Continuing Education for Writers

When I was a teenager, I once ran away from home. My big day out on the town included hitching a ride from my youth minister to church and then having a friend drop me off at the library (both forbidden places in the home I grew up in).  I know, right?

Since that long ago and far away time, I have come to accept something about myself. I’m a knowledge junkie. Go too long between sweet, sweet hits of learning and I start to get the shakes. After about a week, there’s this glassy look in my shifting eyes and I can’t sit still. My husband pointed out to me a while back that I research constantly – healthcare topics, math, politics, humanitarian issues, trends, history, science, the mating rituals of worms… you name it, I’ve probably looked it up, read about it, cross-referenced the source material, and tried my best to observe the phenomenon in real life.

Now, I realize that not every writer has to get bitten by the knowledge bug to the extent that I have been, but it seems to me that any professional, whether they be writers, nurses, teachers, or bus drivers, ought to spend a little time striving to improve their knowledge of their profession. For writers, this can mean studying literature, reading widely, and discussion the process with other writers. Ah, but it means so much more than that. While a urologist might require deep understanding in a very narrow range of professional knowledge, the writer must be a jack of all trades, with at least some understanding of everything from astrophysics to zoology, from social policy to weather systems.

If you happen to be a knowledge junkie like I am, you might have obtained roughly twice the number of credits required for your degree in college *cough-ahem*, but taking and even auditing courses in a wide range outside your major (or outside of a degree-seeking process) is an expense that most writers can’t justify. That’s where schools of higher learning like Yale and Oxford fill the breech. The real Yale and Oxford.

Yale offers a number of courses for free online, with video lectures, course materials, and syllabuses available at a click. Just a few of the topics writers might really get a kick to the muse from include:

Oxford, on the other hand, took a different approach to making learning accessible. Through the Oxford iTunes U, the school provides video and audio lectures, course material, and interviews available to download through iTunes. They have more than 1800 podcasts available free of charge.

And finally, an old favorite that never runs out of new material on every subject imaginable: TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. This site is hosted by a non-profit organization that brings together notable speakers from diverse fields to share their expertise with the world through TED talks that typically range from 5-20 minutes and are presented as streaming video. TED also hosts longer video talks from such talents as the late Douglas Adams.

As a knowledge junkie, I have finally caught the dragon. Hope you find it, too. However you choose to seek out your next fix, keep in mind that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Having an understanding of a diverse array of topics will serve you well both in creating your worlds and finding inspiration for starting them.

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