Lately it seems like every time I go out to the store or to grab a bite, someone recognizes that I’m an author, a teacher, or both. I live in a small community and there are only so many times you can purchase colored pens and notebooks before people start asking questions! Recently, a student at the local college asked me what boils down to the same questions everyone else asks but phrased it so well that the questions inspired this post! (Way to go, random friend of a friend of a kid I used to babysitter, well played!)
Here are her questions, phrased as closely to her actual words as I can remember it:
Aren’t you Beth Tyree? That goes to church with….? They were telling me that you’re a writer. That’s pretty cool…I’ve never heard of your stuff but I’m thinking of looking it up. (Ok, that part doesn’t count toward the ‘phrased well’ portion!). I like to write too. In fact, I am taking a class this fall that includes a lot of writing. Do you have any advice on how to get it all done?
Why yes, yes I do. Thank you for asking.
*WARNING – Longer Post than Usual in 3-2-1-ACTION:*
Advice for Students:
1) Whatever the reason for your writing is, always ALWAYS do your best. There absolutely no excuse for a strong writer to execute weak and horribly written essays just because you didn’t feel like writing to your class topic.
2) Likewise: DO YOUR READING!! Make sure that you are researching, reading, and working everything the teacher assigns, and possibly a little extra. I know the thought of all that work panics you (especially at 2 am Sunday when the project is due by 7 am Monday) but I promise, it is worth it! Take it from someone who flubbed off a lot in College…You NEED to pay attention!
3) Use your time wisely. Most professors include projects and their due dates IN THE SYLLABUS! That means that unless something drastic happens to change things, you have known about that insane presentation since the first day of class (or possibly earlier considering friends, online chats, etc connected to the school). I’m not saying to get hyper and do all the classwork week 1 (MOM!) but use that schedule book you bought with the school logo on it for something other than girl’s nights and dress up at the bar weekends. When you organize it all out and do the work in small segments, you tend to get it done earlier and with better grades. (You also impress teachers).
BONUS: Realize that most teachers are not being ‘mean’ or ‘hard on you’ because they don’t like you or think you’re stupid. Most teachers are hard on you because they believe you can do better. I am speaking from experience here…I had a couple of professors who rode me hard about showing up, taking the time to work on my assignments, writing style, etc. At the time I thought they must hate me, but now I realize that they loved me. Students that show potential but don’t live up to it will get more guff from their teachers than students who work hard but just don’t get it.
Advice for Teachers:
1) Make your expectations very clear from the beginning. Unless something drastic happens, don’t change your rules or plans in the middle of the semester. That is unfair to the random student that might actually have started work on their projects…and creates more work for you in the long run (even if its just repeating your reasoning for the 543rd time)
2) Remind students of upcoming deadlines, projects, etc. Speak about it in class, often. Use the last five minutes of your time to ask if they have questions or comments. Make sure you maintain office hours and have an email account they have access to. Most students won’t utilize this availability, but the few who do will thank you later!
3) Show your students that you aren’t just being ‘mean’ or ‘hard on them’! Share some of your work in class. This may just mean that you discuss how a similar class helped you finish your degree, or a book/article/play/song/equation(ugh, math!) you are currently working on. Let them be your beta audience. Grammar class? Drop the normal (i.e. BORING) paragraphs about Sally’s cupcake stand and have them edit an intentionally messed up page from your most recent story. Some sort of Mathematics teacher? Assign a house plan or put your remodel blue prints on the board and work through the issues with them. Use real life experiences and show them tat you are also human and, as all teachers are, a perpetual student.
Advice for Authors:
1) Just write already! I know that as a student or a teacher, (or a full time CPA or a Mommy, or whatever it is that you do) your time is precious and limited. Whatever it is that you do, whatever it is that takes up your time, you will not be completely satisfied with yourself until you take the time to write that idea out! The question that usually riles me up the most is: I have this great idea I’ve been kicking around for years, want to hear it? NO! If you really like the idea that much, I’ll be more than happy to READ your drafts, but I don’t want to hear an idea you’ve had for that long and never written down. By this point it has probably disintegrated so much that I wouldn’t even be hearing the real idea that started you thinking anyway.
2) There will always be someone pushing you, nay-saying you, or ignoring you. That is life, no matter what you do. Writers are the brunt of a lot of this! Friends and family ask why you haven’t finished that new novel yet (you know, the one you started writing last week?) and in the same breath with ask how you plan on living as an author, ask what ‘real’ thing you’ve done lately, and tell you about 3 other people who are authors but just got published in a magazine or hired to write ads for some major television syndicate. DO NOT LET THIS STOP YOU! Get discouraged, be sad, be mad, but don’t be done. Take a break if you need to, clear your head, then get back to writing. Everyone has a different story and it is up to you alone to write yours!
3) Finally, allow yourself to take that break without guilt. Honestly, the breaks will help your writing grow and thrive. And, real talk here, your characters will go with you anywhere all the time. No matter what you do or where you go, they’re part of you. Taking a ‘break’ doesn’t mean that you walk away and completely put them out of your mind. It means your mind needs to focus on something else for a bit and that is perfectly acceptable and, I would say, encouraged. Have fun, meet your friends, get some fro-yo and ride in a carriage just because. Go to the lake or the zoo…but take a notebook and some pens along because you never know when the next idea or chapter will pop up and need to be written immediately even though you are on a ferry watching dolphins jump off the coast of the island you’re visiting.
Do you have any stories or questions? Let me know! I can’t wait to hear from you all!