Periodically I tire of the financial ups and downs of life as a working writer, and I explore careers that might generate a larger and more stable income. One of the last times I pursued this notion I used an aid: a job-hunting guide for creative people. My understanding of the book was that it would steer me towards work that suits my artistic bent but also allows a life of comfort and security. I read the introduction and filled out the self-interest tests. I identified my creative “type” and eagerly located that section, sure that a career that combined creative fulfillment and the ability to pay the VISA bill without whimpering was a mere page-turn away.
So—what two careers did the book encourage me to pursue? 1) Puppeteer, and 2) Mime.
Any professional mimes who read this, feel free to correct me, but I’m guessing that you occasionally struggle with erratic and insufficient income too.
But if the answer isn’t as easy as learning how to climb an imaginary rope, what will get me through those lean times when my income is unpredictable? I think it’s the fact that I was raised under the influence of my practical and money-wise father. However much money management might not be my natural aptitude, repeated exposure to his example allowed me to learn skills I likely would never have otherwise developed.
Not every student in your classroom is going to have a natural aptitude for writing. But placing them under the influence of amazing writers can go a long way towards teaching them skills they might never have otherwise developed.
To me, this means more than just putting great books into their hands; it requires thinking and talking about books from a writer’s perspective. Here’s an example. When I’m struggling with plotting, I’ll choose to read a book that I’ve heard is strongly plotted. As I read, I continue to ask myself what tricks the writer is using to make the action of the story seem both surprising and inevitable.
You can make a game of it to create this experience in your classroom. Stop the class at the end of each chapter and review what’s happened so far in the story. Then ask students to anticipate and write down what they think will be the key action in the next chapter (but have them keep their predictions a secret). When that next chapter is finished, stop again and ask students how many of them guessed correctly—and what they anticipate for the following chapter.
I can almost guarantee that after several rounds of this, your students will bring stronger plotting skills to the next story they write. Reading like a writer inevitably leads to writing under the influence.