Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Writer's World - Learning Through Teaching - Annie West

Hi everyone, and welcome to the second instalment of my 'Writer's World'. Thank you to those who've written to me with suggestions on topics you'd like covered. You've given me great ideas for future posts.

In the meantime, I'm touching on an aspect of writing I hadn't really thought about before: the way we learn through teaching.

I'm not a teacher but in the past several years I've enjoyed running some workshops for aspiring writers. Yes, workshops publicise your books (I'm hoping at least a few of the attendees were interested enough to check out my books) but that's not why I agreed to get involved. For me the underlying sense was of giving back a little to the community of readers and writers that I've always found so supportive. It was at a workshop talk by Emma Darcy and Miranda Lee that I got the idea for what was to become my first Harlequin Mills and Boon book. More than that, reading articles by published authors and attending workshops by people who knew so much more about the writing world than I do helped me understand and hone my skills. They still do!

But I've discovered another huge benefit to a little teaching. I learn too. The enlightenment isn't all one way. Every time I've taught in a workshop (whether a large one at a conference or a small one at a library or festival) I've learned from the participants and other presenters. Sometimes it's a different way of looking at something - an angle I'd never perceived before. Sometimes it's a comment that makes me look at my own work a little harder and more critically.

The process of working out a schedule of topics and exercises to be covered, the finding of examples and quotes, the preparation of handouts for participants and the other research is time well spent. It's so easy to focus on the next book, the article that's due, the blog that needs to be written and the emails to be answered. Taking time out from my normal routine to focus on the theory and practice of romance writing is a little luxury that pays off for me too. I usually find some new teaching resource or quote that makes me think about what I'm doing with my own work.

In addition to the research, there's the need to distill ideas to get your point across to people who may not at first understand what you're explaining. That synthesising down is a wonderful process for me as, again, it makes me focus on whether I'm using that particular principle in my own writing.

The same happens when I read entries for a contest. It's so much easier to spot a problem in someone else's work than in your own. But when you read a first chapter overburdened with back story or with stilted dialogue, it's a wake up call to check if you're doing the same.

Besides all of that, it's lovely to be with people who are enthusiastic about reading and writing romance. I've included a couple of photos here from a Valentine's Day romance writing workshop I did with fellow author Cathleen Ross in Sydney. I was so impressed with the writing of the attendees and with their friendly and professional attitudes.

How about you? Do you enjoy teaching? Even if you're not a professional educator, many of us have mentored other staff in the workplace. Then there's volunteer work that involves helping others learn. There's passing on craft skills or teaching your children anything from catching a ball to school subjects. Do you get a buzz out of seeing others pick up the skills you're imparting? Do you get something from the process of teaching? What have you learned about yourself when you've helped others to learn?

I'll give a signed copy of my upcoming March release, GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT to one person drawn at random from those who comment. This title was just awarded a CataRomance Reviewers' Choice Award!

Annie has two March releases: GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT in North America and GREEK AFFAIRS: TEMPTED BY THE TYCOON - an anthology of 3 stories available in the UK. To read excerpts of these or her other books, pop by her website, and keep an eye out for her new contest starting there on 1st March.


  1. Hi Annie - what a lovely post!!

    Over the past few years I've been doing some charity work, helping at my sons' school and also taking on roles within RWA.

    I'm def a whole lot busier than I used to be but I feel good and fulfilled. These activities def take time away from my writing but I think my RWA work (esp judging) has helped me in my own writing.

    PS - no need to enter the comp, I've already read "Girl" ... which I really enjoyed!!

  2. Annie, loved the post. I've sat in one workshops you've given in the past and you're a wonderful teacher - warm, generous, supportive, knowledgeable, clear. I think people are very lucky if they can grab you as a teacher. I think it's also nice to deal with people face to face - we spend so much time staring at a scream interacting with the people in our heads, it's nice to get out there into the real world now and again!

  3. Hi Joanne,

    Glad to hear this post struck a chord with you. Great to hear you're feeling fulfilled by the extra work you do, and that the RWA judging has helped. It's an excellent way to put your own work into perspective.

  4. Hi Anna,

    Oh, how nice you are. I think it's probably that I'm just enthusiastic when on one of my fave subjects - writing romance. That does make a difference. I don't think I'd enjoy teaching something I wasn't interested in. As for the face to face interaction - yes - I couldn't agree more. Am wondering if you perhaps meant 'interacting with a screen' (G)? Thanks for popping by.

  5. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Annie. Your explanation about how teaching is a two-street really connected. Anna's right, sometimes we spend so much time in our own little make believe worlds that we forget how stimulating the real world can be.

    Congratulations on your March releases. Those covers are WONDERFUL!

  6. Oh, dear, that was a Freudian slip, wasn't it? Clearly the wip isn't progressing as desired!

  7. Hi Cathryn, I'm so glad you like the covers of the new releases. I was so pleased with them.

    Yes, it's a big thing to get out of our own world and contact others, isn't it? I came away from this month's workshop filled to the brim with enthusiasm about my own writing as well as that of the women there.

  8. Anna, I must admit I did get a giggle out of the idea of you screaming at your computer as you wrote!

  9. Great post Annie. That old saying "you learn something new every day" is so true isn't it?

    Take care - Caroline x

  10. Lovely post Annie ! For me the only kind of teaching I come closest to is the home schooling I teach my son, I get such a thrill when I see him being able to read or write something I taught him ! I a paralegal by profession so I am not too sure that I would be any good as a full time teacher. But what I have learned from teaching my son is that the old saying of patience is a virtue is so very true !

    Thanks for sharing your post with us and thanks for the chance to win your book I am sure it is another masterpiece


  11. Waiving to Annie ;)

    Actually being a teacher was my child's aspiration and teaching people is not an easy especially because i'm unpatient person lol. but love to teach people my knowledge and so happy if they can learn and get it ;)

  12. Too much back story in the first chapter...You say that like its a bad thing ;-]. I think I better go and look at one of my current manuscripts. Thanks for sharing this with us Annie. EVery little bit helps even if it leads to an OMG moment when you realise you've probably stuffed up.

  13. Hi Caroline, thanks for dropping by. I'm not sure I learn something new every day but I try.

  14. Hi Desere,

    Wow, home schooling your son is quite an achievement! I'm sure patience isn't the only thing you've learned through that. I'm always proud when I see our children have picked up something we've tried to teach them.

  15. Hi Eli, I'm waving back. Isn't it interesting that both you and Desere mentioned patience. I'm not a patient person either (well in some aspects) and I think it's something you learn when you try to teach others. Maybe I should do more teaching...

  16. Hi Princess Fiona,

    Glad to help! I'm smiling at you going back over your opening chapter searching out the back story. I'm about to write a first chapter and I know I'll have to go back when I've written it and cut it back. It's just the way of things. Good luck!

  17. Hi Annie,

    I loved your post! I've run a couple of romance-writing workshops and I always stress A LOT beforehand, wondering if I can coherently pass along my knowledge in a lucid (not to mention engaging!) manner. But the thing I remember most about these workshops is how much fun they were...and how much we all laughed. You're right, interacting with others in this fashion can be so rewarding.

  18. Great post!
    It always makes me happy to teach someone something they always wanted to know how to do.

  19. Hi Michelle,

    It's interesting that you've had the same experience as me. I remember the fun and the enthusiasm of the group. Maybe it's all in the preparation, but I think a lot about the success of these workshops is due to the participants' energy and their desire to get something useful out of it. I'd love to go to a workshop you ran.

  20. HI Chey,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. You put it so well. Who wouldn't enjoy teaching someone what they always wanted to know?

  21. Well, I see the next PHS post is up so that means it's time for me to draw a random winner from those who commented. And also to thank you all for dropping by and chatting on this. I've enjoyed finding out that I'm not alone in this learning through teaching process.

    Okay - random draw done - CONGRATULATIONS, PRINCESS FIONA! You've won a signed copy of my current North American release GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT.

    If you email me at annie@annie-west.com and provide your postal address I'll pop the book in the mail to you.