Formal education has its downside…
Many kids in my generation grew up with the image of a college education as the only sure ticket out of a life of genteel poverty or manual labor. As an Engineering graduate, that was certainly true for me. On the other hand, I’ve seen many talented people earning college degrees that did not prepare them for life in the twentieth century, or the twenty-first.
Education is an absolute necessity, but the most able people I know are mainly self-taught. They went through the educational system, but they didn’t drink the KoolAid. By that, I mean that they somehow managed to think for themselves at an early age and didn’t automatically think of the instructors as Ultimate Sources of Knowledge.
They probably discovered, as I did, that you have to find your own voice, no matter what field you are in. You cannot expect someone else to give you one. Fortunately, there are some professors who do everything they can to encourage you to strike out on your own. Sometimes it works.
You don’t need permission to live, and you don’t need permission to create.
In fact, you will almost never get permission to create something original, because you are always breaking some rule when you do so.
When you experience the kind of formal education that requires you to sit, listen, make notes, and regurgitate for credit, your success tends to make you wary of striking out on your own. After all, you have achieved high marks by being an efficient sponge and spitting back what the instructor wanted to hear. You may even find that independent research gets you into trouble because your sources conflict with the instructor’s opinions or political leanings.
Even if you have a top-notch education from the very "best" of schools, you are being given a carefully selected subset of the total knowledge available, because there isn’t time to cover or even discuss data that won’t be on the "exams".
You are also exposed to the viewpoint that there are hundreds of important people in your field who are writing books and papers that you must read in order to keep up. If you listen to this advice, and many do, you are dooming yourself to be a follower, a wannabe, a perpetual student.
Let’s take the subject of creative writing. There is an infinite amount that can be learned about dialogue, tempo, voice, mood, plot, conflict, characterization, viewpoint, etc. and so forth. Let us look at the real purpose of taking courses in this subject. Are we going to become experts on creative writing as a subject, or are we going to write creatively and entertain readers?
I see too many talented people taking course after course in subjects like creative writing. They spend years preparing instead of years writing. On the other hand, I see people publishing story after story with all sorts of flaws, but they seem to be getting those stories out and are improving as they write.
The bottom line is this: If you elect to follow experts and do not wish to create on your own until you are expert, you have little chance to ever excel. You will be too old to hold a brush or use a keyboard!
Here’s a radical suggestion: If you want to write, write every day for a few hours until you are good at it. You will know when that happens, because people will start asking you how you do it or wanting you to write books.
Sure, you should take courses, but as an ADJUNCT to your writing, not as a PREREQUISITE. If you are already writing, you will be in a much better frame of mind to evaluate advice and instruction. Furthermore, you must keep writing, or designing new work all of the time, not polishing and re-polishing some precious little work until it meets with an instructor’s approval.
Turn out as much work as you can. You will learn so much more than by grinding over and over on the same thing.
Writing, designing, composing anything is a craft. Editing, reviewing, criticising are entirely different and
non-creative analytical activities. Don’t try to do both at one time. Your work will suffer.
This post was inspired by a visit to the site of one of my favorite creative people. She is just one of many who should already be in print.
Enough badgering and she will be. 🙂
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