Hands on the Wheel

Writing Road Trip | Lisa Bullard | Hands on the WheelA few years ago, I remem­ber Teenage Nephew 2 point­ed out (from his new­ly gath­ered store­house of driver’s ed wis­dom) that I put my hands in the wrong posi­tions on the steer­ing wheel. The new place­ment, he told me, is either 9 and 3 or 8 and 4 on the clock face, to avoid break­ing your arms if the airbag deploys.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in driver’s ed (in fact, to a teenage brain I’m sure it was so long ago that Teenage Nephew imag­ines my train­ing includ­ed dinosaur-avoid­ance tac­tics), so I took it on faith that he was right.

And I was remind­ed all over again how much you can learn as a teacher if you are will­ing to once again become a student.

A cou­ple of years ago, when the nov­el I was try­ing to write had com­plete­ly stalled out, I decid­ed to take a writ­ing class. Although I learn enor­mous amounts from my stu­dents when I teach writ­ing, it had been a long time since I’d sat in a writ­ing class and not been the one in the room who was sup­posed to have all of the answers.

And my teacher — mys­tery writer Ellen Hart, who is a gen­er­ous and gift­ed writ­ing teacher — gave us an assign­ment that for me turned out to be exact­ly the key I need­ed to turn on my writ­ing again. She had us write five com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent open­ing sen­tences for our sto­ry, and then go on to write three com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent open­ing para­graphs. I was about halfway through the exer­cise when an unex­pect­ed voice marched onto the page, com­man­deered my sto­ry­line, and took over the nov­el until I finished it sev­er­al months later.

I hon­est­ly don’t know if that ever would have hap­pened if I hadn’t been will­ing to become the stu­dent again. So this post is for those of you who in some way or anoth­er have come to be labeled a writ­ing “expert”: give your­self per­mis­sion to relearn the basics. It’s a nec­es­sary peri­od­ic refresh­er for writ­ers. And it’s incred­i­bly valu­able if you’re a writ­ing teacher; there’s noth­ing like being a stu­dent again to remind you what good teach­ing — and good writ­ing — is and isn’t.

There are a lot of options in the whole big car lot full of shiny “learn more about writ­ing” options that are out there. Why not seek out the thing that you most need to jump­start yourself?

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