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Autodidacts on Learning: Writers

William Blake, Louis L’Amour, Alan Moore. They’re all writers, and they’re all autodidacts. Here’s what ten self-taught writers have to say about learning.

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quote borgesquote bradburyquote goethequote l'amourquote lovecraftquote moorequote prachettquote saramangoquote tagore


It’s been over a week since you made your New Year’s Resolution. You did make one, right? Oh, you were gonna make one, but then you got busy or figured you’d end up quitting anyway? Or maybe you did make one, but you’re already getting antsy and trying to think up a new goal.

Never fear. You aren’t doomed to waste another year doing nothing in particular. Make your Web browsing productive by looking at some plans and lists to get you inspired to make the most of 2014. Here are some sites to get you started.

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When you’re a lifelong learner, thinking of the infinite subjects you want to study, skills you want to learn, books you want to read and masterpieces you want to create can be freeing – it can remind you that you can do anything, you’ll never get bored, there is so much out there.

But there is a down side. You can start thinking things like: I want to learn/read/create 5 bazillion different things. How can I do it all?

While I can’t give you directions to the fountain of youth or show you how to download information Matrix style, there is one thing you can do to increase longevity and be more creative.

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happy holidays

We’re taking a break to enjoy the holidays. While you’re hiding from your relatives in your home office, waiting for the cookies to bake or enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, see how reading speculative fiction could make you a better learner and how learning makes the world a better place. Use our autodidact starter kit to get a handle on your learning goals for 2014, and make a plan to tackle them in just 10 minutes a day.


When you’re reading one of the great classics, are you suspicious that you might be missing something? The story is enjoyable, but these are supposed to hold deep meaning, some of which is tough – or perhaps impossible – to discern without some context or specific knowledge.

Maybe the idea that you won’t completely understand a novel has kept you from even attempting it.

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It’s the holiday season and many of you, like me, have no spare time.

I have a two year old and a newborn. Suddenly in the final weeks before the baby was born (not to mention after she was born) I noticed all of my free time was completely swallowed up. Gone. I was feeling very upset.

The thing is, there are ebbs and flows in life and in the amount of time one can spend studying non-essentials, or even essential things (such as parenting strategies or how to fix your toilet). Normally I’m okay with the ebbs because they coincide with natural periods of low energy and rest taking. This time though, I had been riding a wave of high motivation, if not high energy, but after a time I found myself in an impossible situation in which the time to work on my current projects simply wasn’t there anymore.

In our Autodidact Starter Kit, we recommend that you break down your learning goals into chunks that can be scheduled into each day according to the time you have available for learning. But what if, like me, your free time has been completely swallowed up? There one day and gone the next.

Enter Make It Happen in 10 Minutes a Day, a small idea with a big impact, by the author and speaker, Lorne Holden.

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How Benjamin Franklin Learned to Write

Benjamin Franklin is praised as an autodidact and polymath – a Renaissance man. There is a lot we could learn from his spirit – his will to continue learning and trying new things, and his independent nature – not needing to be taught, but willing to figure things out on  his own, with the tools he had on hand.

Benjamin Franklin didn’t get the 13 years of compulsory education that we’re used to these days. He started grammar-school at age eight, and he spent just two years in schools. Then he was back home with his father, learning to be a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler.

So Ben’s formal instruction in writing was short lived. He learned a portion of his skills through informal means, and some through an apprenticeship. But when he felt compelled to really polish his style, he developed a method that anyone can imitate with just a pen, some paper and a library card. [click to continue…]


butterfliesIn a recent guest post I wrote for DIY MFA, I talked about using structure in writing. I explained that not only does using a self-imposed constraint not necessarily lead to trite and contrived writing, it can actually be a great aid to releasing your creativity and improving your writing.

This is the paradox of structure at work – the paradox being that structures are simultaneously constraining and enabling. And this is not just applicable to writing.

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Woman sleeping on her booksWe’ve all experienced the frustration of studying hard, getting good grades and quickly forgetting everything we read about in our textbooks. It makes formal education feel like a giant waste of time and money, and it’s easy to turn away from books and learning altogether.

Instead of giving up on learning through the written word, let’s take a look at what’s wrong with textbooks and how we can get a better education without them (or if we must use them, by supplementing them).

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Improve Your Mind and the World

Flying books

I have met many people who think of studying, particularly reading, as an indulgent luxury – time spent resting and relaxing with a cup of hot cocoa and extra thick socks – “me time.” When described this way, making a regular practice of reading sounds selfish.

Shouldn’t you be spending more time with your children or volunteering somewhere in the community instead of sitting on your couch with yet another book?

Even if your learning requires you to go somewhere or do something physical, it’s all about you, right? The only thing you’re improving is your own mind, and you’re doing it because you like it.

But unless you spend your life sitting alone in a cave, improving your mind helps everyone.

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