Why I teach writing…
There are lots of people teaching creative writing in classes. It’s cost effective. I just don’t think writing is a group activity, and in my experience, it does not thrive in class situations.
Then again there are editors and proofreaders (I myself work as a proofreader, a freelance member of the Northwest Independent Editor’s Guild), who work on manuscripts and then pass on their corrections to the author. They are not in the business of teaching the author how to improve his or her skills. They are asked to fix the work in hand.
I believe the ideal way to teach writing is a one-on-one relationship between teacher and student, doing the concentrated work of developing story while polishing language, working on both what to say and how to say it. I believe in talking about character and how to make it vital and believable, the story arc of the entire piece, pacing, and, at the same time, avoiding text-weakening adverbs, the use and misuse of passive voice, the need for careful and accurate punctuation, and the other elements of language.
My teaching method is part editor, part grammar coach, part guide on the journey of digging for character and resolution. I learned this method from one of the best, Carol Bly, with whom I worked for more than three years (of the seven years it took to write The Pale Surface of Things).
Carol’s books offer her approach to writing and to teaching it, but she is no longer here. Partly as a tribute to her and the legacy I received from her, I began taking on students.
I am working with writing students in the US and in Europe. We work with periodic telephone consultations to discuss a section of work, each of us holding copies of the student’s writing. In the meantime, e-mails about questions or progress bounce back and forth. The student is charged only for the telephone time, not for my time reading and making notes on the work.
This is a way of working that maximizes the teaching and minimizes the insecurity of a student writer many of whom may feel too vulnerable to share work in a classroom setting.