Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Getting started. What to write about?

Many would-be, or potentially great, writers worry where to start? My view is that it's always best to try in your mind to write something that might be published in your local newspaper, favorite magazine or
on a blog. The topic is not hard - it's something to do with YOU. The length should not be too long, up to 350 words.

Length is very important, even if your' writing your own blog. It's important that you're capable of writing to the length asked for. Editors don't want 3000 words of perfect prose, if you've been asked for 500 words. Length, as a professional writer, is one of the first questions you ask. 'How long?' right before you ask 'How much do you pay?'

Writing about oneself can be tough, even though it's very cool these days to come out with the deep inner confessional. Maybe you feel you're not that interesting, in these days of gory confessionals. But remember, treat this as a writing exercise. By taking yourself as the topic, you will be tackling various important issues in the article-writing process:
  • how to make something interesting to your editor and to the reader
  • what to pick out of your own experience
  • how to find the nugget that will make the piece come alive and have resonance for the reader
Search in your own, well-known to you biography, for an anecdote; a story that will bring something to life. It doesn't matter how true it is - we will never know. The challenge is to write a 'neat' short piece that will tell some form of story.

It has to come alive to the reader. In this case, the readers are your online colleagues.
  • take something from your family history
  • from your present-day job
  • hobby
  • love entanglements 
  • friends
  • vacations
A short article is not so different from a short story. It's a question of finding that essential moment of truth.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

So farewell, my first at-home TEFL student!

Just thought I'd catch up with the experience of this week, now that the young French student has packed his bag and got himself back to Paris on Eurostar. The week went amazingly well! It was probably mostly down to the fact he's such a nice young chap. Well brought up, polite, keen to learn, intelligent, interesting, and seemingly very appreciative of my teaching (also the nice flat and good old fluffy cat!).

I was convinced it would all turn out to be a very claustrophobic time. In fact, I don't know if I've ever spent so much time, and communicated so intensively, with anyone one-to-one over a five day period. When with our own children, husband or partner, we work out ways of sealing ourselves off from too much communication, don't we? Lots of down time, when the odd grunt, groan, or sign language suffices. But in this case, from 8.30am breakfast at the table, through four hours teaching in the morning, followed by lunch at the table, two more hours teaching... and at least once or twice, dinner (at the table) as well. Phew! Like any self-respecting young man, he went out on three evenings - either just to roam London, catch something to eat and enjoy the pub atmosphere. Or, one evening he visited family friends and enjoyed speaking English with them -rather than lapsing back into French, which is all their first language.

For the first time, I felt I'd really been able to help someone with my teaching and my own breadth of experience. We talked a lot about his job, problems at work, special vocabulary connected with that type of industry. We looked into writing emails (not easy when English is your first language, in the sense that you have to be careful not to offend anyone). Writing formal documents. Giving presentations and chairing meetings. It was Fun.

Now I'm getting into this English teaching game and hope it continues as well as this first effort. However, I can see that if the student were not so amenable, capable of creating his own space and allowing me some freedom. If, indeed, the student was a needy person, then the over-proximity could be a real challenge. In future, I'm only going to host students when hubby is here. Then, he can do the cooking! I mean who other than a woman would take on such an onerous multi-tasking role: shopping, cooking, cleaning, preparing classes, teaching, maybe taking the student out on trips, talking together at meal times......? I'm quite exhausted. But I just hope it's true that I've discovered a new role in life - being able to host someone in the comfort of my home and help create a truly rewarding experience for them too.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Teaching English at home - my first ever experience

Any other writers out there, who are also Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) may like to share this experience. I've done my share of private college teaching and decided to try what is known as At Home Tuition, or Host Family Tuition. In theory, I have just the qualities necessary: a nice, pleasant home ( in a leafy inner-city suburb of London); a great office overlooking the garden where I write, study and can now teach. I'm used to hosting students and young people in my home, after bringing up two demanding daughters (now young adults) who wouldn't be?

But agreeing to host someone in your own home for 1 or 2 weeks, during which time you are a mix of: B&B landlady, masterchef, housekeeper, teacher, colleague, friend and mother, is quite a daunting prospect. They not only live with you, but you spend between 3-6 hours a day actually teaching; then remove to the dining table to eat (breakfast, lunch and dinner); in between you scamper to the kitchen to make some delicious, healthy, and quick-to-cook meals. At the end of the day, your student either studies in their room, goes for a jog, or wanders off around London. While you collapse.....

I was going to write this on Sunday evening, when I was nervously waiting for my first 'victim'. He's a young French man who works for a major industry and needs better English to do his job or advance his career. I'm sure he was as nervous as me..... As it happens, this week my (new, young) husband is away. So our situation is even weirder, as it's just the two of us.

I've written a book about online dating (The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Dating*) - but more on that to come later. I can tell you, that compared to the nervousness before meeting a 'date' or potential lover/husband, this seemed even worse. Although, thank heavens, we're not expecting each other to be the mate-made-in-heaven.

In fact, the young French man is just great. We get along well, he is really keen to study and learn. We've just completed our second full day of teaching. He's gone out for a jog (the rain has finally let up) and I'm back to my blog. How perfect! Let's hope all future students are as amenable and integrate as well.

Has anyone else had these experiences? I'd love to hear from you.