When I graduated from Frostburg State College (now University), I was probably naive enough to think, “Good. No more going to school. No more classes. No more homework.” Thank goodness I wasn’t naive enough to think, “No more learning.” I recognized that learning would be a lifelong process. I just couldn’t anticipate how long my life would be or how much I’d have to learn between then and now.
Several months later I found myself in the classroom again, teaching tenth grade English; the next year they moved me down to ninth grade. Aware that the direction of my career depended on getting a Masters of Education, I spent parts of two summers taking two classes each year. My word! Why did I sign up for “20th Century Russian History”? Even though the Soviet Union was still intact at that time, the course was the kind of challenge I’ve rarely encountered since.
When I quit teaching at the end of December 1974 to take a State job, I was elated. No more spending my free time planning and correcting papers. And no need to finish that Masters program.
The State job involved a lot of paperwork, but virtually no classroom training. Okay!
My parents–amazing how perceptive they can be as we grow older–recognized that I wasn’t overly thrilled with what I was doing, and for some reason thought I might really enjoy computer programming. So they offered to pay for me to hop up the road an evening or two a week to Chesapeake College.
Even though I was back in school as a learner, my parents’ insight had been dead right. I LOVED programming and ended up with a 4.0 average on the 24 credits I took there, completing two certificate courses simultaneously.
No need to go into the problem of “how does one find work without experience and how does one get experience without working.” My good grades barely counted in the real world–except for showing my potential. I almost wished I was back in the classroom.
I started working as a computer programmer in September of 1984. Although I had to attend an occasional class, most of the learning I didn’t do on my own came from attending (and later teaching) sessions at a semi-annual computer users symposium called DECUS.. I’d made so much progress in my learning that I was also invited to teach a day-long class at Australia DECUS in Melbourne.
Nothing seems to stay the same for long in life. As mainframe computing surrendered to networked personal computers, I was no longer the expert I’d once become. So I dug into web programming, but without the degree of success I’d experienced before.
And then in 2002 I was asked to join a different team. For a very important new piece of software we were to begin using, I attended a week of formal classes along with the rest of the team, but–probably for the first time in my life–my ability to learn what I needed to learn fell short of expectations. I didn’t catch on, and I did miserably at the job. So much so that my being downsized a year later was actually a relief.
What I’d learned more than anything else during that year was information technology was changing faster than I could keep up. I knew my career in that field was doomed. I ended up on the register at Target for three years until I was old enough to retire. Definitely no formal education needed for that job.
I wrote my first novel during those three years and discovered that I needed to begin the learning process all over again. 21st century novels weren’t like their predecessors, and graduating from college with an English major wasn’t the background I needed to write better.
So, for the past eight or ten years I’ve attended at least one writing conference yearly. Invaluable learning experiences. I’ve subscribed to and pored through Writers Digest, and I’ve amassed over a hundred books about writing.
Learning never ends.
One thing I’ve become especially conscious of is the fact that authors must always strive to do better with each successive book. That may not always involve learning some new writing technique–I’m not sure there is such a thing–but in relearning and applying things that may not have seemed relevant earlier.
And so I strive to make each book I write the best one yet.
What part has learning played in your life? How about leaving a comment?
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