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jimvanpelt
Apr. 15th, 2014 08:59 am A Room Full of Banjos

There's this Far Side cartoon I like a lot that shows an orchestra conductor being led into hell.  His demon guide is opening a door for him while saying, "Here's your room, maestro."  On the other side of the door are what look like a class of junior high music students, waiting patiently with their banjos.

This is one of the essential contradictions of teaching.  Many of us chose the subject we teach because we love the subject: the band teacher who listens nightly to his collection of classic jazz albums; the art teacher who plans her summer around visits to art museums; the English teacher who goes to bed every night after having read two or three classic poem, and who spend their days listening to musical instruments badly played, trying to convince students that there are art forms other than anime, and reading Twilight fan fiction.

One of the things I find hard to do as a teacher or a workshop leader is to read a bunch of student short stories in a row. It messes with my ability to suspend disbelief, and after a while, I want to start writing "What's the point?" after every paragraph.

 Of course a lot of that comes from most of the stories not being successful. The narrative voice is muted, dull and unauthentic. The stakes ...feel low or false. The settings are weakly imagined (or absent). The stories don't clear the imaginative-world bar, and there's little or nothing to tickle the part of my sensibility that loves to read.

Sometimes I wonder if the problem isn't in the story I'm reading, but in me, reading the story with that weirdly critical approach that being a teacher creates. I'm reading a set of stories from my college Creative Writing students for tonight, and although I find the occasional gem in the prose, I'm mostly turning the page, thinking, "This sucks . . . and this too . . . and this also sucks."

It's a terribly negative way to read. Naturally, when I talk to them, I'll pump up the positive areas, make suggestions for the rest, and then send them on the path of revision. I'll ask them what they hoped the story was trying to accomplish, and maybe help them to identify the narrative heart that they have missed so far.

I want to be a good reader, a helpful one, because my stuff sucks too at times. Writing saints responded to my work in my past. I never imagined what patience was required to be a writing teacher (or and editor!) before I became one.

Then, before I go to bed, I'll read some Phillip K. Dick or Ray Bradbury or Connie Willis to cleanse the palate so I won't have red-penned dreams and rejection slip nightmares.


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lrcutter
Apr. 6th, 2014 01:00 am Story Inspiration Sunday

I blog about inspiration both here and over at Book View Cafe. Feel free to comment either here or over there!

This week, I’m afraid, is again going to be about a different type of inspiration.

However, this week was also very different.

I hadn’t planned it this way. It was my choice.

This week turned out to be the last week I worked my day job.

formerly-caged

Let me explain.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )Crossposted from my website. If you'd like to comment, you can do so here or there.

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