June 14, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: GUY STEWART: Teaching Writing NOT the English Class Way…

I’ve been teaching writing classes for sixteen years.

I’ve been teaching science for as long as I can remember.

The two do NOT mean the same thing!

See, teaching science is my job. Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching science! I’ve been in the classroom for 27 years. I’ve taught science from astronomy to zoology, with no exaggeration; and special education to gifted and talented. But science isn’t my passion – writing is my passion. I love to write, and because I was born a teacher, I love teaching people to write…though I suppose “coaching creative people to better writing skills” would more clearly explain what I do.

To that end, each spring I teach a rotating set of writing skills at Young Author’s Conferences from Thief River Falls, Minnesota “up North” to Marshall, Minnesota on the eastern edge of the Great Plains, “down south”. I teach gifted and talented kids at West Suburban Summer School in a class called Writing To Get Published (incidentally I teach a class called Alien Worlds, too…but that’s another story). In that week-long class, I run through a number of kinds of writing (poetry, personal essay, scripts and fiction) as well as skills like revising, idea generation and then critique the work of the kids in the class. In a fifty-five minute session at a YAC, I focus on one skill. This year was learning to write flash fiction. I’ve also mentored adult writers through the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference contest.

I love teaching writing, and I’ve even been paid for it.

In fact, if you subtract out what I’ve been paid for TEACHING writing from what I’ve been paid for the PUBLICATION of my writing…um…hang on, let me get the calculator here…so, if I square the sum of the fees and subtract the cost of postage then remove the tax write-off for office supplies, then carry the two, divide the remainder by…hmmm…I come up with the answer…

I haven’t been paid for my WRITING in the past four years. I have been paid well over $20,000 for my TEACHING of writing in the same period of time (excluding the volunteer work I do acting as a writing coach for several people.)

So what does that mean?

I’m not sure, really. I have trouble reconciling me teaching writing with not getting published. The silly aphorism, “Them that can, does; them that can’t, teaches” floats like a malevolent ghost at the edge of my mind’s vision and I am ultimately afraid that it’s true. I shake myself hard like a dog and remind myself that in that same four-year period, I’ve graduated two kids from high school and a wife and one of the kids from college. I’ve corrected 36 months times 600 students worth of homework and projects. I’ve worked a part-time job at Barnes & Noble. I’ve finished and revised (three times) a 110,000 word hard SF novel, plus written two teen novels. I figure I can toss in ten to twelve short stories written and submitted, plus a couple of articles polished and put out as well.

Prior to those four years, I had thirty-five paid publications over a ten-year period, almost all in major markets like ANALOG, CRICKET, CICADA, and a book with CSS PUBLISHING.

Again, what does that mean?

Ultimately, I’m not sure except that I will continue to write and submit books, articles and stories – and I will continue with “coaching creative people to better writing skills” as long as I can.

Any comments would be welcome! You can leave them here or send them to my email: gstewart75@hotmail.com

1 comment:

~brb said...

Pretty straightforward, chum. In the past ten years or so, the paying market for short fiction has not merely imploded, it's undergone gravitational collapse and is in danger of winking out of the space/time continuum entirely. Analog, for example, currently has a paid circulation of about 15,000 copies per issue, as opposed to the close to 100,000 copies/ish numbers it was hitting in the 1980s.

I was working on a piece on this for my blog but got too depressed to write it. The roll call of the vanished paying markets reads like the roll call for the 7th Cavalry on June 27, 1876. The circulation numbers for the few survivors are equally dismal. The market is in the midst of a profound transition.

As to what that new market -- if there is one -- is going to look like in five years: search me.