Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Unconventional Education

One of the things I love most about my husband is his thirst for learning. A day is never complete unless he's managed to learn at least one new thing. He loves to learn for the sake of improving his job skills, yes, but he is equally delighted in knowledge for its own sake.
We have discussions ranging from technology to ancient history, and are never bored with each other. A real blessing.

I've almost always enjoyed more unconventional methods of gaining knowledge and skills than sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher regurgitate the contents of a reading assignment.
The really great teachers used the text to springboard to more complex material, bringing their students along, and encouraging them to reach even further beyond what is known. They taught the basics of how to acquire knowledge and skills, rather than force feeding us what had been gathered by others.

Now that I've been out of the educational system for a few decades, I count myself very lucky to have had those teachers, especially as my career goals and capabilities changed and I've had to learn new parameters, new paradigms and find tools to build skills to go along with them.

Since I started taking my writing seriously, new avenues to learning the craft have opened up. These days, you can take workshops online, or join a forum and throw a question out to more experienced authors and gain knowledge in a very organic way.

Without the structure and deadlines associated with a standard classroom, it can sometimes be difficult to motivate yourself to do what you need to do, learn what you need to learn to be successful. The big motivator for me is that if I don't learn these skills, I won't attain my goal of making a living as a writer.

An important part of the submission process is writing a synopsis of your work. Some writers enjoy this, most look on it as a combination dentist visit and toenail extraction. On the theory that it is easier to synopsize the work of someone else, I applied to write reviews for Fresh Fiction, and was accepted.

An added benefit (besides the free books!) is that I am reading books I might not otherwise have picked up. I find myself comparing genres, and the tools used for all as compared to those used specifically for the niche of the book.

Since starting down this path, reading a book has become a different experience. Things like chapter length, scene structure, depth of characterization have become intensely interesting, and while remaining caught in the story line, I find myself making mental notes of an author's technique or turn of phrase, and trying to decide the reason behind their choice. When an author can draw me into a plot strongly enough to NOT take these mental notes, the book goes on my 'keeper' shelf. They have skills I want badly to acquire!

At any rate, I guess my point is now that information and opportunities are no more than a click a way, we can, to some extent, create our own system of learning, become journeymen in a guild of our choosing, or just acquire knowledge for its own sake, because it's interesting, and leads us down paths we'd never imagine on our own.

I was around when Archie, Veronica and Jughead were travel guides on the Gopher express, and still remember the thrill of sitting in my house in Battle Creek, Michigan, while reading something published online in a New Zealand university.
The internet has been around long enough to become as basic and accepted as a slice of toast in the morning. I hope I never take it for granted.

(image is my photo of a carved graffiti infinity symbol in a local park, still messing around with this one.)

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