07 March 2010

Currently reading

Student first chapters and outlines -- a great way to get a feel for what my students are going to be working on this year, though sometimes one will change horses midway through, but that's okay.

Trouble is that most of them have been together for a year already and know each other's novels intimately, whereas this is the first time I've seen them. It's more work for me, of course, but well worth the time and is always interesting to see where they're coming from. I've also had them talking about their novels and filling out a questionnaire, so hopefully I'll have a good handle for where they're coming from.

One of the worries that someone will always have is what if what they're writing isn't my thing. I'm a genre fiction writer, which their first year teacher wasn't, so the genre writers are always happy to discover that. (And it's a great balance to have.) But even so, there can be that persistent niggle. And really it doesn't matter. There will always be books that aren't quite my thing, but it doesn't mean I can't look at them objectively to see whether they're working, how well executed they are. I'm more interested in the craft than whether something rings my particular bells.

One of my pet peeves in workshopping is the workshopper who says they can't comment on something because it's not their genre. What a cop out. I was in a workshop once where someone had written a magic realism story and every workshopper except me and the workshop leader used that line. It was hardly fair to the poor writer who had made detailed comments on everyone else's stories even though they weren't in the same genre as what she was writing. Anyone can comment on craft, and, really, one of the great pleasures of teaching writing is the variety of projects we get to work with, so students shouldn't worry about such things but should rejoice in the fact that they're writing something only they can write.

06 March 2010

Currently watching

Over the last few weeks, my husband and I have been watching a series of motivational talks on TED.com. We've watched all kinds of things, including a fascinating talk on statistics. Yeah, I know. Go figure.

The TED site has heaps of great content and is well worth a browse. A lot more than a browse, actually. This is a site you could lose yourself in for days if you have time!

Here's today's (for us) by James Cameron, good not just for the Avatar-mad lot (like me), but all those of us who are creative, artistic or imaginative in our endeavours. It's called James Cameron: Before Avatar . . . a curious boy.

I'm going to pin his parting quote near my computer, so I can look at it when I'm wrestling with my novel: "Failure is an option, but fear is not." Go listen to the talk for the context. It's well worth the seventeen minutes that it takes.

05 March 2010

Online teaching (and face-to-face)

The last two years I've taught a class online, but this year because I was dropping back from 0.5 to 0.4 to get more writing done, I decided to forego my online class. My other two face-to-face classes are two I've been teaching for a while, and still feel passionate about. I've enjoyed teaching online, but have found it seriously impinged on my desire to keep my blog going. I've also joined Facebook, but haven't really got in the swing of it yet, perhaps because my kids are always on, and we have to share the computer with internet access and so I never seem to get on.

Anyway, back to the point of this post: so, there I was dropping back my time fraction, but then found out that my contract was set at 0.5 until December, so decided to run with it. Only I decided to take on another face-to-face class, a repeat of one I'm already teaching, which would free up my home time to write, rather than to teach. But you know what? I'm missing the online class. It was fun. (Which is not to say the face-to-face classes aren't, because they are.) I suppose what I'm really missing is the Discussion Board, where I got to read what my fellow writers thought about all sorts of things writerly. We had some really in-depth discussions on the Discussion Board.

On the other hand, I've had some great discussions in my novel class this year already. But it's different reading it online. More people contribute. (Though I can't complain about that with this year's class: they're a talkative bunch, with lots of interesting stuff to share.) Online, people have time to think about what they want to say, to formulate a response. They often get to a deeper level of engagement, just because they can take the time to think about it. In class, they're on-the-spot more, which doesn't mean they can't come up with some terrific ideas, because they can.

Sometimes, when we teachers get together and think about how much unpaid work we do (and believe me, with all the workshopping and marking of assignments in teaching writing, there's a lot), and think about all the admin stuff that's driving us crazy, we forget just how lucky we are. Some of the class discussions, both online and in class, are energising. I come out thinking, wow, that was a great class, and I remember how I loved being a student.

The other great thing is that every year is different: every class is different. Each year has new challenges and new rewards, and these aren't always easily apparent, especially not at the beginning of the year. But they make the job interesting -- there's never a feeling of same-old, same-old, because it's never the same.

03 March 2010

Currently reading

Submissions for the Ada Cambridge Award. Great to see so many high quality stories. I reckon the authors are doing what they should: getting hold of previous anthologies and studying them, reading the judges reports, learning. It makes the whole judging process more enjoyable!