Guest Post & Giveaway: Brian Yansky on Teaching Writing

Merlin, circled by Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments (Candlewick)

By Brian Yansky

Writers often bemoan the fact that they must work a day job as well as write.

They need the day job to pay the bills, but they often don’t like it much, and it keeps them from doing the thing they love–writing.

 I’m fortunate that, while I need a day job, I like the one I have.

In fact, while I’m passionate about writing and it will always be my first love, teaching writing—essays and fiction—has become a passion, too.

Here are a few advantages to my day job:

One advantage is people understand the vocation of teaching in a way they don’t understand the vocation of writing. When I tell someone outside of the writer-world that I write fiction, they always look at me with thinly veiled suspicion. Sometimes they’ll make a half- hearted effort to understand what I might mean.

“You write all day?” they’ll ask with skepticism.

I have to say that I can’t write all day because I have a job teaching writing at a community college.

They seem relieved, “Oh, you teach writing.”

Brian & Cyn at BookPeople in Austin.

I’m sure other writers have experienced the general public’s skepticism concerning the profession of writing. For some reason though, teaching writing is another matter.

People can imagine you at a campus, standing in front of a class, instructing people how to make things up and see value in that. They have more trouble when you’re the one making things up.
This is somewhat confusing to me but then a lot of things are.

Another advantage is when I’m at home starring out my window and trying to make things up and someone calls and wants me to do something I don’t want to do, I can say, “I’d love to but I’m grading papers,” and they’ll understand.

And I’ll go back to starring out the window and making things up.

More advantages of my day job: a salary, long summer vacations, long winter vacations, a flexible schedule so I can work and still have time to write my own fiction, independence. These are all excellent reasons to teach at a college level. But they’re not the reason I’m passionate about it.

That would be the students.

Teaching essay writing is very different from teaching creative writing. However, the satisfaction I get from helping students become better writers is the same. It’s hard work. Every writer has different things to overcome and figuring out what those things are and ways to help them help themselves is difficult but very rewarding.

When I teach fiction-writing the main thing I have to remember is that while I have a lot of ideas about how to craft a novel or story, what works for me won’t work for every student.

Every writer ultimately has to find his or her own way. But I think a good teacher can do what a good coach can do; I can help them find their way faster, help them learn good habits that will make them better writers, inspire them to experiment and finish work, and push them to improve.

Often in a creative writing class, as we move deeper and deeper into the semester, I realize I’m learning as much from them as they’re learning from me. Teaching a writing class is a lot like writing itself. The discoveries we make along the way make the journey worth it.

Writing will always be my first passion but I’ve been lucky to discover that teaching is also a passion.

I think the things I learn in preparation for classes and working with students and from the students themselves help me become a better writer.

Brian & author-illustrator Frances Yansky at the Illumine Gala.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

Check out Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer (Writing and Publishing Fiction). His latest post is Situation; peek: “For example, an idea might be that aliens invade the earth. That’s not really a situation yet. A situation makes it more specific. Telepathic aliens invade the earth; they’re so advanced that they conquer it in ten seconds. That’s a situation.”

Enter to win one of three copies of Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2013). Publisher sponsored. U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

Jesse has had the worst year of his life. First a race of homicidal (but very polite) aliens invaded Earth, killing pretty much everyone and enslaving the few people left behind, including Jesse; his best friend, Michael; his sort-of girlfriend, Lauren; and the girl of his dreams, Catlin.

Now Jesse is revered as some sort of Chosen One all because he managed to kill one of the alien lords and escape — even though he’s not really sure how he did it. But it’s hard to argue with the multitude of new talents he is developing, including (somehow) killing aliens with his mind and grasping glimpses of alternate futures.

With thousands of aliens already on Earth and thirty million more about to arrive, Jesse has to decide whether to embrace his maybe-destiny before the world is completely destroyed. No pressure.

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post & Giveaway: Brian Yansky on Teaching Writing

  1. Great post, Brian! I get the *exact* same responses when I talk to non-writers about what I do. Telling people I teach is vastly easier.

    And the joys in teaching come from being in the classroom and working with students 1-on-1, to help them improve. (The joys do *not* come from grading, which I'm currently doing…)

  2. If I were collected enough, I'd run and hide, too. But I suspect I'd be so freaked out by an ALIEN that I'd probably remain rooted to the spot and be among the casualties.

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