used to be active in our local writing group, to the point that I was a
two-time president of the organization. Unfortunately, these days I
nearly always have a place to be, or I’m working conferences and
events, when their meetings occur. But that’s beside the point.
As a result of sitting in on
several writing classes and crit groups, and talking with other
writers, I amassed such a level of knowledge and confidence that I
began to teach in the group. The information I shared was eagerly
Then came the fateful day when a
best-selling author gave a presentation. He also sat in on my session
for beginners. After it was over he said to me privately, “You don’t
really believe all that garbage you were handing out, do you?”
Well, yeah . . . I did.
I was stunned. We went to dinner
that evening and talked for a long time. I came to understand two
things. First, I had ceased to learn and started to teach; and second,
I was getting all of my input from writers who didn’t know any more
about the craft than I did. We shared opinions with one another until
we came to accept it as truth. I gave up teaching until I could be sure
of my subject matter and believe what I was saying was accurate.
Nobody has a handle on exactly
how things work in this business. Every time I tell a group that in my
experience something works a certain way, someone is sure to point out
that some highly successful person did it just the opposite with
phenomenal results. There is always the exception that proves the rule.
not a gambler, but I understand playing the odds. If most of the time
certain actions produce certain results, I feel no need to buck the
trend and do the opposite, hoping that I can be successful where others
Everyone has something to teach,
and I try to be open-minded to it all. But am I more likely to learn
from someone who has had significant success, or from someone who has
studied and possesses a lot of information but has no results? That was
knew a lot, but much of it turned out to be a collection of
opinions rather than proven success. I was blind and leading the blind.
teach again now, with many
years of experience under my belt. But I don’t just
teach. I try to constantly learn, because teaching without learning is
only passing on stagnant information about a fast-changing business.
And I tell those taking my classes and workshops that while I am
confident that the information I pass on is accurate, there is always
another way to do everything.
Be wise and filter and assign
weight to teachers based on how likely they are to know the truth of
what they are saying. I surely try to do that.