By Margaret Lucke
It's been said that if you want to learn how to do something, teach it to someone else.
I've been teaching writing classes at various venues for two decades, and each one has taught me something valuable. The lessons I've learned have come from three main sources:
Other writers -- I belong to two critique groups and several writers organizations, and am fortunate to count many writers among my friends. My wise, wonderful colleagues have given me a degree program's worth of information and insight.
Students -- At the start of each class I tell them that I will learn as much from them as they do from me. And it's true. Their questions, their perspectives, and the writing they produce make my understanding of the writing process stretch and grow.
* There are no rules when it comes to writing. W. Somerset Maugham famously offered these words of wisdom: "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are." Or, as someone else put it (and I wish I knew who said it first: "Writers write. Everything else is a guideline."
* There is no secret or magic formula that will guarantee success. Coming out of a writing class (one I was taking, not teaching), I heard a student complain to another, "This class is just like all the others. They never tell you the secret." That's true, but it's not because there is a conspiracy among writers to keep anyone from entering their ranks. It's because every writer does it differently, and what worked when writing the last one doesn't always work with the next one. I think of each class I teach as a smorgasbord, laying out tips and techniques that have helped me and other writers and letting students choose the tidbits that suit their appetites.
* You don't find time to write -- you make time. This is a hard one for me as well as for many other people. It's easy to shove Work on my book off today's to-do list given all of the competing and urgent demands on our time. One benefit of taking a writing class is that it gives you a reason and an opportunity to bump writing higher on your list of priorities. I had a student who took my Mystery Writing class three times in a row. He got a good start on a novel the first time, but found it difficult to maintain the momentum once the class ended, so he signed up again, and again. The book was eventually finished, published, and well reviewed, and the author has gone to write several more.
* If you don't write your book, it won't get written. This is one task that you cannot delegate. There is no one else who can tell your story, with your unique voice and perceptions. Your life and your readers will be enriched if you follow your writing dream.
Coming Soon -- My Mystery Writing Class
This spring I'll be teaching a 10-week class on Mystery Writing for UC Berkeley Extension. Tuesdays, March 1 - May 3, 6:30 - 9:30 pm. We'll explore the art, craft, and business of writing crime fiction in its many forms, with clues to creating strong characters, developing a convincing plot, constructing a vivid story world, and building suspense with style. For more info, click here.