Education, Essays, Novel Writing

Make teaching and learning part of your writing process.

The Longman Writer: Rhetoric, Reader, Research Guide, and Handbook (8th Edition)
This semester, I am teaching out of The Longman Writer: Rhetoric, Reader, Research Guide, and Handbook (8th Edition.) You can buy a copy here.

This semester, I am teaching one section of English Composition I at my local technical college. This is not a course I particularly care to teach. The first semester I taught it was a disaster. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I definitely didn’t know the material well enough to teach it. It was a horrible experience for everyone involved. This semester, I finally feel like I kinda know what I am doing. And it’s having a positive impact on my writing.

Tuesday was our first day of class, and I killed it. I was well prepared, I knew what I was talking about and best of all, the students were engaged. I left class that afternoon thinking, “Where the hell did that come from?”

Seriously, anyone who has known me for very long would never expect me to be *that good* at public speaking. Never.

Anyway, this afternoon I have been reading the chapters I assigned for next week and making notes on how I want to present the information in our next class session. The textbook outlines the steps in the writing process chapter by chapter. Every time I read this basic-level writing textbook, I come away with some new piece of information that I either never learned or simply didn’t process before. There is always something new for me to apply to my own writing.

Today, I was considering how best to explain to my students why and how to narrow the focus of an essay. In my head, I envisioned myself telling them about how huge and unwieldy my main novel project is. How, if I had put a bit more effort into figuring out my structure in the early steps of the writing process, it may not have gotten quite so out of hand. Maybe I wouldn’t be so stuck if I had narrowed my focus early on.

My imaginary speech went something like this: “My novel is already over 250 typed, double-spaced pages, and I’m only about a third of the way through my story. This is turning out to be one of those novels that some publisher (if some publisher should ever decide to publish it) will end up breaking into three separate novels and sell as a series.”

That’s when it hit me. My novel isn’t one novel. It’s already a trilogy. Why wait for some publisher to decide to break it up and turn it into three books? Why not do it myself now?

My mind raced through my story. I realized it already has three distinct parts. And these parts are not the three acts in a three-act story, but three separate novels in a trilogy! Each of these three parts contains within it a three-act story. It is so obvious now. Why didn’t I think of this before?

My mind is still racing. It turns out I have already written almost all of the first novel in my trilogy. I just need to figure out the best place to break up what I have now into three parts. Then I can take each of these parts and plot out a complete structure that will make each individual novel stand alone. My first novel is almost ready for revisions! Wait! I suddenly have two novels that are written and ready for revisions! I’d better get to work!

Sometimes when you’re stuck, the best thing you can do is go back to basics. When was the last time you read a basic writing text? 

~Amanda L. Webster

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