Many of you know that I left full-time academia a few years ago. Update: I’m teaching again, this time a creative writing workshop course I got to design from scratch, for the extension program at a local university.
The pay is so low as to be non-existent, but I can’t help thinking, “So THIS is what teaching autonomy feels like.” (/End higher ed commentary)
I’ve done a lot of one-on-one writing coaching and editing over the years, but this is the first official writing workshop that I’ve led for a college.
Here’s what I’ve realized now that I’m sitting on the other side of the workshop table.
(1) The students are amazing. Truly. Workshop leaders who treat students who come to workshop in anything other than an amazing fashion need to be taken out behind the barn.
(2) Bird by Bird is still the best writing book even after 20 years.
(3) I have some problems with Bird by Bird.
(4) My main problem with Bird by Bird is probably a function of time—those aforementioned 20 years. Because in the past 20 years, publishing—both journalism and book publishing—have changed dramatically.
(5) Here’s my main quibble. I believe that every writing student can, and probably should, be on a timeline toward publication. Some students are closer to the publication goal, and other students are farther from it, but all are on that timeline. And I don’t think that it’s a bad thing for students to have publication on their mind as they write. (I don’t want to put words in Anne Lamott’s book’s mouth here, but the book often encourages writers to, say, “think away” from publication.)
Having a real, big audience in mind can help you revise for a reader beyond your own head. It can give you critical distance. It can give you hope. Thinking big can keep you going in the dark hours. But I’m also a realist—a writer needs to recognize where she is on that timeline toward publication, how close her manuscript is to being ready, or how far it is from ready.
(6) And because I’m a realist, I think that if Anne Lamott had written Bird by Bird today, in 2016, we’d probably be 100% eye-to-eye on stuff. Like I said, I think my quibbles are a function of time. Because we both believe in hope and critical distance and keeping going in the dark hours. Those are the hardest things of all.
 I once had a workshop leader who really needed to be taken out behind the barn. After his course, I stopped writing fiction for a DECADE. And then, recently, I was talking with another novelist, and she and I realized he did the same thing to HER that he did to me (e.g., abused us during workshop, mocked us, called us horrible nicknames). She, too, stopped writing fiction for a decade. FYI: This man is still employed at the same fancy college. Unbelievable. Except, entirely believable. Moral of the story: Life is totally unfair and keep writing anyway.
Note: Learn more about my work as a writing coach.