Not all writers are wildly successful and raking in millions. Many are like me at the beginning of their author journey plugging every cent they make into book tours, swag and books for giveaways. In fact, I need more money finance my career. With that in mind, I substitute teach. After a particularly grueling day, I tell myself I made enough for a book tour.
Still, subbing was taking me away from writing. I needed to make better use of time. I decided to learn from the experience. Here are a few things I did learn.
- That bossy diva chick who gets on your last nerve started early. I met several in primary school, kindergarten, and even pre-school. (It made me think of flashbacks I could do of the heroine and the diva character in their early years to establish the relationship.)
- Personalities form early. I watched in pre-school class, a dedicated future engineer rebuild a block home that another student kept knocking down. That other student will be a demolition expert or just annoying. (This would be another great flashback scene.)
- There is a truckload of new names for me to use for my characters. I took the unusual name of Caulb from a second grader for a pivotal character.
- Laughter isn’t always hurtful; sometimes it can be a rainbow after the storm. I worked with one somber disabled child who never smiled until I started pushing him in a swing and he laughed. (It showed that something rare has more impact.)
- Mean girls start early. I observed one kindergarten girl mock her classmate until she was in tears. (I could work this into a story in a dozen ways.)
- Some children will love you for no more reason than you smiled at them or praised them. (This allows me to shape the children in the story too.)
- Others will fear you because you are an unknown quantity. (An unknown character could be a threat until proven otherwise.)
- Teachers come in a variety of flavors. There are the ones who write lesson plans that detail every minute then there are the ones who leave no lesson plans. (When writing about secondary characters, especially teachers, it is always a disservice to adhere to stereotypes.)
- Disorganization makes life hard on everyone. My job was to assist one teacher who didn’t have any of her materials ready for class. She was irritable due to not being ready and barked at the children in response. (This encouraged me to clean out my file cabinet to be a more organized writer.)
- Going to schools I have no clue as to their location and what I will be doing that day allows me to understand the challenges my characters face as they trod unfamiliar settings.
- Attitude is everything. I am not just talking about the kids here. I walked into a room late when an assistant was trying to calm a class down. Her attitude was she didn’t expect the students to listen to her. It took a while to dial them down. (This also shows me how a situation can easily get out of hand fast.)
- As a sub, sometimes I don’t have anything to do because a teacher has a planning period. The best place to go when you don’t have anything to do is the library. The librarian always needs help and it helps me catch up on my children’s literature.
By subbing, I discover a variety of people to use for characters from the positive principal who motivates students and teachers with praise to the pint-sized diva who puts her hands on her hips and instructs the boys how it is going to be. If you’re wondering, they followed her instructions without a protest.
Any situation can be used for writing purposes. It is one of the few professions were eavesdropping can qualify as research. Today, I write, but tomorrow I may be trying to memorize a conversation between two teens as they casually gossip in front of the sub.