Monday, March 26, 2012
WHAT I LEARNED TEACHING A WORKSHOP
Last Saturday ten eager writers gathered in an all day workshop to learn how to publish their work to Kindle. I sat in front of this class, all twenty eyes drilling me, shouting teach, teach, teach. This wasn't my idea, and I didn't really feel qualified, but having learned by the seat of my pants, I was willing to give it a try. Only because last fall, several members of the critique group of which I'm a co-chair begged me to teach them…and so I did. All were well satisfied and some already have their work up on Kindle.
A brief background on how I came to know enough to have the audacity to think I could teach someone else. Though I've been using computers since 1988 when DOS was king and not a mouse to be found anywhere, I'm basically computer illiterate. But over the years I learned how to write and format newspaper articles and a column and write novels. Anything else was, and still is, beyond my abilities. When something new comes along I have to take time out from my writing and promoting to learn it. With a lot of help, I might add. I give a lot of credit to my newspaper editor, Robert Sprague and a good friend, Lois Kleinsasses, who also goes by the name of Cait London. Both have spent a lot of time teaching me the ropes.
Still, I felt "who the heck did I think I was" Saturday when the class began. Three Mac users were in the crowd, and I know nothing about how a Mac works. Heck, I don't even know how different PCs work. I could only hope that those who came would know enough about their own computers to do what I asked of them. Sadly, a few didn't, but we all worked it out together.
Why is it that document files on three different computers, all with Word in Windows, look so different? Why don't they all look like mine? Easy to instruct them as long as their computers and mine acted and reacted the same, but they didn't. This caused bogging down in the step by step information I offered. With the help of those who were well versed in computering we got by those hurdles.
One student laughed and said she once taught Jr. High, and the questions and groans of despair in reaction to my instructions reminded her much of that experience. A bunch of fourteen-year-olds, she muttered as she pecked away on her Mac.
Instructions in this class begin with running the document through a Text file to clear up the hidden code that Word leaves behind when the writer does something incorrectly, like using the space bar or tab to indent the first line of a paragraph. If this isn't cleaned out it will cause all sorts of errors in the final Kindle copy. Bet you've seen those books that haven't been cleaned up and formatted properly. Stuff runs together, half the paragraphs either aren't indented in their entireity or are indented into the center of the page.
Kindle, my friends is not the screen of your computer. And uploading a clean, easily readible copy of your book or story to Kindle is not as simple as uploading a Word document, like so many would have you believe. You do that and you've got a mess and your reputation as a careful author goes down the tubes.
But what I learned was patience, compassion, how to repeat myself four times without sounding frustrated, and most of all, how to be humble. Just cause I can do it after practicing and spending several months getting it just right, doesn't mean I'm capable of teaching it quickly and efficiently. Nope, that didn't happen.
However, at the end of the day, everyone seemed satisfied that they'd learned something valuable. They could upload one of their books to Kindle and have it turn out properly formatted. Thank goodness, I only try to teach the basics. No inserting of images, hot linking of chapters or making the book cover. Teaching that will come another day…or not. By the time you read this I will have taught a second all day workshop. No telling what I'll learn from that.