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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.