Thursday, August 10, 2006

PH: Writing is Writing

Bad news. Research has shown that the lecture method for teaching writing is ineffective. But here’s the good news. For those of us teaching writing craft, this kind of nudge gives us even more reason to develop writing workshops that help the writer to workshop his or her piece while in class.

Given the time slot that most workshop leaders are handed, it is a dilemma. The most effective teaching I was given in school was led by an author who gave us actual exercises in our small group. Some of the students groaned, but after plowing through a couple of them, I became hungry for her sessions. I had a book under contract and applied them to my WIP. (work-in-progress) For the emerging writer having difficulty putting word to screen, the exercise is a good tool. I once discounted the workshop exercise as “not really writing,” simply because I wasn’t writing a novel. The fact is that most exercises can be used at some point in some future novel.

Exercises have changed a lot since I was a younger student. They’re more organic, and, in a class setting, more interdependent on feedback from peers. That can go against the grain for the reclusive writer. You have to be around others, allow them to examine what you’ve written and then criticize your work. Painful, yes. But it’s important that others see our work because we’re too close to it to maintain objectivity. It helps to motivate us too. We don’t sit around daydreaming—a terrible excuse for not writing. Instead, we engage the mind to put words on paper.

I think about the scripture that says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves?” James 1:22. If I spend my life only hearing and not doing, then I’m living under the delusion that schooling is doing. If I only attend Bible study after Bible study, but don’t put what I learn into practice, (look out for the widow and orphan, love others, etc.) I’m like the old fisherman that said to the young fisherman, “You going to cut bait all day or go fishing?” The same is true of writing. Writing is writing, rather than sitting in lectures hearing about it.

It’s the nature of the hungry little monster called writing. As a writing teacher, I’m compelled to stop talking and listen to the learning that’s going on in the room. As a writer, I’m compelled to write and write until I get it right.

Patricia Hickman is the author of Fallen Angels, Nazareth’s Song, and Whisper Town. She teaches writing at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Please visit her website and blog at


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