Ross is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop re-entering teaching after a long interlude of doing other stuff.
Teaching writing has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ll be leading a couple sections of Freshman Composition at Elon University in a few days. I’ve been scanning suggested textbooks, surfing the Internet for great rhetoric from different historical periods in a variety of styles covering a range of subjects. I’ve come up with some pretty good ideas.
But I’m nervous about it all, to tell you the truth.
After stints as a stock boy in the home furnishings department at Lord & Taylor in downtown Boston and bus boy at Charlie’s Eating & Drinking Saloon in Chestnut Hill, teaching freshman composition was the last job I had before attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After Workshop I went into academic fundraising, then PR and advertising, then book publishing, then specialty marketing.
After work and on weekends in my most recent marketing job, I wrote some fiction, got a story placed here and there. But I wanted time to write a novel. So I quit the full-time job.
Since I have monthly bills to pay, I felt lucky to find a part-time position. But I haven’t thought about teaching writing for a long, long time.
Should be like riding a bike, right? Maybe.
See, a few lines ago I wrote “stints.” I don’t think 18-year-olds today talk much about stints. They might think I have a heart condition, right? Think I meant to write “stents.”
Probably in class when I talk about my background I should say “gigs.” But then I might sound like I’m trying to be “with it.” And I’m not with it, never was, not even when I was young. Actually, at the time I was young I should’ve been “hip” or “cool,” not with it, but I wasn’t hip or cool, either.
I realize I’m over thinking the whole teaching thing. So I reminded myself I’ve been around a while. I should know more than I did when I had my first job teaching Freshman Composition back in the day.
And I do. I know what helped me as a writer. It’s a short list.
- Reading great writing helps. For me it’s like listening to birdsong or a concerto. I know I can’t achieve such magnificence, but in the act of listening I feel ennobled and inspired.
- Imposing structure enhances fluency. Like having three strikes in baseball, or four downs in football. The editor says you have 1,500 words. Whoops! Got a new photo spread. Make that 500 words. Can you still hit the home run? Grind out that first down?
- Workshopping. In the parlance of where I’ll be teaching, it’s “peer review.” We’re going to be peer reviewing out the wazoo this semester. Not until you’ve become sequestered in your lonely garret with no one to read what you’ve written do you realize how essential it is.
Just to be safe, though, I’m going to ask my pretty young wife to come in and teach a class or two about writing for the public relations world. She’s a successful professional.
That’ll show those freshman whippersnappers the old guy is with it. Or whatever.