Learning to Write  

Nearly everyone can learn how to write, although some seem born with a talent for learning faster and expressing themselves better. So, how much education does someone who does not feel gifted need to become a decent if not great writer? The answer depends on more than one kind of education. I suggest considering three:  

Formal education  
Informal education  
School of hard knocks  

Sooner or later, a good writer will most likely visit each of these schools. Let’s look at what they entail.  

Formal education  

Basically, this involves a teacher, lessons, tests, and proof of accomplishment in the form of a certificate or diploma. Basic education in writing begins with tiny tot sessions of thought-organiz­ing in kindergarten or at home, then moves on to primary or grade school, junior high, then high school, maybe junior college, a four-year college, even a master’s program and on up to the level of a doctorate.  

All of this involves time, money and proximity to institutions of learning, although in today’s world much is available online.  

Informal education  

Often, this looks a lot like formal education. For instance, in a workshop offered at a confer­ence you may sit in a room with a teacher who has you write something, and afterward you are granted a certificate of attendance. The primary difference from formal education is time: a work­shop may last a few hours, a day or a weekend.  

But other activities from which you may gain a head full of knowledge about writing can be far more informal and still provide a bounty of what a writer really needs – IDEAS.  

This category includes opportunities to learn quickly, for a reasonable price and at your own level of interest:  

books and magazine articles  
presentations through media (including the nightly news)  
movies, including documentaries  
attendance at author readings or signings  

Have some fun and make up your own list of possible sources for what to write about and where to find successful examples to learn from. When you’re done, I’d love to see what you’ve come up with (my e-mail address is provided below).  

And now to my personal favorite, which is also the favorite of many famous writers.  

School of hard knocks  

This is an education no one can avoid. From the day you’re born to the day you “shuffle off this mortal coil,” you will be in attendance. You will have many, many teachers – some good, some bad. And the responsibility for getting the most out of your attendance is totally up to you. There are some good ways to retain what you learn:  

Keep a journal to record your experiences.  
Take photographs of unusual sites; record outstanding sounds.  
Talk about your experiences with others – a friend, a trusted colleague, a guy on the bus.  
Most of all: Think about it!  

This is the school that will likely give you your best writing IDEAS, so don’t ignore anything.  

Finding a source for your education: If you are like most of us and have to continue working while you get an education, look for online op­portunities. Just be sure to research first to make sure what you choose will really meet your needs.  

Attend conferences and retreats. Take ad­vantage of as many presentations, readings and other writing-related activities as you can. Ask questions of everyone! You never know who might have a good lead to share.  

If you have the talent, you may be able to get a grant, an internship or some other form of support while in school. If you’re at that point in your education, check out the MFA (master of fine arts) programs available to you. Some offer tuition-paid internships based (hopefully) on merit, so don’t sell yourself short if this is part of your writing goal.  

Here’s a place to start: Inland Northwest Center for Writers, c/o Eastern Washington University, 668 North Riverpoint Blvd., #259, Spokane, WA 99202.  

I leave you with this thought from Albert Einstein:  

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”  

Linda Bond is cofounder and leader of the Inland Northwest Writers Guild and Outreach Coordinator at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, WA. Write to her at lindathewriter@gmail.com.  

NOTE: This article was originally published in the North Columbia Monthly magazine in the September 2016 issue. To view the original online version, click here and find the article on page 23: