October has been a significant month for me when it comes to learning. Earlier in the year, I registered with The Open University (OU) for the first module that was part of an MA in Creative Writing. I decided that I want to make my life as a writer a reality. My first official day was Saturday.
I have been studying with the OU on and off since 2004 and I feel intrinsically linked to them. The OU has seen me through mental health issues, a terrible break up, leaving home, promotions at work and now a career change. I have been lucky to have some wonderful tutors and in the very early days, during my BSc degree, I was so poor that my fees were paid for me. It saddens me that the OU has been going through financial difficulties due to a decrease in student numbers. I donate monthly to help students who are having problems like those I experienced throughout my academic career and worse to ensure that they are able to continue their studies.
But this is not a homage to the OU, it is more a homage to what they have allowed me to do for the past twelve years: learn.
Along with a SfEP Fiction Editing course, this MA module has meant that I constantly have my head in a book, resources, or the clouds thinking about learning. It is a wonderful place to be. I have always been this way despite hating secondary school. My hatred of school as a teen was more to do with the social pressures, going through adolescence and me having a learning style that was not well suited to sitting at a desk for at least five hours.
But learning has been something I have always been obsessed with. In college, I remember staying behind after Sociology lessons to talk with my lecturer about Marxism. He was an incredibly passionate and intelligent man and I loved trying to absorb all his knowledge.
Not everyone I know quite understands my obsession with acquiring knowledge, especially recently. I am getting a lot of ‘you already have a degree and a Masters, why do you need anther one?’ but I am not studying just to get a degree, I am studying because I love learning. And here’s why:
Learning generates ideas
As a writer, I am scared that my idea well will one day dry up and leave me thirsty.
I am scared that I will never be inspired. Learning helps me to ensure that this will never happen.
Even though the course only officially started on 1st October, working through the course materials, communicating with fellow students and completing writing exercises has begun to fill pages of my writing journal. Both courses with the OU and SfEP encourage, no, necessitate the reading of other people’s work and thinking about them reflectively. These activities send sparks flying in my idea generator.
A couple of days ago, a writing exercise for MA module led me to write a short story. Weeks before that, the fiction editing course led me to write a version of a classic fairy tale that appeared in an editing exercise.
These writing ideas aren’t part of the courses or necessary for coursework, instead, they are lovely little artifacts that I can add to my growing portfolio of writing examples.
Learning allows my career to grow
This is a kinda obvious reason for academic development: career progression. For me, it is not the primary reason for wanting to undertake courses but it is a rather beneficial outcome. Having a Masters degree in Creative Writing is obviously not a complete waste of time for someone who has decided they wanted to write a novel just as having qualifications in fiction editing isn’t a negative for someone who edits fiction.
Clients may be more likely to choose someone who has qualifications in these areas over someone who hasn’t.
Yes, there are plenty of successful writers and editors who have no qualifications. People are looking for skills, particularly transferable skills. Yet, I still believe that professional development is important whether you are just beginning or are well-established in your career. It doesn’t look bad to be well-decorated either, though I have been told a few times that I am overqualified, which I think is a foolish thing to say.
Without the SfEP course and the course I did with Sophie Playle earlier this year, I wouldn’t know the basics of marketing for editors. This doesn’t necessarily make me a better editor but it makes me better at running an editing business. The same can be said with branding, tech skills, and networking.
When it comes to writing, the MA module will help me to grow my craft. It will develop my writing ability and without a doubt, assist me in becoming a better writer. There’s the daily practice, the daily reading and sharing my writing with others; these activities all add up to me being a better writer and editor.
Learning challenges me
Sometimes my confidence can take a dip if I compare myself to other students. Reading other people’s contributions to activities makes me wonder why I didn’t think of that or question why I’m not as clever as them, leading me to feel uncomfortable.
Being uncomfortable and knowing that I am not the best I can be is actually great for me. I am out of my comfort zone. Ironically, I’m scared of my comfort zone. It fits too well. It’s familiar. It doesn’t push me.
So many people around me think I am crazy right now. I am working as a freelance writer and editor, studying part-time and about to give birth. For me this is what life is about, these are reasons to get up in the morning. I’m taking risks and I am pushing my current limits.
I’m sure that it won’t be easy to keep all these plates spinning but why not try anyway? If I only do what I know, I’ll never be better than I am now. It makes life more interesting, no?
Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.”
Granted, learning doesn’t give me the superpowers I so greatly desire but it does make me feel powerful. I overcome barriers every day when I learn. Things I didn’t know become known to me. Things I couldn’t do before become my abilities.
Learning brings me closer to people
I have always been a bit of a talker. You know those people who exude an air of mystery and only speak when they have something interesting to say? That’s not me. I love a good natter and will monopolize a good amount of the conversation. This is not to say I fill a discussion with idle chitchat about myself. I am primarily a questioner; I love asking people about themselves and commenting on this. Basically, I am bloody nosy. This is an extension of learning. I get to learn about people, what makes them tick, what makes them interesting.
Learning about a variety of subjects and people means I always have something to say.
Pretty important for someone who hates awkward silences. Every interaction I have with people is the chance for me to learn something and that is pretty valuable.
When it comes to my courses, learning brings me close not only to my fellow students but also any person I meet who is interested in the topic I am learning. Being able to connect with different people who are interested in the same subjects I am is great way to ensure conversation goes beyond banal small talk, something I abhor. It interests me greatly to gain an insight to the goings on of the minds of others.
I’m also a pretty good person to have on your pub quiz team. Unless I’ve had too much to drink. Then you really don’t want me on your team.
Learning makes me feel good
I loved being marked. This may be more to do with my need for approval. Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons when the kids’ school is closed and Lisa Simpson takes it badly so wanders around the house asking people to grade her? That is basically me all the time.
Other than approval, gaining feedback provides me with a marker of my abilities. I know where I’m at in relation to where I want to be. I know what areas of my skill need improving. I can work on these areas and be proud of myself when I finally do improve.
Sometimes I become frustrated with learning. I come across a concept that stymies me and I lose all hope. I get all ‘Woe is me, I will never understand this. They’ll create a statue of me and throw rocks at it because I am the most stupid person in the world’. Yup, I can be pretty melodramatic. But oh when I get it … that’s the sweet spot and you can’t shut me up about it.
Learning also gives me something to look forward to everyday. I’m excited that I’ll learn something new and I often learn outside of the expected materials. I am given free rein to ponder things, to reflect on things and that is pretty damn amazing.
Learning is pure escapism.
As an only child I would prefer to socialize with the characters in books than other children, and now as an adult, I’ve found learning still provides me with an escape when I need it. I escape into knowledge emerging with a greater sense of self-worth. Yeah, my relationship with learning is a pretty good one.
What’s your relationship with learning? What does it mean to you? Let me know in the comments.