Monday, February 11, 2013

Where and How I Learn as a Writer: The Unexpected Answer

I learned a lot from all the expected and logical places, programs, and people:  MFA faculty members. Conferences. Official mentors. Unofficial advisers. Fellow freelancers. Editors. Bosses. Books. Writing friends. Writing idols who somehow became writing acquaintances (and in a few wonderful cases, friends). 

But I also learned -- and still learn, all the time -- from people I would not have at first considered potential (or willing, interested, logical) teachers.

I learned an effective submission tracking system from a poet I met only once for a half hour (at a time when I knew very few poets). 

I learned a lesson about rhythm and cadence in writing from a mystery novelist whose presentation at a conference I attended only because the panel I originally wanted to attend was over capacity and I was just looking for someplace to sit.

I learned a few good submissions tips from a reporter for a glossy magazine who writes (and publishes) short stories in her spare time. (We met in the restroom at a conference for freelance writers where she was scheduled to talk about interviewing celebs. Go figure.)

I learned the value of writing way beyond my comfort zone from a stoic professor who pushed me to read books I insisted were far too upsetting at a particular time in my life, and which I just knew had nothing to do with what I wanted to write. (I was wrong, he knew it, he pushed.)

I learned something about my writing when, at the coffee-and-danish table at a conference, I ran into an editor who had recently rejected my work and remembered the essay and precisely why he'd passed.

I learned about the value of writing draft after draft from a successful children's book author who has never written fewer than six drafts of a manuscript.

Which makes me wonder: What might I learn in the future from someone who, at first glance, I am tempted to discount as a possible *teacher* because we don't share the same genre, orbit, skill level, aesthetic? Because the learning is supposed to be happening in the opposite direction?  Because I don't ask? Or listen?

1 comment:

kario said...

This is so true! I think everyone has the capacity to teach us something if we are only open to learning. Even the experiences we have with the "worst" teacher are powerful tools we can take with us.

Thanks for the reminder.