Jan 24, 2013

Forgetting Lessons

I have to apologise for missing my Tuesday post this week. I was battling a particularly harsh head cold.

It recently occurred to me that we are taught a lot of things when we're younger or just starting out in a particular craft that is not useful in later stages. These are lessons which must be set aside if we're ever to properly grow as individuals. Like training wheels on a bike, we risk depending on the ssafe, reliable methods, and never developing to our full potential.

What's even worse is when these lessons aren't just holding us back, but are actively detrimental to our goals.

Here's something that I'm sure any writer will agree on, but not many realised for a long time:

The things we learn in school are not going to help us get published.

In English class, when you cover creative writing, you're told to use lots of different words; the more complicated and obscure the better. You're given homework assignments to create sentences and stories specifically to use a particular set of words, instead of choosing the right words that properly express what you want to say.

Adjectives and adverbs, metaphors and similes. As part of learning what these are, you're instructed to use them as often as possible. Points are given for creative and imaginitive use.

But the harsh, cold reality is that these school lessons will not prepare you for professional writing. Starting a sentence with "suddenly" or saying that a character "quickly ran like the wind" mark you as someone who lacks maturity as a writer. Agents and publishers don't want to see how many words you know for the colour blue, or how well you can compare one sound to another. They want to see your own unique style. Your own voice. Find that, and you'll never need to worry about another adverb again.

It can be hard to let go of these lessons. My teachers were some of my first and most steadfast supporters. Creative writing and professional writing, however, are two different worlds. So to any students out there who dream of one day being an author, don't sweat it if you can't come up with three alternative words for "ran", or have trouble using the word "torrent" in a sentence that doesn't involve internet downloads. There's so much more to being a writer than that.

Are there any other lessons any of you have had to un-learn in life?


  1. I can't think of any personally, but I recently watched a cookery show where a professional chef pointed out that most restaurants use frozen, pre-rolled pastry in their desserts. As a passionate home baker, I would consider that cheating - or rather, I did, until I found out that the professionals were happy to cut that particular corner so they could focus attention elsewhere.

    It hadn't stopped me making my own pastry, but if I was in a hurry now, I'd be far happier using frozen pastry than I was before!

    1. I may have seen the same show, or else lots of shows are saying the same thing!

      Definitely, using frozen pastry is so much easier than making the stuff from scratch.

  2. In Lindy Hop swing dancing, your footwork either goes step, step, triple step, step, step triple step, or it goes rock step kick step, kick, up, back, step. When you're learning. And that is complicated, and hard. And it takes a long time to get to the point where you can do that. But when you get more experienced, it just stops being true. A lead's footwork does whatever the music tells him* would work, a follow's footwork does whatever her lead, via her* body, tells them to.

    *For the sake of ease of language, I talk about leads being male and follows being female. This is not necessarily the case. Apologies to any leading women, following men, or non-binary dancers reading.

    1. I love the phrase 'non-binary dancers'. That needs to be central to my manifesto for building a more awesome world, when I eventually take this place over.

  3. Tetrominoes handle really differently in new versions of Tetris.