Yesterday, an acquaintance asked me how a writer like me could have taught chemistry. I explained about my former career. She asked if I’d minored in writing, and was surprised when I told her no. The conversation got me thinking – again – about how we learn things.
We learn by teaching ourselves.
Instructors are important, often essential, to the process. They present an organized set of ideas and a logical thread to use when solving problems. Students must learn to follow that example on their own. I tutor students in math. It may help them to see me work a problem and observe steps I use, but if they can’t independently apply that technique to a different problem, they haven’t learned.
Writing is the same. I can learn by reading how-to books, by getting feedback, and most importantly by reading. The only way to improve my writing is to teach myself. I must experiment, decide which techniques work for me, and learn how to use them effectively.
Would a formal education have improved my writing? Possibly. I certainly would have become a better writer more quickly, and I’d have an eye-catching sentence to put on query letters.