I've been teaching my Writing For Children course at London City University for a term and a half now. It's a short course - ten weekly classes in which I try to distil the essence of writing for - erm - children. When I first got the gig, I didn't worry too much about how I would teach the course: I had ten years' worth of teaching adults under my belt and eight books for children and teens in the shops. I knew I had the experience and the knowledge to devise and deliver a syllabus. What I didn't know was how much of my own writing was done on instinct.
I've never taken any formal writing courses. When I decided I wanted to write children's books, I read a lot of them first and then just gave it my best shot. So it's been interesting to sit down and work out the rules of writing for children (in as much as they actually exist) and to see how many things I do without realising I'm doing them. For example, one of the things I tell my students about is the three act story structure, beloved of scriptwriters everywhere, where rising tension is offset against a series of incidents that drive the story to its climax. Without realising I was doing it, I had given my characters pivotal moments and conflict to overcome, led them to a dark moment when it seemed everything was lost and then hit them with the climax of the story and gave them their resolution. I understood what made a good story without understanding why.
Explaining POV has shown me why writing in the first person is often easier for beginners - it's more difficult (but by no means impossible) to slip out of your character's viewpoint when you are inside their head. And teaching about one-dimensional characters has been a revelation about where I might have skimped on character development myself, especially where my antagonists are concerned. One of my students asked me for an example of a one-dimensional character in children's literature and I struggled for a week to come up with a true example of a flat character. Then I realised that they don't necessarily exist - they get weeded out or strengthened during the publishing process. But it was still a timely reminder to ensure that I know my characters' history and motivation.
I wouldn't say that teaching the Writing For Children course is teaching me how to write. But it does seem to be revealing some of the things I never knew I knew.