Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy

One question aspiring authors frequently ask me is, "How do I get started in the writing business?" After stating the obvious answer, "By writing," I might go deeper by explaining what other established writers did on their way from obscurity to fame and acclaim: "Start small." Many novelists started as short story writers and either collected their published stories as a volume or expanded one or more of those stories into a larger literary work. Writers of any type do the same. Playwrights often begin with short plays leading to full-length ones, poets with a diverse batch of published poems that they shape into a book-length collection, and essayists with a single 1,500-word article on a subject they later master, leading to a comprehensive treatment in a 75,000-word study. Starting small minimizes the risk of wasting huge chunks of times on a potentially abandoned project, mitigates the pain of receiving countless rejections from publishers, and hastens the gratification of completing a project.

The next question I might hear is, "But even starting small, where do I start?" The temptation is to give the curt answer: "Start by writing what you know." Instead, I say, "Start with what you have already written." By reviewing past writing, the novice becomes an instant editor, reviewing a manuscript for quality just as a professional editor would.

Starting small and using what I had were the case with my book The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy. This book is a collection of 17 essays, 7 of which appeared in various literary and scholarly print and online journals, and 4 more of which appeared in publications after the book release. I wrote some of these essays in response to my eclectic reading, some as presentations for professional conferences, and even some as homework assignments when in a doctoral program. None of my work went to waste, especially when I saw a pattern emerge among these pieces.

The common bond of these essays is my passion for education, writing, and philosophy. The first essay, the prologue, titled "Reflections of the Inner Voice," describes how writers and writing teachers might integrate their reading and living experiences to realize their inner voice. The first section, "Foundations," collects 11 essays on great ideas from Western educational philosophy, including works of Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Vico, Hume, Kant, DiderotRousseau, Dewey, KierkegaardNietzsche, Dostoevsky, Camus, and Sartre. This part provides new writers and writing teachers with a basis from which they may ground their learning and teaching strategies. The middle section, "Considerations," offers 2 more essays as a means of assessing the writing and teaching profession. The final section, "Applications," includes 3 practical approaches for the writing teacher: in integrating the personal and the professional, and in dealing with administrators, and in teaching students. 

Writing students and teachers, developing writers, and armchair philosophers will find some of their own ideas in this book--and they'll be sure to discover an idea or two along the way. So write what you know and start with what you have.