Why I love being a writing tutor and coach
I'm very lucky that as well as writing my own stories and novels, I get to teach creative writing. It's an amazing job, with, I have no say, no downsides. I've been thinking about that a lot this year and so I thought I'd delve a bit deeper and then share with you what I love so much about my work.
Firstly, it has to be the people. Writing is such a solitary activity, but teaching opens up this whole world, mostly via Zoom but occasionally in real life, where I'm engaging with people who love writing as much as I do. I've been so very fortunate to have taught some of the loveliest, funniest, kindest and most interesting people, some of whom are now firm friends.
Secondly, I love hearing about people's stories, whatever the genre, and seeing how these stories unfold over the weeks or months of a course. I love a plot twist and an unusual character and my students often come up with something wonderfully unexpected. When it's non-fiction, I find that I'm always quickly engrossed in a world, about which I often know nothing, whether it's banking, green spaces or renovating old farmhouses in rural France.
I'm very prone to beaming over Zoom when students have a breakthrough and realise that rewriting or deleting a tricky chapter or scene will make the narrative so much stronger.
I beam too, when, in my genre classes students try something they'd never before considered and not only love it, but are naturally quite good at it. Seeing someone who doesn't consider themselves funny enough to write a comedy make their fellow students howl with laughter when they do a readout of their work, is a wonderful moment. Similarly, many people don't really consider their life to be memoir-worthy, but in my memoir writing classes, the moment when someone realises their life experiences can be written in a way that makes them not only fascinating to other readers but also helpful, instructive or inspiring, is another great 'I love my job' moment.
My courses are very practical with students reading out what they've written in class - something that most people are quite shy about doing at the beginning. I'm thrilled when this shyness is replaced by a genuine need to know if something works and an awareness that there's no better way of finding that out than reading work aloud in a group class setting and getting an immediate yes, no or needs-a-tweak response.
Much of what I do is novel coaching - helping authors reach The End of a mammoth 300-page project. Often, people approach me when they've become a bit lost or stuck somewhere in the middle. I get a huge buzz from helping authors regain their momentum and enthusiasm and it's incredibly satisfying when someone finishes a manuscript that is submission ready.
I love writing lessons and coming up with scenes for workshop lessons - all of which act as story generators. It's fun exercising my own imagination like this and fun again when students take these initial few sentences and do something completely unexpected with them.
I could go on and on...and so I will: I love Zoom - how it enables me to reach so many students in so many cities; I love laughing raucously with students when I'm teaching my 'How to write a sex scene' workshop; I love that my dogs, Dottie and Pippa, are 'at work' with me, sitting in on every lesson and occasionally needing a hug mid-Zoom and that no one ever minds and that often, when I teach, a cat walks across a student's Zoom screen, a dog barks from under their desk or a magpie makes its noisy presence felt.
And finally, I love that occasionally, I get to leave Zoom and head out to someone's garden, kitchen, local coffee shop or common room and teach in person, which is how it all started for me.