October 23, 2007

On Thursday, I leave home for an extended work trip.  It begins with a long weekend in South Carolina, where I’ll be an instructor at the annual South Carolina Writer’s Workshop Conference.  I’ve attended the SCWW conference once before and had a wonderful time.  This time around I’ll have a chance not only to teach, but also to renew some old acquaintances and spend some time with my agent and good friend, Lucienne Diver, who’ll also be on the conference faculty.

As the conference approaches, though, I find myself thinking about what it means to be a writing instructor.  The last time I went I’d been a published author for about five years, and I thought I knew a good deal about writing professionally.  Five years later — five books later — I realize that I knew very little last time around.  That should give me a lot of confidence, right?  My workshop last time went just fine.  This year I’m doing five workshops in three days, and I’m certain that they’ll go fine, too.  But I find myself wondering how much I don’t know this time around.  Five or ten years from now, when the good people at the SCWW invite me back again, will I look back on the talks I have planned for this year and be struck once more by the conceit running through them?  Will I wonder once more how I could possibly have thought that beginning writers could learn something valuable from me?  How can anyone teach another person to write?  To me it seems like trying to teach someone to eat or breathe.  I can tell them how it works for me, but the rest is really up to them.

A few years ago I took up photography again.  I’d done a bit of work as a younger man, but hadn’t been serious about it.  This time around I resolved to learn something about the medium, to read everything I could.  There are lots of books out there that cover everything from what equipment to buy, to how to use the lighting settings on a camera, to how “to see” as a photographer does.  Early on, I read a ton, trying to put to use all the accumulated experience of these various authors.  Ultimately, though, I didn’t start taking good pictures until I put the books away and just used the camera.  Turns out I didn’t see someone teaching me how to see.  I figured it out for myself.  I still have those books — there are some nice pictures in them — but I rarely read them anymore.

Writing, I believe, is much the same.  We all have stories to tell.  We all have a voice — and here I mean a writing voice — with which to tell those stories.  I can share with the folks in South Carolina what works for me.  I can tell them how I go about developing character and building fantasy worlds and structuring my story arcs.  But ultimately they have to feel their way through their own creative process.  And maybe knowing this will allow me to be a more effective instructor this time around.  I’m not there to teach anyone how to write; at least I shouldn’t be.  I’m there to suggest ways they might work on establishing their own voices, to tell them what I can about the publishing business, and to give them the confidence to keep writing.  And I’ll also be there to listen.  Because if we all have stories to tell, and we all have voices of our own, those beginning writers, brimming with enthusiasm and passion for their art, should be able to teach me a thing or two.

I’ll be on the road for a couple of weeks — from South Carolina I head up the coast to New York City, and finally to the World Fantasy Convention, which this year will be held in Saratoga Springs, New York.  I’ll do my best to post while I’m traveling, and I hope to return home with new stories to tell and new inspiration for my books as well as my blog.

Today’s music:  Nicholas Payton


One Response to “Workshopping”

  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, my friend!

    I know what you mean about teaching writing, since that’s what I do all the time. I can share my methods and approach, and I can show the students some of how other writers I know approach their material, but ultimately they need to find their own path. One of my mantras is “There’s no right way to write.” The right way to write is whatever way gives you a publishable piece of fiction in the end…

    And I especially resonated with this entry because I had a ‘bad’ night teaching last night…

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