Learning Through Writing

“It’s the writing that teaches you.”
Isaac Asimov

Writers are among the most fortunate of people because they have the unlimited opportunity to learn at their fingertips. Literally. Writers who think they already know everything and write so they can share that knowledge with readers or teach readers what they know are not true dedicated writers. Dedicated writers have an insatiable need to learn more, whether by serendipity, discovery, or deliberate research. When you write, you are driven by questions you seek to answer. Those questions could begin with something as simple as, “What happens next?” and progress to “How did it happen?” and “Why did it happen?” If you want to write in great detail about a family living in Saskatchewan and you want it to seem as realistic as possible, you have no excuse but to learn as much as you can about Saskatchewan, even going as far as visiting the place and spending hours where you want your story to happen. If you want to set your story in medieval France, while you can’t visit medieval France itself, you can certainly dig up as much information as you can about it. You’ll read historical accounts, maybe dig up some historical fiction as well; you’ll research names, costume, culture, politics. You’ll visit museums, talk to historians, look at photographs. In the process, guess what’s happening? You’re learning from your writing process. If you were to write a courtroom drama, you would have to learn the procedures, the protocol, the people involved, the jargon, even specific cases and the laws and statutes involved. Guess what? You’re learning from your writing. Writers who write only what they already know limit their repertoire and, consequently, their readership. If they aren’t learning new things from their writing, neither are their readers.

Writing doesn’t just teach writers new ideas. It doesn’t just expand our perspective. We don’t just learn about people, places, procedures, or things. We’re not just creating new characters; we are exploring the human psyche, the intricacies of life, the depths and heights of emotions. We’re not just passing through places; we are exploring the nooks and crannies and alleys and backstreets of villages, towns, cities, and nations; we are living in a dozen houses and learning how they have become homes or not. We’re not just describing steps or actions; we’re investigating procedures and, more than that, we’re uncovering motives and purposes. We’re not just bandying objects about; we’re learning how objects can take on meanings and become central to actions, to relationships, to life.

Over and beyond all that learning, we are constantly learning more about writing. We learn how to be concise in our language. We learn to choose the exact words to mean something. We learn the nuances of thousands of words along with idiomatic expressions the change word meanings depending on prepositions combined with them or their local color. We learn to hone our sentences to perfection so every single word has a purpose. We learn to become lean mean writing machines. We learn to check our facts and investigate new facts. We learn to make notes, plan plots, design characters. All this from simply writing over and over and over again. What other pursuit can constantly improve us while entertaining us and giving us new adventures with each writing? Need I say why else I want to be a writer?

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