It all started in 1992. I’d won a couple of crime fiction awards, and the local college came calling.
Over the years, I continued to teach fiction writing, but also picked up English Lit, Marketing (my degree) and a few odd ones, like Animation and Theatre. Such is the life of an itinerant college prof. (Pass the scotch.)
Twenty-four years later, I’m a full-time author. Except for Wednesday nights, when I put on my mask, don a cape, and turn into SUPER TEACH! (Okay, ‘Crazy Author Prof.’ Too much time alone at a keyboard can be scary. Pass the scotch.)
Why do I do it? As September lurks ever nearer, I decided to ask myself that question. And give a completely honest answer. Here goes:
1. It’s not the Money
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Part time profs in Canada are poorly paid. I’m top rate, at $45 an hour. I’m only paid for my time in the classroom (3 hours a week). For every hour in the classroom, I spend at least two hours prepping and marking. We don’t get paid for that. At end of term, I spend several days evaluating manuscripts. We don’t get paid for that either. This means I am getting paid less than minimum wage. So I’m not doing it for the money.
2. It’s not all those Book Sales.
Years ago, an author gal more published than I was at the time said a peculiar thing to me: “Aspiring writers don’t buy books.”
I found this alarming, but other authors since then have said the same. They teach a workshop, and students beg for feedback on their manuscripts. But they don’t buy the teacher’s books. Not even one. I find this bizarre, because I would want to see how the instructor practices what she preaches.
Bemusement aside, I’m careful in my classes not to pressure students to buy my books. They’ve paid money for the course, and that’s enough.
My point is: if you think by teaching a course, you are going to get an avalanche of book sales, think again.
So why the heck do you do it, Mel? That’s time you could invest in writing your own books…
3. It takes me back to first principles
I teach all three terms. Every four months, I am reminded about goal/motivation/conflict. Three act structure. Viewpoint rules. Creating compelling characters. Teaching Crafting a Novel forces me to constantly evaluate my own work, as I do my students’. It’s like ‘vegetables for authors.’ In other words, good for me.
4. It’s the People
By far, the most valuable thing about teaching a night course year after year is it allows me to mix with people who would not normally be part of my crowd. Adult students of all ages and backgrounds meet up in my classrooms, and many are delightful. I’ve treasured the varied people I’ve met through the years, and keep in touch with many of them.
Getting to know people other than your own crowd (in my case, other writers) is extremely valuable for an author. You’re not merely guessing how others different from you may think…you actually *know* people who are different. This helps you create diverse characters in your fiction who come alive.
As well, you meet people from different professions…doctors, lawyers, salesmen and women, bank officers, government workers, labourers, grad students, Starbucks baristas, roofers, police, firefighters, chefs, paramedics. I have my own list of people to call on, when I need to do research.
5. It’s good for my Soul
I'm paying it forward. Believe it or not, I didn't become an author in a vacuum. I had two mentors along the way who believed in me. Michael Crawley and Lou Allin - I hope you are having a fab time in the afterlife. Hugs all around, when I get there.
Students take writing courses for all sorts of reasons. Some take it for college course credit. Some take it for interest, as they might take photography or cooking classes. Some need an escape from dreary jobs, and a writing class can provide that, if only temporarily. But many actually do hope to become authors like I am. And when I connect with one of them, and can help them on their way, it is magic. There is no greater high.
No question, my life is richer through teaching fiction writing, even if my bank account is not.
You can help Melodie’s bank account by buying her humorous books, like The Goddaughter Caper. This will keep her from writing dreary novels that will depress us all. Pass the scotch.