When to get some continuing education for writing

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Should you consider getting some continuing education for your writing? I give five tips to help you figure out when/why to do it….

Back when I was 21 years old, with a brand new honours degree in political science tucked under my arm, I thought I knew everything. If someone had asked me, “when will you know enough to stop learning?” I might well have answered, “now.”

As I’ve aged, however, I’ve gained a better understanding of how much I still have to learn. Is it possible I’ve become stupider over the years? (Note: my children don’t get a vote in this!) Mainly, I think I’ve come to understand that the world is much more complex than it appears when we’re young and that people are infinitely more varied.

As well, rapid changes in technology have caused the pace of change in society to accelerate. Furthermore, the world’s sum of knowledge increases every day, which means there’s always more to learn.

A year ago, for example, I took a four-day course on teaching. Did I really need to do that? No, I thought, initially. I was an award-winning debater as a teenager and as a professional editor I’ve always acted more as a “coach” than an authoritarian. I’ve also taught a large number of writing classes. But a client of mine was willing to pay for the course, so I simply had to invest my time.

To my surprise, the course taught me one trick that made the whole four days worthwhile. (I call this the “cookbook phenomenon.” Buy a cookbook with 150 recipes in it and you’ll be pleased if you can find just one or two that you cook regularly.) The course taught me to assess what a class or group already knows before you start teaching them. Simply ask a few questions and request a show of hands.

Obvious? You bet! Had I ever done it before? No way. But I now use this trick every time I speak and it’s helped make me a much more effective teacher.

No matter what your skill in a given field, you can always learn more. Here are five times when you should definitely consider some continuing education:

1) When you know you need to learn how to do something specific. For example, let’s say that learning a new piece of software will make doing your job a whole lot easier. Don’t just poke and jab at it. Take an online course! (If you need some computer training, I highly recommend Lynda.)

2) When you feel that exposure to a different style would help you. Different teachers focus on different things. If you’ve studied music under someone who emphasizes rhythm, for example, it might help you to study for a while under someone who focuses on tone. This kind of change can “shake up” your style, which may be exactly what you need.

3) When you have changed. We all grow and change daily. If I’d taken that teaching course when I was 30, I’m sure I would have concentrated on entirely different issues — perhaps missing the one that most engaged me last year. We’re all ready to learn different things at different times in our lives.

4) When you want to challenge your own tastes. It’s been said: De gustibus, non est disputandum (in matters of taste, there is no dispute. In other words, if you like a certain novel, or movie, or even a particular paint colour, it doesn’t matter whether I like it. We are all entitled to our own opinions. That said, we can sometimes become “locked in” to certain ways of seeing the world. Hearing from another articulate voice can help us see the world differently.

5) When “the game” has changed. Sometimes fundamental changes make your business different. For example, you now apparently need video on your website to earn good Google rankings. I know nothing about video so I’m going to take a course so I don’t torture you when I finally start taping myself. <Scared yip!>

Learning more may be a bit frightening, but it’s always a good idea.

If you’re looking for continuing education in writing, I’m pleased to announce that I’m reopening the premium version of my Extreme Writing Makeover class today.

Check out the details.

Photo courtesy James Sarmiento, Flickr Creative Commons