Are there any among us who have undertaken a new endeavor, project, or sought to learn a new skill and demonstrated immediate mastery? Have any of us mastered anything entirely through our own trial, error and perseverance? Even Beethoven, one of the greatest composers of all time, was not self-taught. By the time he was 9 years old he’d had five different music instructors.
If Beethoven had considerable instruction in music, then how much greater need have we for guidance in our humble pursuits?
Ours is a modern world where face to face interaction and tutoring is being replaced by books, e-learning, webinars, video lectures and other virtual teaching methods. How then are we to improve our craft and develop expertise in the vocation of our choice if we are left to learn and develop on our own?
I offer four avenues for consideration that have worked for me and have built up my base ability level in writing to the point where I am comfortable with both my skill and my current limitations. You can apply these principles to any pursuit of your choice, from learning to play to chess, starting a vegetable garden, acquiring skills in public speaking, or earning a black belt in jujitsu.
- Attend classes – Nearly all of us learned to read and write and perform math via classrooms in the elementary school setting. This is a universal method of teaching and learning that presents information, lessons, activities, and skill-building from a teacher or instructor who has already mastered those areas. Classes are available for nearly everything imaginable from martial arts in the local dojo, to guitar or piano from a local music center, to university extension courses. This a great way to start a new pursuit and to learn and build on the basics. As I mentioned in my initial post, it was from my sophomore English teacher that my initial foray into fiction writing began.
- Read books on the subject – Many experts in the field of your choice do not teach classes, but instead write books, articles, or essays on the subject. Many even have websites dedicated to sharing that knowledge. This method allows you to deepen and broaden your knowledge base with new and varied ideas that you may not receive in a classroom with a fixed curriculum that has been generalized for a group setting. You can find more specialized information about areas of your pursuit that interest you. For me, even with two long ago university creative writing courses under my belt, I still bought and have read dozens of writing books. I am currently reading Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld, a writing book that focuses on the unit of action in a scene and how to maximize the value and impact of each word in those scenes. This is a unique and specific take on writing that I needed when I bought the book.
- Practice, practice, practice. What more can I say about this? Use what you’ve learned in class, online, or via books you’ve read and put all that theory to the test. Going to class and reading books does not make a writer, or engineer, or nurse. Applying the learning in a real world scenario, for that is where the learning is cemented into our minds. Our muscles develop what athletes call “muscle memory”. Repetition in sports create the ability to repeat a desired behavior with precision. We need repetition in any endeavor to hone our skills and deepen our understanding. I have read it takes a million written words to achieve expertise in writing and other skills take upwards of 1000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. There is no overnight success.
- Feedback. If you attend a class, your work will no doubt be reviewed and graded by your instructor and often you will benefit from peer review of work or through group projects. However, items 2 and 3 above include work done in a relative vacuum and this necessitates deliberate solicitation of feedback. So, at least for writing, getting others to read your work and providing a critique is important to your progress. Whether you find a mentor, have a spouse who loves to read, or join a writers group, find someone willing and able to read your work and provide an objective analysis. This feedback is of great value. As a writer, I’ve spent so much time with the story in my head that I have lost objectivity in translating that vision to a written version. Another set of eyes and another opinion can quickly point out a flawed character, illogical plot device, poor description, bad word choice, and a host of other issues to which you the writer may be blind. I have a supportive spouse who loves to read and reads fantasy, so she is always my first reader. As of August, I am in a writer’s group with a great bunch of aspiring epic fantasy writers and the feedback they’ve provided on my first few chapters has opened my eyes to many opportunities for improvement. Feedback is invaluable.
Who needs feedback?
Everyone. If you pursue excellence and achievement in any area, learn what you can from teachers, self-study, and practice, but don’t miss an opportunity to seek feedback from peers and potential customers. You will accelerate your developement and find more satisfaction as your skill progresses. Don’t be afraid of the time it takes it learn. Don’t allow fear of performing poorly to deter you from trying. Like I said in my last post, persistence is more important than talent. Go for it. Make it happen. Start today. Start right now.
What are your tricks to learning? How has feedback benefited you? Please share so that I may learn from you.
And speaking of feedback…I would benefit from your feedback on this blog. Thanks in advance…