|A stack of books on writing and publishing|
One of my dream jobs, if it existed, would be to get paid to audit graduate school classes. If money was no object, or tuition was free, I think I could, quite happily, collect graduate degrees like pretty shells on a beach. I have one...I think I could easily work up to five, maybe six. One of my favorite times in my pre-kid adult life was when I was in grad school. I loved learning. Once I graduated and had to put my degree into practice...well, let's just say it didn't take. But I loved the learning part. I felt alive and creative and inspired when I was learning. I was so...interested.
Now, switch gears for a moment with me.
I've been seriously writing for a while now-- It's been 3 years since I wrote my first draft of my first novel and I have been writing regularly ever since. But I haven't studied writing, outside of the occasional book (like, Stephen King's On Writing...which is great, by the way), since I was an undergrad (and that is a lot further back in my past than I'd like to admit). And it didn't occur to me until recently that that might be a problem. I've been writing and writing, and certainly getting better, but I haven't been studying my craft...until now.
It all started this summer when I attended my first ever writer's retreat. I plan to write a full blog post just about this experience, but sufficed to say that I learned a lot-- about writing and about myself-- at that retreat. Two of the things I learned are particularly important to today's post: 1) I learned that I had a lot-- A LOT-- to learn about writing; and 2) I learned that I needed to get out of my comfort zone, out of my routine, if I was going to grow as a writer.
My eyes were opened.
Once I got back, I decided to design my own little graduate writing program. Something I would piece together from various sources that would help me learn and grow as a writer. I already had my writers group in place-- critiques are a key part of any graduate writing program! So I printed out a blank planning calendar (think: class schedule) and went looking for "classes."
I'm always amazed by how the universe conspires to help us when we're on the right path...because as soon as I went looking, an opportunity popped up in my inbox!
Then I got the opportunity, thanks to my writing group leader, to speak with a local author about her writing and publishing experiences. This was followed closely by a favorite author coming to speak at a local library-- which I found out about, quite randomly, on my Facebook feed. (And another one comes next week to a different library. I will be going to see her speak as well...thanks again, Facebook gods!)
I've also done some major online searches and found some really great writing blogs, which I've been devouring...hours and hours spent reading articles and taking notes on the craft. Next, I'll be digging into the stack of books on writing and publishing that I got at the retreat.
I took all of this, along with my writing goals for this year, which I had sketched out the first week of September, and filled in those blank planning calendars for September-December:
Writer's retreats and conferences, online classes, blogs and books, conversations and speakers, writing groups and critiques, and being open to any other learning opportunities that present themselves. I married this with my writing goals: to post on the blog once a week, to prep for and then execute NaNoWriMo 2017 (which means researching and writing a totally new book-- EEK!), to write and submit short stories and poetry to children's magazines (that's something totally new for me), and to revise/edit the two novels I've been working on for the past year.
Voila! THIS is my graduate writing program.
So what could this possibly have to do with you, if you're not a writer?
You may not be a writer, but you likely have something that interests you. Maybe it's your actual career...maybe it's your hobby...maybe it's something you've always been interested in but never pursued. Whatever IT is, you can go after it. You can study your craft. You can focus on learning and growing in whatever area that inspires you right now. And you can create your own "graduate program."
Maybe you always wanted to learn how to draw or paint. So go find some new books at the library or on amazon and set aside some time to practice. Find some instructional Youtube videos to watch and follow along. Sign up for a local art class or join an online class like the ones offered here: http://www.juliettecrane.com/courses/.
Maybe you've always been interested in plants and gardening. So explore all the blogs and podcasts out there on the subject or talk to a local garden center. Maybe you love your career in marketing, but haven't taken a class since you got your MBA. Pick up a book on marketing trends and innovation, listen to some amazing TED talks, and then try implementing at work something new you learned in your research. Maybe you want to be a better cook. So take a class and try new recipes. Maybe your goal is to be a better parent. There are blogs and books and online classes out the ying-yang on parenting. Find some that speak to you and get studying!
My point is this: We are meant to be life-long learners. We are not meant to stagnate in routine. But once we hit the stride of adulthood, it's really easy to fall in step with the "I already know it all" crowd and march mindlessly along.
But we can't do that!
We must step out of the marching lines and open our minds. Don't just accept the status quo. Demand better. From the world and from yourself. Learn something new. Stretch and grow. Challenge yourself. Try new things. Go new places. Talk to new people. Turn your brain on and engage your imagination.
Pretend you're back in school and focus on learning instead of just executing tasks. You might just be amazed by what you learn and how it affects you. You might find yourself, dare I say: Inspired.
Until next time, find something you're interested in and explore new learning options...and then go after it! Stretch! Grow! Live!