Writing Challenges · 20 February 2010

My friend Tim has chosen to make me better. A better writer and teacher. I have chosen to make him better too. Like steel sharpens steel, we help each other get better by talking, collaborating, and giving each other challenges. Lately, the challenges Tim has given me have been fun, but a bit distracting.

Tim likes to remind me that I am a writer. He forgets that I already realize I am a writer who loves to teach. Like any professional, I must practice my craft. So I write this column each week while trying to become a better teacher as well. I also write other pieces to become a better story teller. After all, whether writing for my digital audience, or for the local newspaper, or just for practice, I need to hone my skills. And story telling is a primary skill for any writer.

Which brings me back to the challenges Tim has been giving me lately. One of the components of the classes he teaches is story telling. When his cinema students create movies, it is the rare one that has a great story, simply because most have not been telling stories very long. As Tim and I were talking about it, I realized that I have been telling stories in written form for almost thirty years. (To my wife’s chagrin, I still have boxes with notebooks of my writing filling up the nooks and crannies of our house.)

Tim was wondering about a new method of getting his students to tell stories. Actually, the method is not new, but having it as part of his class is. The method is to give the students a situation, prop, and line and make them create a script in half an hour or maybe only fifteen minutes. It is a great writing and creative challenge. So naturally, he has been giving it to me. Three prompt in three days. Naturally, I have taken the challenge.

Thankfully, Tim has given me the challenges at the end of the day. While I do not have any way to write down my response during my commute home, I have come up with decent stories on my drive. They will not win any academy awards for short pieces, but they are pretty decent for only a half hour of work. I even wrote each of them out using the proper script format, albeit after the fact.

To show Tim that I did not take more than the allotted time, I sent him emails after I got home. On the first occasion, I sent him a short description of the setup and punch line. The second one, I sent a description of the movie plot. And in response to the third challenge, I sent him a complete script. I have since had the chance to write the complete scripts for all of the pieces, although at the time of this writing, my challenger had not even read my responses.

I am not sure if I have lived up to my part of the bargain of challenging my colleague and friend. He has certainly challenged me to become a better writer and teacher these past four or five years. I have enjoyed sharpening each other’s skills at teaching, writing, and photography. And truth be told, I have even enjoyed these past writing challenges. Regardless of how much I have complained to Tim. Still, I do not know that I have challenged Tim enough. Although he seems to be able to keep himself entertained and challenged.

Every professional should be surrounded by friends and colleagues who challenge him to become better. I am glad that I have many friends like Tim who constantly challenge me that way. I hope that I do the same for Tim and the rest of those friends. Even if it is a little uncomfortable or distracting.

I know that I have become a better writer and teacher by knowing Tim. And I have thanked him often for helping to make me better at what I do. I often complain about his script prompts, even though they are a great challenge for my commute home. (But do not tell that to Tim.)

© 2010 Michael T. Miyoshi

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