Sep
24
2011
6

How To Get Started…

People keep asking me how to get started writing, ebook formatting, and copyediting, so I thought I’d do a series. I’m not actually sure how I got started, so I hope you’ll contribute with your advice, as well.

A programming friend of mine says most of the coders he meets, more than those with computer degrees, are either ex-teachers or graduates of the seminary.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Probably the number one skill one needs to start anything is the ability to self-educate. Teachers learn how to teach, and so they know how to teach themselves, and in seminary school, students learn how to question and investigate everything they do and don’t know.

Penelope Trunk, an eccentric blogger who’s made a career of predicting and understanding how each generation works in and impacts the workforce, says that homeschooled kids will rule the world when Gen Z hits the workplace.

Why?

Because they know how to teach themselves. They’ll be able to figure out which skill they need to learn next for their career, and then they’ll be able to direct their own education.

Question what you think you know: Better yet, pretend you know nothing. This is probably the most dangerous area to skip, and yet the area people skip the most. Most of the time when people start a sentence with “I remember learning in college,” they are wrong. Often they are correct in the information, but incorrect in the application, if that makes sense.

Search for what you don’t know: The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn. It’s why I haven’t finished my Kindle Formatting series. It was easy to start when I was a beginner, but now I’ve learned too much. I thought I could explain it all in ten or so posts, but once I got through about five, I realized that to do it thoroughly, I’d need two hundred or so posts.

Keep leveling up: I constantly ask myself what I can learn next. The invisible things you think you don’t really need to know are the things that will take you from competence to excellence.

Get an edge by linking across disciplines: When I was a piano teacher, I studied the Suzuki teaching method even though I thought it wasn’t completely right for piano. (It is for other instruments.) But no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Investigate everything.

I also aggressively studied child psychology, self-help psychology, leadership books, business books, parenting books, homeschooling books, teaching philosophy books, sports coaching books, marketing, peak performance science, language learning, and motivation science.

Know everything in your field, and then link outside of it.

How do you get started when teaching yourself something?

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Dec
07
2009
32

What Is Your Grace?

image I’m reading Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. It’s one of those deceptive books, where you think you’re reading a fairly good story, but for the first half you’re a bit puzzled as to why you can’t put it down.

Then BAM! About halfway through, you suddenly realize that this book is one of those books that changes you, one of those books that makes you think about yourself in a new way, one of those books that teaches you something elemental that you can’t quite put you finger on, but you can feel it’s there, working inside you.

And it’s something good.

A “grace” in the book is an extraordinary talent only a few are “cursed” with. Katsa is led to believe her talent is one thing, but halfway through the book, she sits and thinks and studies herself, and realizes her talent is actually something else entirely.

image It’s funny, her realization was timed perfectly with my own realization. I was reading along, and for some reason, it occurred to me that the problem I’m having with one of my WIPs is that I’m not empathizing with my characters enough.

As I read further along, I had absolutely no idea where the story was going. In my own writing, this is all but a sin. I’m a “planter.” If a gun goes off at the end, I make sure to place it on the mantle in chapter one. I try to hint at my entire story in the first page, and I try to plant the entire novel in the first chapter. So I was wondering if my stories lack suspense and are predictable.

I decided I would go back and read a few to see.

As I had these two epiphanies, I thought back to those who are big fans of critique partners, because the main reason to have them are to see your work in a different way. It bothers me, sometimes, that I don’t have a burning desire for the whole critiquing thing.

It’s not fashionable.

I love critiquing others’ work, because I learn so much, but to me it’s so close to teaching that I can’t critique their work; they probably wouldn’t get the best of me unless I were their critique partner for a year, or something insane like that, and deconstructed where they are, where they want to go, how to get there, who they are, how they work, and how they learn.

Teaching is so ingrained in me, that critiquing always makes me feel a bit like I’m teaching blindfolded without knowing the student. I know critiquing and teaching are different things, but teaching is me.

image But that doesn’t explain why I only ask for help myself rarely and when I’m absolutely desperate or scared. I mean, I love edits. I get a professional crush on most of my professional editors; I think they’re the coolest. Copyeditors, too. People complain about copyeditors, but I love copyedits. They’re fun to play with.

Then I thought about my two epiphanies, and how bored and disappointed I would be if they had come from someone else. I live for these epiphanies; I’m constantly seeking them out, turning my stuff over, looking at it in a different light, analyzing others’ stuff, and deconstructing this writing thing.

I always say I’ll seek out critique partners when I come up empty on how I can improve, but I rarely come up empty.

I realized then my talent isn’t writing; it’s learning, deconstructing, teaching. In piano, I knew how to deconstruct musical talent and teach someone to actually be talented. I can shift my thinking to look at things in a new light. I know how to learn and how to improve. I know how to study others and learn from them.

And that’s not just my “grace,” but my fun, my delight, my raison d’etre.

What is your grace? What is your raison d’etre? Or maybe I mean, what is your raison d’ecrire? (Your reason for writing.)

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing,Writing Craft | Tags: , , , ,
Oct
26
2009
38

Quantity and Learning

How do you learn? I think this an important question if you’re a writer, because a writing career is really just an endless path of learning. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.

There are many types of learners, but one of the spectrums is quantity vs. focus. (I was going to say quantity vs. quality, but that implies that quantity learners don’t reach quality, and that just isn’t true.)

Focused Learning

Let’s take music. :-) When teaching Sonatina form, there are two approaches (three if you count the more common in-between approach). One approach is to teach one Sonatina, work on it for a year, and dig into every corner and really understand it. The theory is that if you learn one Sonatina really well, you’ll be able to apply it to all Sonatinas.

This is great for some students. They flourish under this kind of work. They extract everything that can be learned about Sonatinas from a single Sonatina. (Not that they only one in their lifetime. Just an example.)

Quantity Learning

For other students, they will continue to play the same way they first learned the piece. They’ll reach a point, some more quickly than others, where they will learn nothing more with that piece, and all the months of work they continue to do on it will offer up little progress. And, in fact, continuing work on it will reinforce everything they’re doing wrong, making it more likely for them to get worse.

With those learners, it is best to learn five or seven or ten Sonatinas a year. The first ones will be sloppy and horrid. By the time they get to their tenth Sonatina, though, what they learn for you during the first week is pretty near performance ready.

Aren’t these sub-headings pretty?

In music, I’d say both types of learners make the same progress by the end of the year, although it seems that the quantity learners have a better foundation for a real career. That may be piano-specific.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do something, as long as you do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a quantity or single-focused learner, as long as you learn.

What kind of writer are you? Where on the quantity spectrum do you work best? Have you tried both ways? In between?

38 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags:

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