All I Really Needed to Know I Learned as your Teaching Assistant

Once a week, I lead a lecture section called Storytelling.  I consider it Screenwriting Zero, almost an introduction to the art of screenwriting. Now, the content isn’t anything new to me.  I’m not bragging, but I pulled out a B.A. in Creative Writing in Linguistics from a sub-state school, so I’m more than comfortable blowing hot air at students for two hours every Wednesday.  It’s not all fun and games.  Every once in a while, I spring a test on them, just to let them know who’s boss. But really, leading four workshops a week is actually a heck of a lot more fun than it sounds.  Really.

Rucker.  Rucker is the boss.  In case you missed that earlier.

I get really frustrated whenever somebody stops me and says, “You know, you’ll learn more from teaching than you ever will sitting in a classroom.”  Please.  The only reason I took this job is so that I could make sure to teach them all the wrong things to weed out competition in my coming days as a professional screenwriter.  However, it seems to be a trend that I’m picking up on lessons that I thought I’d learned myself.  I’m reminding them to do the things I forget to do.

Figure out what your story is.  Put your main character on the ropes.  What are you trying to say?  Take no prisoners.  By the way, who is your main character?

One of the things I really love about Boston University is this chance that I get to teach.  I bragged to my mentor before I left that I’d totally be leading a class by my second year.  I didn’t really expect to get the chance, but here I am.  There’s something really special about standing in front of those kids every week, knowing that I have the chance to share something that I really enjoy.  I even wrote “Don’t write crap.” on the board at the beginning of the semester.  I enjoy teaching about positive and negative charges and plants and payoffs, but what I really love is writing pseudo-swears on the board.

But really, that’s what teaching and writing is for me.  On the first day, I had them write a simple list of ten things that moved them.  Every response I gave was catered, but essentially the same: “Now that you’ve know what moves you, you’ll be able to move your audience.”  Sure, it was a lot harder than pounding into their heads, “Write what you love.  Write what you love.  Write what you love.”  (I still did that, but I also did this, so the bad teaching and good teaching evens out.  That’s how it works, right?)

But ever since I taught that lesson on the first day, my writing’s gotten better.  I’m thinking more about the messages I’m trying to convey, and they’re coming out clearer.  I’m remembering to put my main character on the ropes.  I’m acid testing my work, figuring out what’s essential in the story, just like I’m trying to remind Max and Navzad and Shari to do.

So, yeah.  There it is.  Learning through teaching.  I’m pretty sure that’s what that Robert Fulghum book was talking about, but I heard it was actually about his time in prison.  You didn’t hear it from me.

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