It may be horrifying for lay folks to learn this fact, but there is a mantra in residency called, “watch one, do one, teach one.” As an intern, I did not have the luxury of watching scores of intravenous insertions before I tackled my own. Lumbar punctures are done less frequently. If I had been supervised just once by my senior resident doing a spinal tap and had been deemed competent, chances are when the next one came along, I’d be supervising someone else doing one. It may not have always been literally one procedure under my belt before I’m teaching it, but it sure wasn’t much more.
That’s why it doesn’t strike me as strange or unusual that after publishing one memoir, I find myself teaching a memoir-writing class at my local adult education program. And after giving one key note speech, I feel qualified to teach a speech-writing class at Grub Street, Boston. I also have no problem teaching a workshop at the University of Iowa on creating a portfolio career in writing, even though my unpaid writing gigs still outnumber my paid jobs. And I’m lecturing doctors at Harvard about medical journalism even as I work hard to advance that aspect of my career.
Now, full disclosure, I have given many, many smaller speeches in addition to the keynote, and even though my paid jobs lag behind the unpaid ones, I still have dozens of publications to my credit. I’m not a total fraud. But it’s also true: just one memoir.
But there’s another saying in medicine: teaching is learning twice. So as I research my lessons and prepare my hand-outs for the classes and workshops I teach, I’m learning, too. I learned that when I was repeating those central elements in my keynote speech, I was using the rhetorical technique called anaphora. I had to learn the difference between direct and indirect dialogue before I could teach the students in my memoir-writing class. I was fuzzy on the precise statistics on physician burn-out before I started fact-finding for my writing University of Iowa workshop. And I didn’t know much about blogging software until I had to incorporate its use into my talk at Harvard.
All of this, I hope and believe, is making me a better writer. Watch one, do one, teach one may sound like so much chutzpah to non-physicians. But in the writing world, a little chutzpah may be in order. If JK Rowling had been discouraged by rejection and not believed in herself, we never would have met Harry Potter. Likewise Joseph Heller and his character Captain Yossarian. Both Catch-22 and The Sorcerer’s Stone were rejected before being published. All writers need self-assurance. We have enough critics and skeptics in our lives without being doubters of our own abilities.
So I will continue watching one (in the form of reading great writers’ works), doing one (by continuously working on my craft), and teaching one (by sharing what I’ve learned along the way).