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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest Author, John Vorhaus: Those Who Can Do

I recently came across a post by John Vorhaus at Writer Unboxed. When he mentioned his upcoming workshop at the Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town Pasadena, I wrote to him right away. Not only is John from the San Gabriel Valley, he's also a prolific author and an experienced writing teacher. Please welcome today's guest author, John Vorhaus.
I’ve been a writer forever. Then one day I became a teacher of writers, and the very next morning woke up with a big headache, because somebody told me, “Those who can’t do, teach,” and that made me feel sad. But then I asked myself, well, why do I teach? The answer was simple: I teach because it helps me learn; whenever there’s something I want to understand better, I try to find someone to pay me to teach it. I’ve done that with writing, public speaking, poker, even mime, and I’ve found it a very effective life strategy; I commend it to your attention. 

I also teach, though, because it helps other people (mimes, writers, poker players, what-have-you) and I seem to get a great deal of pleasure out of helping. The joke I tell on myself is, “Don’t thank me, I define myself through service.” But John Wesley Harding says, “Your jokes will become your reality,” so I guess mine has.

Still, though, "Those who can't do, teach," what do I do with that? For one thing, I can look at my body of work and say, "Hey, now, that's just not true." After all, I've written more than a dozen books, including novels (The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey), writing books (The Comic Toolbox, Creativity Rules) and many, many books on poker. So you can't say I'm not entirely a "can't-do" guy. But even if I were, so what? I happen to think I'm a pretty darn good teacher, in that I can communicate instruction clearly and helpfully, I care about my students and wish to see them improve, and I have a passion for the work. With all of this in mind, I've managed to kill the ugly little ogre of, "Those who can't do, teach," and replace him with a much friendlier, cuddlier motto:

"Those who can do, do both."

Which brings me by roundabout means to my upcoming workshop, Living the Writer’s Life (August 13 in Pasadena). Like all my writing classes, it's designed to help writers close the gap between where they are in their writing lives and where they want to be. We'll cover a lot of global writing issues related to the practice of writing, and also lots of nuts/bolts stuff like killing writer's block, building great characters, and creating stories from scratch. So come along if you want to have a day's worth of writing fun and be a better writer when you're done.

But that's not the point of this post. Really, it isn't. Because whether you come to my workshop or not, I have your attention now, and thus the chance to speak to you directly. So let me say this: If you're a writer, keep writing. If you have any artistic or creative passion, keep chasing it. Win or lose – best-seller or no seller – chasing your passion is the number one way to make your life rise. The number two way is teaching, so you might try your hand at that. Because those who can do, do both.

And – take it from me – teachers always learn.

John Vorhaus resides in cyberspace at johnvorhaus.com and tweets, for no apparent reason, @TrueFactBarFact. Stop by and say hi.

20 comments:

Shanna said...

YES! Those who "can do" CAN do anyting, yet may choose to teach.

dive said...

Inspirational stuff, John!
At the recent teachers' strike in London I saw some little kids carrying a wonderful banner that read: "If you can read this, thank a teacher."

Kate said...

Bravo! What a guy; hope that you are taking his workshop. I once had a fresh-faced kid use that same phrase on me (words of wisdom from insufferable parent), but it only made me chuckle. Nothing quite like turning a phrase or seeing the light-bulb go on...both great self-satisfying moments. Love the title of "Albuquerque Turkey" and decide I should find it and read it if it appeals to me.

Susan Campisi said...

John, hello! How exciting to meet another local author.

Why does our culture feel the need to denigrate teachers? I always hated that phrase. Did Woody Allen pen it? A good teacher transforms lives, and I get the sense you fall into that category. I'll be out of town August 13th, but I hope I'll get the opportunity to take another one of your workshops. And I'll definitely check out your books. Love the covers and titles.

Petrea Burchard said...

It's older than Woody Allen, but I don't know where it came from. Both my parents were teachers--good ones, who could do the things they taught--and they'd heard it, too. John can obviously write. That's a lot of books!

Steven said...

Now that's what I call some great writing John. What you just wrote in this post is really a blueprint for a successful life. Your character shows in every word.

John Vorhaus said...

Thanks, all, for the kind words. Thanks especially for saying that my character shows in every word. That's something I strive for, for it dovetails with one of my favorite themes, "Keep giving them you until you is what they want." -jv

John Sandel said...

How many books on poker are we talking, again?

Bellis said...

Welcome to PDP, John. I checked out California Roll on Amazon, and it's whetted my appetite. You pick the best book titles!

Margaret said...

Like John, I write and also teach writing. I agree that you learn a lot from teaching in general, but you learn a whole lot from teaching writing. Teaching writing teaches you to open to other people and their stories, which is a wonderful lesson.

Petrea Burchard said...

I like that, Margaret. I assume that to be good at teaching writing one has to be open not only to peoples' stories but how they tell them--their style, if you will--and not impose that on them. That would be a hard job for a control freak.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Welcome John

I like your bowling shirt with the faux leopard collar. You are definitely one of the natives. I hope your writing workshop goes well and you get a class of interesting students.

pasadenapio said...

We're glad to have you with us, John. I'm always thrilled when writers are writing (and teaching)!

Desiree said...

Great stuff John!
Thanks, Petrea, for showcasing him--

Petrea Burchard said...

This is my pleasure. We have talent galore in the SGV, and I'm loving the guest author posts. The next one will be August 27th.

magiceye said...

that was so insightful


thank you Petrea for your concern and good wishes on my post

John Vorhaus said...

Thanks to everyone who weighed in with comments today. I hope you'll follow me @TrueFactBarFact, at www.writerunboxed, and the many other places online I lurk. Best, -jv

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, John! It's been a treat to have you here today.

Karen said...

"Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym."
--Woody Allen, from Annie Hall

Always thought it was a dumb saying and frankly made no sense (though Allen's coda about the gym teachers ...).

If you want to teach something, surely you have to master it and be better at it than the average doer, right?

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Karen. Now I see why Susan thought Woody Allen wrote the line. He didn't, he just refined it.

As to your theory, I'm sure you're right. I understand where the derogatory idea comes from, but it's an unfair judgment of those who don't become stars. Most people don't--stardom is virtually impossible. A person who doesn't become the star player on the basketball team might become the coach, for example. That person still has to know every nuance of the game and have the personality and patience to mentor all types of players.