Sunday, September 21, 2014

World's Greatest Teacher (Cyn Balog/Nichola Reilly)


I often see writers thanking their favorite teachers for helping them and inspiring them to write. I’d like to do the same, but unfortunately, there were no teachers in my life that inspired me. I was part of one of the best school systems in the country and my teachers knew their stuff, taught me what I needed to know about syntax and grammar, but inspire me?

Not exactly.

When I think of an inspiring teacher, I can’t help but think of John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. He made learning fun. He opened their minds and eyes to a whole new world. Only a very special teacher can do that, and I was not privileged to meet one.

Early on, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I assumed at the age of 5 that after one learned to read, they wrote books, and so I did. It was almost like an invisible hand was guiding me into it, as if it was commanded by some unrecognizable force. I still look back in wonder at what first put this desire in me. But from the time I could pick up a pencil, I was writing books. I wrote many, many books. In fifth grade I turned in a 50-page Choose Your Own Adventure to my teacher.  My sophomore year of high school, I was supposed to write a story for Creative Writing but instead turned in a novel. Senior year, I did the same.  

My teachers gave me good grades for these efforts. I got A Christmas Story A-plus-plus-plus-pluses for them. The teachers told me I should try for publication. But . . . that was it. I was called an English Teacher’s dream.  But in truth, I was more of a nightmare. I think I bewildered them—they had no clue what to do with me. I looked to them for guidance on what to do next and how to get started in a career.  But my teachers didn’t know, either. They were teachers, not authors. They had a million other things on their minds, a hundred other students, and didn’t have the time to focus on my books the way I did. But even if they did, where would they start?  The internet didn’t exist then. So they couldn’t guide me. 

I can’t blame them. After all, I went through a good portion of my adult life not knowing a thing about how to navigate the world of publishing. Once I started digging and trying to figure it out on my own online, the sheer amount of information I needed to digest was staggering. But eventually, I guess I taught myself. We are our own best teachers, and every day is an opportunity to learn, without a classroom, without books.  Even after publishing 6 books, I’m still learning about this business and the craft of writing, and I love it.  Best of all, my teacher doesn’t care if I have to take a bunch of bathroom breaks. 

I'm new to YA Outside the Lines! I write YA paranormal romances under the name Cyn Balog and post-apocalyptic fantasy under the name Nichola Reilly. DROWNED is my latest novel. You can find out about both of us at www.cynbalog.com.

5 comments:

  1. This was also my experience growing up, though I did have some teachers who particularly pushed me to achieve (it just wasn't solely in writing). And it's also the experience of many of the students I teach now (I work for a nonprofit literary center that teaches creative writing). Their teachers are tasked with thousands of things - teaching toward tests, grinding out curricular standards, classroom management, student safety, increased class sizes, to name just a few - and the super smart kids who are doing super smart things in their off hours are really the least of their concerns.

    It's very depressing, but the happy part is that I met lots of mentors in college who directly influenced my writing, as they had more time and inclination.

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    1. Yeah, I worry that even moreso now that my kids are in school, the standards have changed so much that I'm afraid even more teachers are probably being forced to teach to tests and conform to government regulations that any time they would have devoted to helping children find and explore their passions is minimal. I really feel like as a parent, it's more my job to help my children with that, and if a teacher can help a little, great, but I'm not going to depend on it. :) Glad you found mentors in college!! That's huge!

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  2. LOVE this! I thought my college degrees had prepared me to become a writer. Not so. It took seven and a half years of BEING MY OWN TEACHER, unlearning many of the lessons of college writing courses, before I sold my first book.

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  3. What a great lesson -- the importance of being our own teachers. I learned this lesson when I was home with my children. I was very fortunate -- able to stay home for several years when my sons were little. And while I loved being able to be the mommy, I also missed being Patty. I found myself filling their naptimes with all kinds of educational materials. At the time, I thought it was because I was a bit bored but after reading your blog post, I realized it's because the love of learning, the need to teach myself, may be an instinct I had to follow.

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  4. I thought the same thing when I was 5(ish)! I glued pictures into composition books, which I thought looked like "real" books and gave them captions, always making sure to form my letters like a typewriter would. (Lowercase a's took forever).

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