The Same Mistakes

AB Teaches 8X10Skip down to ROW80 with me!

I’m a teacher. Other than being a mom, that’s my day-job. Over the past thirty years, I’ve taught a number of subjects.

My first experience at teaching came at age twelve when I started helping my mother teach Scottish Highland Dancing. I continued teaching with her through the years, taking my associate’s exam at age sixteen, and my full professional exam when I was twenty-four. We taught together and separate (depending on where our lives were) until she retired and moved away a few years ago.

When you teach something for many years, you notice that students tend to make the same mistakes. In Highland Dancing, many students who learn the Crossover Step in the Highland Fling spontaneously add a turn to the end. There’s a reason for that…the first step they learn (First Shedding) is a series of movements, ending in a turn, that lasts four bars. You do it once starting with the right foot, then again starting with the left foot. The next step most dancers learn is Toe-Heels. Again, it’s a series of movements, ending in a turn, that lasts four bars. Again, you do it once starting with the right foot, then again starting with the left foot. The Crossover Step is a series of movements that lasts two bars. You do it on the right, then the left, then the right, then the left.

If you did the math, you’ll notice that each step is eight bars long. So, why would students automatically add a turn to the end of the Crossover Step? Perhaps it’s because the first two steps each had a turn at the end of the pattern. The point is, for decades, I’ve seen many dancers make the exact same mistake when learning the step.

This morning I taught a class in spreadsheets to college freshmen. Other than taking a few years off when my youngest child was born, I’ve taught since 2002. I always give very specific, very easy homework the first week. The point of the assignments are to get students used to how assignments will be given and turned in. The following scenario happens almost every semester:

Me: Does everyone understand “A” now?

Class: Nodding and smiling the affirmative.

Me: Did anyone have trouble with “B?” Would you like me to go over it again?

Class: Indicates they do not need to go over “B” again.

Me: And “C?” Does everyone have “C” complete?

Class: Nods and smiles.

Me: Great! Now please put A, B, and C together and turn them in.

At this point, most of the class nods and smiles and turns in a finished product. A few people say “I have A, B, and C, but I’m not sure how to put them together…” and I help them. This is the core of the class; finding where students have a gap in knowledge and filling it in.

There are always a few who say “What? You want us to turn it in?” then they fiddle around for a little bit. “Umm…what was “A” again? And I don’t remember you saying anything about “C…”

This scenario is so predictable that I have built in homework assignments around it. The reason most of the class was able to combine and submit A, B, and C in less than a minute is that the actual work was ridiculously easy. So easy, that some students simply chose not to bother doing it. My intention is that, with this revelation taking place early in the semester, the students who planned to blow-off their homework will realize that their lives will be much easier if they simply do the work as it is assigned.

Three years ago, I got serious about my writing. I wrote an entire novel with a beginning, middle, and end. I researched what agents might accept my genre and theme. I established relationships with other writers, and became a student of “how to become a published author.”

Most students, like me, make certain mistakes. I avoided sending my unedited NaNoWiMo novel to an agent on December first. I knew better. (Some don’t.) But I did have way too many exclamation points. I also head-hopped. In fact, one of the first stories I put up on my blog, Undone Fantasy, shows this. I left the story up anyway…it’s a story I love, and a good example of what my writing used to be like. I might someday put a revised version up in addition to the old one.

I’m currently fighting a mistake that many people make, not in dancing, or spreadsheets, or writing specifically, but in life.

The mistake of never actually trying.

I’ve come far in three years. I have several stories published in anthos and magazines. I have another story coming out in an antho soon, and I was paid for it. (Something all the previous ones did not do.) But I have yet to send a query for a novel in my name.

This is in the plan. Not a vague ‘sometime’ goal, but specifically that novel will be The Jubilation of the Southern Cross which is currently resting on the shelf. That rest period is necessary. I can’t edit right after finishing (I finished in December) because I can’t see the forest for the trees. On March 5 (Ash Wednesday) the day my kids go back to school after their early spring break, I will take JSC off the shelf and revise it. I’m not sure how long that will take…and I can’t overthink it right now because one of my ROW80 goals is to NOT think about it…but it will probably take a few weeks. I’ll do Hearthsong at the same time, since the stories are a pair. By Easter, I should be able to send them both to beta readers. The timeline after that isn’t as specific, but I will read through my Beta’s comments and do a re-write. I might also write a third book to go with them. Then the book(s) will need a trustworthy editor for a final check. I have a friend who is very good at this, but if she’s not available I might shell out some bucks to have it professionally done.

When the book is as polished as it can be (before the publisher/editor polishes it even more) I will either send a query to the #1 agent or I will see if the agent has a class coming up where she would read the first few pages and give me feedback. I might submit the story to a contest.

And we’ll go from there.

The ROW80 Goals for the week:

  • Do something writing-related every day: Today this blog is the only thing that counts. Real Life was ~GAH!~ today. The other days were all good. Thus, the lack of sleep…
  • Do some actual writing every week: I’ve added quite a few words to The Postman in Shining White Armor this week.
  • Engage with other writers every week: Just the usual little social stuff and commenting on blogs. Nothing much, but enough.
  • Stay away from the NaNo story for at least a month: I am very much immersed in Under the Radar, and staying out of Jubilation of the Southern Cross and Hearthsong.
  • Get sleep: This continues to be a challenge, even though I make it a priority. I give myself a C+
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About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
This entry was posted in Commentary & Musing, ROW80, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Same Mistakes

  1. Siri Paulson says:

    I know that feeling…good luck!

  2. I love how your anecdote of teaching can be so easily transferred to anybody’s life – that we shouldn’t avoid things we don’t want to do as some things are designed to make life easier. ROW80 definitely is a lot like setting ourselves homework. I really should get back to it, shouldn’t I? I don’t want to have to give myself a detention…

    • Definitely do it!
      But don’t punish yourself if you don’t meet your goals. For me, the best thing about ROW80 is looking at what I’ve accomplished (or not) over the round, and deciding how I want to change my goals for the next round. There are rounds where I’ve made all my goals, and rounds where I crashed and burned. The nice thing is, we define what we want to accomplish. For example…in the above post, I named an exact date to go back to my previous WIP. Without the goal-stating and goal-sharing of ROW80, I might have left that nebulous.

  3. Joe Richardson says:

    I think that’s the nature of patterns–they teach us to predict the next step. Doesn’t always work in our favor, does it?

    Awesome, that you recognize the need for a cooling period. I see far too many people finish a piece, then turn around and start edits. I often wonder how they can recompose when the music of the first draft is still playing in their head. I can’t. Glad to hear I’m not alone.

    Thanks for the blog, AmyBeth. The stop here was time well spent.

  4. I like that you made one of your ROW80 goals to NOT revise your stories. I have to remind myself to take at least six weeks off between writing and revising a story. Otherwise, it’s too fresh and, like you said, I can’t see the forest for the trees.

    It sounds like you’re making progress on some other things as well. Good luck with your ROW80 goals, AmyBeth.

  5. Tui Snider says:

    What a great post! I agree with you about the “The mistake of never actually trying.” In fact, I think I’d better tweet about this so more folks can give this one a read. 🙂

    And, btw, I am a serious exclamation mark abuser! See! I! Can’t! Help! Myself!!!!!!!!!!!!! But… I am constantly trimming them, but they still creep in. Like this!

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