Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Passing it on...the importance of teaching and mentoring

Who was it said, 'Those who can't do, teach'? I don't agree with it, as a general statement, embracing all. Applied to writing, I reckon some can do it rather well and also teach. It is certainly one way in which writers can actually earn something, especially when you turn to poetry, which isn't exactly an earner for most of us. Some no doubt do one or both better than others - but all the writers I know who take time out to share what they do do it so well. Most of them, because they care. It is nice to pass things on.

Me, I care, sure - but I learned a lot from those who taught (or tried to teach) me. It was at times an object lesson in how not to teach - therefore wonderful grounding for later, when I would be passing on to the next generation whatever snips of wisdom I'd amassed along the way.

Mentoring too.

I have just finished a year-long mentorship with a novelist, through New Writing South. On her second novel, she wanted to be supported while she wrote a fair draft of her second.
I am into mentoring another writer already - a partnership between NWS and Creative Futures, the writer is someone who might not otherwise take these things up, for her own reasons. http://www.creativefuture.org.uk
And as good things come in threes, I am mentoring the brilliant Divya Ghelani through the equally brilliant Word Factory. Her novel Runaway made the longlist of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Prize. (Nowt to do with me!)

Mentoring is an interesting beast. It isn't teaching as such, in most cases. It is support, being a sounding board, an interested colleague. More of a guidance role. And that's fine.

Many years back, I spent a year abroad at a school, and it put me off teaching. That is sad - because actually, I think I'd have loved it - so long (and it is a big so long) as I loved what I was sharing,  encouraging others to try, experiment, see if they loved it too.  And that's what I see teaching as, now.
Encouraging. Opening people's eye to what writing can be.

I ran a workshop a few weeks ago, on the short story. I started with one of my favourites - The Raft, by Peter Orner. Here it is in its entirety, all 1200 wds of it - in the archive of The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/04/the-raft/378128/
           It never fails to give me enormous pleasure to see participants' faces when you unpack that story - and every time I do, I see new things myself, as they tease apart the threads, identify the craft elements.

My goal at a workshop is not to tell people how to do things, then pack up and go home. It is to show them the possibilities, open their eyes, fizz them up, strengthen their confidence in their abilities - and I hope they leave fired up with enthusiasm, full of ideas, and knowing that they CAN do this thing.

Later this year - workshops at Wordthing Festival, at Gladfest - and one or two others - then that will do. It does take a different bit of the brain to do this, and it takes a while to get back into creating mode, lovely and important as it is, for this writer. Next year, plans afoot already for fiction workshops in Venice, in Ireland and again, Gladstone's Library. Can't wait!

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