The New Year always makes me think about what I’m going to learn that’s new and exciting. Yet, the world races by so fast that even a year is surprisingly a long time. With all the disruption around us, things can change, and alarmingly fast.
As an adult, I’ve always been fascinated with learning. Not just the aspect of exploring a new skill, but also the process to get that skill. With many of my classes, I was simply expected to absorb the information, sometimes with mixed results.
- High school algebra. This was a mandatory class. I might have done much better, but I missed an important concept early on, and without it, the class never made sense. I got a D, which was very demoralizing.
- A “pantser friendly outlining” class. I took the class because of all the problems I had figuring out why my books ran too short. I knew that standard outlines didn’t work, so I thought this would be different. The writer instructor promised it would be easy once we learned the steps. I didn’t understand it all. The instructor got very frustrated with me, re-explaining the same things as if I was stupid. The other writers all exclaimed, “It’s easy. Let me explain it to you.” I never understood the concepts.
The algebra class I didn’t have much control over. It was required and I had to take it. The teacher wasn’t teaching it very well (this was my father’s opinion at the time, and he’s a math nerd. Though when I discovered what concept I missed much later, he was right. Though he tried to help me at the time, he also didn’t catch the concept I was missing.).
But the outlining class? Yeah…
After a failure like that, it’s easy to think that you’re entirely at fault, that something was in the way. Or as some might say, they aren’t capable of it. But there are two places where we have opportunities to influence our learning:
- Establishing an outcome
- The Goldilocks Principle
Outcome is a very different way of thinking than traditional goals. Goals don’t give you an emotional connection to what you’re doing. That’s an important piece of doing learning. A goal is more like putting an item on a to-do list.
Like “write a novel in a year.” So my goal for the pantser-friendly outlines was to take the class. I thought it would help solve the problem, but I didn’t think much beyond that.
Outcome is a way to help focus on what type of learning to be done. It could be based on a need or even a want. For example, for a writing class I’m taking, my outcome is to fill in some of the cracks from my past classes and also to have a different writer’s perspective on craft to help my understanding. I would have liked to be more specific on the outcome, but the class runs 7 months and covers a lot of topics, and is somewhat fluid. I based this outcome on both hearing the teacher speak elsewhere, his blog posts, and classes I picked up with a bundle.
Always look for the emotional connection to why you want to learn. Write it down.
The Goldilocks Principle
I looked up the story itself for a refresher, since I haven’t read it in years: The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (dltk-teach.com).
Like Goldilocks, learning anything is that what you choose should be challenging, but no so difficult you can’t do it. It also shouldn’t be too easy.
When I first read one of Jack Bickham’s books, Writing and Selling Your Novel, I was a pretty new writer. At the time, there weren’t many books on how to write fiction. Despite the title, it’s an advanced craft book. I didn’t have the writing skills to understand any of it. So, like the bed in Goldilocks, it was too hard. I didn’t learn much of anything from it.
Likewise, signed up for a description class right before I found Dean Wesley Smith’s classes. The description class was one of those everyone teaches newbies: You receive an assignment to describe an outdoor market, a restaurant dining room, or whatever. You practice writing this paragraph, but there’s no connection to characters. I looked at the class description and then at Dean’s and dropped the description class. It was going to be too easy.
The Ideas to Story class that I did take was just right. The outcome was obvious for me: I wanted to be able to come up with more story ideas so I could write more stories (the Great Challenge is a long-term example of what I learned). The class pushed me just enough to realize what I was missing and needed to work on. Then I succumbed to the siren call and did one that was too hard…sigh.
Even the process of figuring out how to learn is a learning process.
But all learning should push your skills a little. Maybe make you feel uncomfortable. It shouldn’t make you feel frustrated like I was with the pantser-friendly outlining class. Nor should it be so easy that you zoom through it without much effort.
Remember, even your time is worth money. Why spend it on something that doesn’t give you any challenge?