Sunday, April 7, 2013


This semester I've been teaching three writing courses. I'm covering exactly the same material, and teach it three times. One was an eight week course, which met from 2-4:50 twice a week.  Another class continues to meet for twelve weeks. A third is also still underway, and stretches over a fourteen week period,  meeting for an hour each session.  The students are of similar backgrounds and abilities, all enrolled in the same institution, and two of the classes even met at the same time of the day - except one was on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I was surprised to discover that the eight week class floundered.  Several people failed. Meanwhile the fourteen week class seems to thrive.

Another professor was packing up her books as I arrived one afternoon, and we discussed our students' progress. "Mine aren't doing too well," she told me. "For the first time, reading their essays, I didn't know what to say."  So I told her about my longer course, and how much better they seemed to be doing with the material.

"I wonder if we are going too fast," I said. "They don't have time in between classes to read, and they don't have enough time between writing assignments.  We are covering too much material in too short a time."

"I believe it's like making soup,"  said the other professor. "You may have the same ingredients, but what you really need is time for the flavors to simmer and absorb."

I think she is absolutely right.  It's all about pacing. That's what it comes down to.  Time to ponder, time to mull things over in your thoughts before you begin to write, before you finish writing, and before you begin another assignment.  There again, you don't need too much time.  You don't want things to go cold or become overcooked. 

 I find that pacing is one of the things I most admire in good writing, and it's also one of the most difficult things to achieve myself,  as a writer.  Patience in telling a story - the ability to keep up momentum and impetus, but to hold out a bit, not to go too fast. When I'm writing a story, I sometimes know the major scenes I want, but it's never a matter of stringing them together.  Other things have to happen between the important scenes in order for the events described to have the impact I'm aiming for.

This holds true for sculpture. I haven't been sculpting as long as I've been writing.  But recently I discovered that pacing was missing in my sculpture.  Guita, a teacher in a figurative sculpture class, pointed this out to me.  "You are getting too quickly to the movement here," she said - gesturing down the back of the figure I was working on.  "You need more space between here," she said,  "and here..." meaning the hips of the model.  It was a valuable piece of advice.  I tried it, and I think it works better in the piece below.

Yes, even sculpture must be paced - the movement must draw your eye from one point to another,  in its own time.  Perhaps that's why some pieces have more presence and impact than others.  They hold you in time, and you must yield to their sense of pace.  The same goes for teaching.  I must try to remember that!

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