Monday, September 1, 2014

Teaching is Learning

by Becky Martinez
For years I never considered myself much of a teacher, though I now teach writing classes on a
regular basis at places such as Savvy Authors or I present workshops at conferences, such as the recent RomCon14. I did spend years as a newsroom manager and it always made me feel good when a reporter or producer would come up to me –after having started as an intern under my guidance—and tell me how much they learned from working with me. I felt proud—proud for them because you don’t succeed without hard work.
I still enjoy that sort of affirmation. Recently at a conference I had one of my former online students come up to me and introduce herself to me. She wanted to thank me personally for what she said was a great class that got her going in a totally new direction.

To me that is one of the high points of being a teacher—knowing that you’ve helped someone. And I think that is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching. I have another student I helped with mentoring and she still emails me every so often with writing questions. She signed a contract not long ago and her latest question was on marketing. I feel good that I can still answer her questions and assist her in her goal of becoming a published writer.
But I have to be bluntly honest about the main reason I enjoy teaching. I have decided I’m a born student. I love to learn new things. I love to take tests, I love to feel the joy of trying something new or learning to work in a new field. Some things I know I might never excel in – I was never a born scientist or mathematician, but I still love to study astronomy and the stars and visit science and space museums. I’ll never be much of an artist, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to learn about art, and trying to dab some paint on a canvas every once in a while.

So that brings me back to teaching. I love to teach because I also love to learn. And teaching helps me in that regard. When I have classes to write or teach, I find myself involved in plenty of research. If I’m going to teach about characters, I have to study them myself. I need to not only get to know my own characters, but study the works of others and see how they make their characters come alive on the page.

I have to study plotting to see what works and what doesn’t. Reading a book becomes more than just enjoyment. It also becomes an educational exercise to see how an author accomplished that successful story. I need to look at pacing and beginnings and endings. Again, I get to be a student in order to teach.

And as a teacher I always find that my students teach me things too. Someone always has a question or two that gets me thinking and makes me either learn something new or illustrates a different way of accomplishing their writing goals.

I’ve never been the sort of teacher who can force my ideas on someone or tell them to learn all the rules and then force them to follow them. I’ve always looked at others as unique individuals who had their own talents and I like to think that I teach by showing people how to take their special skills and apply them to their work. 

And that interaction is another reason I like to teach. There’s a big wide world out there and I think I’ll always be a student who wants to learn more, and then teach about it… and then learn some more. Part of being a good teacher is a being a good student too.

As a teacher and student, this month I will be presenting several lists of writing prompts to help writers on any level -- from beginners to intermediate to multi-published in this blog. If you have favorite ways to getting new story ideas or coming up with characters or plots, please email them to me at and I'll share them along with my own thoughts. 

This week I will begin teaching a class on Pacing your Novel at Savvy Authors and next week Sue Viders and I will teach a class for Savvy on taking your stories from Ideas to Plots.  I will also be teaching a class on Writing Short Stories for Colorado Romance Writers this month.

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