The Writing Life

Most writers know that writing is a solitary activity. On the one hand, when I write I need as few distractions as possible to get my thoughts in order, to hear the muse speak to me, and to block obstacles to creativity. (Well, maybe a little music.) On the other hand, I also need to participate in activities that will stimulate me, enhance my knowledge of my chosen field, and broaden my experience as a writer. That’s why I find occasionally attending workshops, conferences and participating in book festivals so stimulating. I get to network with other writers, professional and non-professional, exchange information, get feedback, and learn ways of marketing, and in addition, sell books if I’m lucky.

Retreats – provide ideal places to write. Poets and Writers list retreats, also Artists and Writers Colonies by Gail Hellund Bowler list retreats, residences and respites for the creative mind. I haven’t attended one yet but I have friends who have and their response has been encouraging.

Workshops and Seminars – learn ways to improve ones writing and expand knowledge as well as get answers to writing questions and maybe get feedback on writing projects. I facilitate a creative writing class at my local senior center and have taken classes in mystery writing and creative non-fiction at the community college in my area.

Book Festivals – See what others are doing to promote their books, participate in panel discussions and maybe get to recite a poem or two. Most importantly, meet the public as well as network with other authors. I recommend new authors attend at least one book festival. You might start out by attending one, not as a vendor but as part of the public. I’ve been a vendor at several book festivals; most recently, the Leimert Park Book Festival in L.A. Some may be rather expensive such as the L.A. Times Book Festival; however, going in with a few other authors can cut down on the expense.

Conferences – Network with other professionals and non-professionals. Learn current trends. Experience other genres. A few years ago I attended the AWP Associated Writers Program held in Vancouver. It was fantastic. I took in as many workshops and panel discussions in all genres as I could. I have also been to the Black Writers Online Reunion and Conference. There I had part of my manuscript read and received vital feedback. I learned tips on writing query letters, promoting and marketing my work.

Going to writers and artists’ retreats, attending workshops and seminars, participating in book festivals, and/or attending conferences can provide encouragement to a new writer and reenergize an experienced one.

A Lifetime of Learning Revisited

First posted in March, 2010

“What you want to do that for?” Lincoln, an old acquaintance, said when I told him I was thinking of taking a class in photography. I explained that I’d bought a new camera and wanted to know how to take professional quality photographs. “Are you thinking of becoming a professional photographer?” he asked. “No, I just want to learn to take better pictures.”

“I’ll show you how,” he said. “Shouldn’t take more than five minutes. Just point at the person or object, make sure your back is to the sun and press the shutter. Simple.” He didn’t see any reason to spend time in a class to learn something that would be of little use. “You can’t make any money from it. Besides, you’re retired. Why waste your time?”

He and I have argued about other things. Like me, he’s been retired for a number of years. He spends his time watching TV,  complaining about the state of the world and finding ways to kill time. “for what?” I ask him. He doesn’t reply. I tell him I don’t want to kill time. “There’s so much I don’t know and so much I want to learn.”  However, Lincoln sees no value in learning for the sake of learning. Why study if you don’t have to? is his attitude. He shakes his head and takes out a magazine from his back pocket.

Whether it is formal or informal, for me, learning is a lifetime endeavor. Formal learning is what is taught in school following a prescribed curriculum. When we are young, mandatory education during those primary and secondary years prepares us to become good citizens, good consumers, and productive members of society. Formal learning in college or technical schools also has an end result – a diploma or a certificate of achievement. The reward can be monetary or professional development and sometimes acknowledgment from others. Formal learning can also be undertaken when one wants to learn a skill or to enhance ones knowledge of a subject.

Informal learning is personal. It involves being attentive to the things around you and purposely pursuing to understand them and in doing so, to understand yourself as well. There is no set curriculum. You determine what you want to learn, how and why. You are not restricted by time. The reward is internal and the results satisfying.

Informal learning doesn’t have to be expensive.

  • Start with your local library. It contains a wealth of information. When I had the opportunity to study on my own, I read works written by authors I’d heard about. Studying their body of work was more satisfying because I could take my time. I didn’t need to take a test to prove what I’d learned. In addition,  I checked out all types of music including blues, classical and jazz and found many I loved. If there was something I wanted to know, I did research about it in the library.
  • Another place of learning is the museum. Some charge a nominal fee, others are free.
  • During the summer, parks have free or inexpensive concerts.
  • If there is a college nearby, attend a free lecture.
  • If you like to garden but don’t have a lot of space, consider container gardening. A friend of mine grows wonderful vegetables like tomatoes, onions, peppers in pots on her patio.
  • Another friend learned to make wine and soap from a book she got from the library.
  • My friend Mattie taught herself to knit, crochet and macrame.

It doesn’t matter what it is, learning keeps your mind fresh and open. The more you learn, the more you will want to learn. Age is not a barrier. In other words, an old dog can learn new tricks. Others, like my friend Lincoln, may wonder why anybody would want to learn things which have no monetary value and are not needed in our modern lives today. Everyone should explore the world around them. They will find learning to be rewarding, enriching and life enhancing.