Why teach writing? To learn of course.

There’s a story of a lazy Buddhist adept, whose name escapes me, who was made to teach a lesson by his master. The student never paid attention in class, or did his chores around the monastery. But when made to teach, he gave a long lecture on compassion, that remains a high Buddhist teaching to this day.

I’m guessing the lazy adept didn’t know how much he knew until he taught it.

“In a classroom full of writers, the writing teacher is the most dedicated student of all.”

I think about writing as a practice. It’s a path that many people choose to walk to give their life shape, and that helps us develop and grow. With all the challenges that come with a pro writing career, when I think about who I would be if I’d never disciplined myself to write, I literally shudder.

(I know many writers who can’t rub two pennies together, but none who are shambling shopping mall zombies, so every writer I know is a winner.)

At some point in your writing practice, teaching becomes a logical next step. And here’s the thing. That will probably happen before you reach the titanic success levels of Stephen King. In fact that was true of Stephen King himself, who taught English and writing as a postgrad student, in the space between publishing his early short stories and his first novel. I think it’s likely the teaching process helped King in that evolution.

Teaching makes you do something really hard. You have to take all that knowledge you have acrued as a student, years of it, swilling around in your mind like an ocean, and structure it into a form that you can communicate to others. This is not a comfortable or neccesarily fun activity in and of itself. But you will never understand your own craft as well as you will by teaching it. In a classroom full of writers, the writing teacher is the most dedicated student of all.

My reward for composing The Rhetoric of Story as a course, a process that took over a year, wasn’t recruiting 1300 students or making a useful bonus income, though both are nice, but is that I understand my own storytelling process infinitely better. Now that courses can be preserved forever in video, I love knowing that future writers will be able to see into the process of so many other creators. It’s going to lead to the telling of many great stories.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.