The struggle to improve our sentences,” I wrote in The Little Red Writing Book, “is the struggle to improve ourselves.”
Writing well, like living well, is partly a matter of technique and partly a matter of courage. In all my teaching, I hope, in equal parts to inspire aspiring writers toward the deepest honesty and the sharpest thinking and the most shining clarity they can manage. For the creative writer and for the business writer, that’s going to mean sharpening their technique and being brave. All my teaching works on the heart and the craft of writing.
Educate is a word we take from the Romans, for whom educare meant “to lead forth or draw forth”. The good teacher—through mastery of their subject, through their passion and the force of their character, or by the example of their own work or life—draws forth from their students more of themselves than those students realised they owned; more skillful work (then or later); and a larger capacity to think originally and to question entrenched and tired ideas. The good teacher changes people to some degree so that their work in the area of that teaching can grow. Some of teaching is about providing models and take-home tips; some of it’s about explaining and exemplifying techniques and concepts; most of it’s about creating the atmosphere, as Barry Lopez wrote of the storyteller once, in which wisdom may arise. This is what I believe, and it’s how, without ever having thought about it too hard, I am given to teaching. Above all I teach by leading students to reimagine writing, to think freshly and ultimately for themselves about their subject matter and their syntax, and to write the book that only they can write—the one spoken in that writer’s unique true voice.
“Be generous with the truth,” I found myself saying in my little red book, “and economical with how you tell it. Most of us do it the other way round; that is the art of politics. Mean as much as you can in the fewest syllables; that is the art of writing.”
For twelve years, since leaving book publishing, I have taught courses in creative writing, business writing and grammar. Some of my workshops are public programs run through The University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education and writers’ centres; some I run myself, these days from my cowshed in Burradoo; others are occasional courses hosted in locations in Australia and North America; others, again, I run inhouse for clients in the public and private sectors, tailored to their needs and contexts. (For more on those, and other corporate consulting services, go to CONSULTING.)
Beyond my teaching, I also mentor some aspiring writers and, from time to time, edit a manuscript in need of a little help.