Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Five Reasons to Learn More About Writing

I am 56 years old. I have an honors degree in political science. I've written professionally for 33 years and was a senior editor at a metropolitan daily for six of them.

And I just signed up for some more continuing education. Yes, more lessons!

Am I crazy? Shouldn't I be beyond that sort of obscure longing for improvement at this stage in my career?

I don't think so. Longing for improvement — no matter how amorphous — is healthy. It's a sign of dignity and self-respect and, frankly, it's the only way to get better at what you do. Do you know that most people don't improve their job performances once they've gone beyond basic training? Think about yourself. Have you done anything to improve your work performance in the last five years?

Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston-based surgeon and writer, has taken some dramatic steps in his own career. Two years ago, he hired a surgical coach — to the apparent shock of his colleagues and patients. I encourage you to read about his experience in his article in the New Yorker.

In the recent past, I too, have taken a fair bit of coaching. (Although in my lower-profile case it required less chutzpah than Gawande demonstrated.) I had a really good business coach for about a year. Then I took some Internet coaching. I also enrolled in an excellent two-day public speaking course. And right now I have a search engine optimization (SEO) coach based in England with whom I speak by Skype once a month.

Furthermore, I recently took a course on Deliberate Practice, a rich area for any writer.

As I thought about how to convey to you my passion for continuing education, I made a list about what, exactly, appeals. I think it comes down to five reasons:

  1. I want to get better at what I'm doing. Perhaps this is simply more evidence of my ongoing struggle with perfectionism (perfectionism is not a good thing, if you didn't know that) but I think it also reflects the intrinsic joy many of us get out of learning how to do something better.
  2. Taking a course makes learning more fun. Getting better at something is often not particularly amusing — think, for example, of how hard it is to run or do pushups if you haven't done either in six months. But when a teacher or coach doles out the messages in bite-sized pieces and, when you have the opportunity to connect with other learners, you can have a really good time while learning.
  3. When I get better at something, I can do it faster. This gives me the ability to spend my time and attention on other interesting tasks. Like most people I enjoy feeling efficient and productive. If I get my work done quickly, I have more time for other things I really like to do such as reading, walking or cooking.
  4. Learning eliminates boredom. Have you ever noticed that the more you learn about something the more interesting it becomes? Aren't you more interested in what happens to friends than to strangers? Similarly, if you learn more about a task or a subject, you start to care more about it. And your caring affects your performance.
  5. Being competent eliminates fear and anxiety. If there's something I do regularly, I want to look forward to it, not fear it. Regular learning helps me do that.

Despite being a professional writer, I used to dread writing. Now it's my favorite activity of the day. Learning more is what made it that way.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday September 18th 2013, 7:30 AM
Comment by: MARIA G. (new york, NY)
Wednesday September 18th 2013, 8:40 AM
Comment by: Roberta M. (Redmond, WA)
I think it is also good to reflect that skill, (like love) never remains the same from day to day. It grows or it wilts. The person who has stopped working on his skills is not staying in the same place. He (or she) is drying up. Wilting.

Besides, Daphne, as you say, learning is wonderful fun!
Wednesday September 18th 2013, 11:25 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
You make an excellent point, Roberta. Many of us think it's possible to stay the same. In fact, if you're not improving, you're getting worse! Scary thought.
Thursday September 19th 2013, 8:59 AM
Comment by: Sreedhar S.
Inspiring !!
Thursday September 26th 2013, 5:38 AM
Comment by: John D. (Kambah Australia)
Daphne, you remind us that professional training is a fast track to irrelevance. I am trained in legal research, and I have written extensively in that field. It was a shock for me to be told by an editor that my novel required extensive editing. Slowly, I am seeing why!

Bless you Daphne.

John D'Mille
Tuesday October 8th 2013, 7:54 AM
Comment by: LEE (New York, NY)
I remember writing as a young child, but never pursued a writing career as an adult. Sure I was an excellent secretary/administrative assistant, but it wasn't until I left that career at 62 years of age that I began my last career which I am now enjoying. My husband passed away 4 years ago, and at that time I was devastated. Having problems getting past my loss, I thought it might help if I wrote down my feelings and emotions. Thus, started my poetry career. Since I have always continued my education, taking at least one class a year, I chose to attend writing classes. Through all this I became a user of Visual Thesaurus, and haven't looked back.

Reviewing words daily and reading VTs articles gets my creative juices going each morning.
Thursday October 10th 2013, 11:14 PM
Comment by: Renee S.
I am not a "professional writer". But every job I've loved requires some extensive writing. I struggle with writing (I just realized most people do). At age 59, I enrolled in a doctoral program that requires me to write a lot. It's hard, but I want to get better. Thank you, Daphne, Roberta, and John. Your comments will keep me inspired. I've hired a writing coach.

Warm regards,

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