Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Growing When You're Not a Beginner

I have a lot to learn.

Sure, I've learned a lot in my first forty-odd years here on planet Earth, but in any endeavor that matters, I can still grow.

The problem is finding ways to do that.

When you're new at something, it's easy to find a mentor. There are a lot of people who are better than you and can help you move forward. There are very basic things that you don't yet know.

But, the further you get, the harder it becomes. Eventually, when you're truly top-level, you have to become your own teacher, setting for yourself what the next level is and figuring out what exercises will stretch you and get you there. Our needs as learners become more and more individual and it's harder to find a "group solution" that includes you.

I'm not there yet. But I am far enough along in some endeavors, teaching and writing especially, that I'm having trouble finding things that move me forward. Where's the training for intermediates?

I went to a teaching conference recently and found that 90% of what was being offered were sessions I could have taught. Frustrating. I've found the same thing at some writing seminars and conferences.

As a teacher, I've learned to use reflective practice to help me grow. I analyze a lesson in terms of how well my students engaged and how much they retained. The next time I teach the same topic, I make adjustments accordingly, trying to figure out how to engage more people and help them retain more knowledge longer term. It's a struggle, as reflection requires time and I only have 90 minutes per workday in which I am not actively teaching. Reflection often gets shoved down the list in favor of things like providing training to others, performing secretarial tasks necessary for lessons, and keeping up with communication streams, or, you know, using the bathroom and eating lunch.

At least in writing, I set my own pace. Reflective practice is trickier. My writing is more personal than the Spanish lessons I provide. It's harder to view objectively. So, reflective practice, for me, is a matter of finding an appropriate peer group, in putting my work out there and listening to the feedback with a heart to learn. I am fortunate in my local critique group, which includes writers in a similar part of the journey as me, as well as some who are more skilled than me, and others that I can help along. I also participate in a few online critique groups and response is varied. Not everyone is there with a heart to learn.

One of these opportunities for reflective practice, for me, is the #saturdayscenes movement on Google+. The work I present there is much more raw than the work I am sending to magazines, anthologies and other publishing venues. I value the interactions I have in this community because nearly everyone is there with a heart to learn and grow. Pontification and defensiveness are at a minimum.

So, I guess the key is, once again, community. A community of learners, all with a heart to learn.


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  2. Samantha, I am glad that you are an active member of Saturday Scenes.

    I, too, feel frustrated as I seek mentors and other guidance for my writing. Writer friends offer books that seem too elementary. Advanced college courses have needles in haystacks, but who has time to for the hunt? I see ads for retreats, but I already have a perfect place to write to my heart's content. WordPress (where my blog is) is full of incredible writers, but the few who respond to comments only offer a simple thanks.

    The interactions at Saturday Scenes are precious and inspiring. The membership is small enough to get to know people, and large enough to get diverse perspectives on my work. I enjoy the community so much that I haven't missed a week of participating even when I couldn't submit a scene.

    Poets & Writers magazine is a resource that I enjoy. Have you seen issues?

  3. Thanks, Grace! I'm glad you're active in Saturday scenes, too!

    I have a subscription to Poets & Writers and have read it for years, though there's not as much in it for me these days as I've moved more into speculative fiction and less into literary fiction and poetry.