Good writing makes us our most honest selves, and as a faculty mentor I'm fundamentally committed to coaching students as they work to set down the truth - whether it takes the form of fiction or nonfiction. When I work with a student, my most important job is to notice everything I can about that student's writing. Because the best way I know to understand writing is through detail - what Ryszard Kapuscinski called "the universe in the raindrop" - I focus on very close readings of student manuscripts. I try to read not only the story that's on the page, but also the story that might only be hinted at, because the writer hasn't yet dared write it. Sometimes this kind of reading leads us to focus together on what initially seemed only a faint tracery on the page - but might in fact be the barely audible heartbeat of the story that the writer truly needs to tell. My students know I'd rather they take risks and fail than write safe stories that leave no mark on either reader or writer. I congratulate my students on attempting each big leap, even if they fall hard - that sort of failure is productive, necessary, catalyzing.
I write fiction and nonfiction and have edited radio drama, but I learn a great deal from other genres and art forms, and I encourage my students to do the same - to attend playwriting workshops, read craft books written for sculptors. Art should always be surprising, and I want my students to surprise themselves; to raise the bar again and again; to be delighted by their own and others' contributions to the fledgling writing community that is a workshop. I believe in taking a student's writing more seriously than he or she may have dared take it... I tend to focus intensely on character development, as so much of a story's structure and plot grow out of character... I have a particular interest in the ways in which history and politics are metabolized through art. That said, I try to leaven seriousness with humor, with compassion, and with the sense that good writing is absolutely essential, though producing it can feel like pulling one's soul through a sieve.
If we do this work well together, then the heartbeat of a story, perhaps only faintly audible in the first draft, strengthens. These are the best moments. A student revises and I critique, the student revises and revises again... and then abruptly the student is off and running without need of more advice, and we're looking at a draft together, and we can all of us hear that heart beating.
Listen to Rachel Kadish talk about her work on Lesley's podcast, Why We Write. Also available here: iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or Spotify.