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Scott Lax Blog

Why I'm No Longer Teaching


While I still speak to organizations and schools, sometimes as author-in-residence, I've made the decision to stop teaching on a regular basis.

There are two reasons. The first is that I have a lot of writing to do, and in multiple genres. I have a novel at market; a book of short stories in progress; a nonfiction memoir in progress; two magazine columns; anda screenplay in progress. Not to mention other writing assignments.

The second reason is that world of higher education has slammed the door on accomplishment - e.g. being published, excellent teaching evaluations, and teaching skill - in favor of the acquisition of degrees, of M.A.s, M.F.As and Ph.D.s. I have a B.A. and that's it; and in the 2011 world of higher education, that's that.

Degrees are a wonderful thing; they're difficult to get, and are an achievement I admire. But I went another route when I began writing. I learned from great authors, I studied on my own, and I wrote and wrote and wrote, producing hundreds of published columns, essays and features, a literary novel, a produced play and a produced feature film. I've taught hundreds of students, if not more. (You can read some testimonials below.)

In 2010/2011, this is not enough to get my foot in the door of the academy. One university professor said to me a few years ago: "Do you understand why you can't get in the door?" I said no. "What do you think we sell here?" he asked me. "An education?" I replied. "No," he said. "We sell degrees. How do you think it will look if a guy with a B.A. is teaching students whom we want to get masters degrees?"

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard the same basic message, including from three university presidents, two deans, a headmaster, and a number of English Department heads. This is what they say it's about now, in our post-post modern era: "Accreditation." That means degrees; that means money to universities; that means you pay to play...or to teach.

I've taught for other organizations, literary organizations and such, and in general, it was a wonderful experience, especially with the students.

And I've taught for my own Chagrin Valley Writers' Workshop, which I loved. But I acted as administrator and teacher. It became too much, and took too much away from my own writing.

To my students whom I've taught over the past eight years or so: thank you. I enjoyed working with so many of you.

So a final few words. If you want to be a professional, full-time writer, my suggestion to you is to write, to study good and great writing, to be humble, and then to write some more. Then wake up and do it again, and realize that writing is a difficult career choice, but an immensely rewarding one in the sense of expressing your mind, heart and soul. Write cleanly and from the heart. Don't get cute. Don't be clever. Just tell a story.

If you want to teach, especially at a college level, I strongly advise you to get as many degrees as you can and teach the children well. But if you want to be a writer, as well as an academic, try not to let those with lots of degrees and little talent discourage you, or otherwise damage your writing. I've had numerous former M.F.A. students ask me to help them undo the damage from accredited courses they took that were taught by hacks.

I'm sorry the academy has gone in this direction, but it has. As my old Bread Loaf acquaintance, and a special teacher and writer, David Huddle, once said to me, as I was getting in my car for the long drive back to Cleveland from the Green Mountains: "Good luck with your writing. And good luck with your life."

And so to you.  Read More 

When Your Writing Just Isn't Working

"Let's say you wrote badly today." (With thanks and apologies to David Huddle and his book on writing.) You might want to take Charles Dickens's advice: "Run a moist pen through everything and start afresh."

Delete keys work, too. Or you might want to save the writing that doesn't work and rework it some other time. The point being, if it just isn't working, jettison it and start over. Sometimes you just need to clear out the mental and literary flotsam and jetsam before you can get to the clean, clear waters of good prose.  Read More