Friday, June 01, 2018

So, what do you do?

How often has this happened to you? You’re talking to someone and either you or the other person asks what you do for a living.

It happens all the time. I’d say it happens to me at least once a week, and I’m probably being too conservative.

But how do you answer?

For me, I usually say I’m a writer. Sometimes I say I’m an editor. Other times I say I’m a journalist.

They’re all true.

When I tell people that I write or that I work with words, they make assumptions about me. They assume I’m creative, for example. Some assume something about my level of education. Some others try to stump me on a random subject, as though writers know everything about everything.

You know who else we tend to think those same things about? Teachers.

I know I do.

It makes sense, because at a certain level, most writers are also teachers.

Even though I minored in education and did my student teaching, I never served professionally as a formal teacher. I served as an instructor for various short-term classes, but it wasn’t my full-time job.

I spent a few years conducting classes at YMCAs where I was a full-time employee, but I was running programs. I thought of it as different.

I was wrong. I was a teacher and an instructor and a coach. I’ve realized lately that I still am.

I suspect this old saying (meant as a joke) is still told: Those who can’t do, teach (and the corollary: Those who can’t teach, teach gym.)

I never really liked those jokes, though I probably told them more than once, too.

But within those sayings is something that is certainly true, even if it feels like it shouldn’t be: You don’t have to be an expert to teach.

As writers, we should have lots of skills that non-writers envy. Our ability to imagine out-of-the-ordinary scenarios is one of my favorites. A way with words is another.

I was talking with my sister recently about another trait that she and my brothers share: We’re good at grammar. I suspect it had a lot to do with our parents, but we always valued quality writing. We read it often. It’s true that reading quality writing helps writers recognize bad writing.

Sometimes our preconceived notions of what something should look like distract us from what something is.

Maybe we think of teachers as people at the front of a classroom lecturing on how to do a task. My best teachers also taught why things are the way they are. They taught about perspectives.

Sharing perspectives is absolutely a part of writing.

From my perspective, I’m still a writer. I’m still an editor. I’m still a journalist. And when people ask what I do, those are the answers I’ll still give them.

But perhaps it’s time to change my perspective and see how my vocation and avocation can change how I answer those questions.

How about you? What do you do?

Fix the grammar glitch:

In the comment section, please indicate which sentence below is correct.

a) Please contact Amy or me if you have any questions.
b) Please contact Amy or I if you have any questions.
c) Please contact me or Amy if you have any questions.

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