-mail at maria@mariavsnyder.com, or they can find more information on her Web site at www.mariavsnyder.com. Visit site.

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