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12 Tips for Self-Education in Writing

Autodidactism is the art of self-education, which is teaching yourself about a new subject.

For self-education in any topic, there are three forms of learning: niche knowledge, skill development, and liberal understanding. Many eager seekers of knowledge focus only on one or two of the forms, but applying all three will allow you to excel at writing.

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Niche knowledge refers to learning the fundamental knowledge necessary to successfully write. These are grammar, spelling, and vocabulary.

Skill development, or ability, focuses on applying the fundamental knowledge to practice your craft. For writing, this means effectively creating the work product you’re looking for. Examples include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Finally, liberal understanding is a broader concept. While the self-educator is working hard to learn the fundamentals and practice his/her skill development, it’s beneficial to take a step back and learn by absorbing the history, theory, and great works of literature.

Below are 12 steps for learning how to write.

Tip # 1 (Niche Learning) – Spelling and Grammar

Just like you can’t drive without learning which pedal is the gas and which is the brake, good writing is impossible without impeccable spelling and grammar. Search online for “spelling exercises” and there will be many interactive tools that relentlessly drive home correct spelling. Purchase a good dictionary for reference, such as one from Webster or Oxford Dictionaries.

Many online courses are also available that teach basic grammar. Choose one from alison.com, www.englishgrammar101.com, or similar. To supplement grammar knowledge, purchase a good reference book that you can consult once you’ve learned the basics. One option is the 16th edition of the Chicago Style of Manual. It has about 300 pages devoted to grammar and standard usage. Note that it’s fine to rely on word processing spellcheckers and grammar checkers, but these should be reminders, not form the basis for proper spelling and grammar.

Tip # 2 (Niche Learning) – Vocabulary

While spelling and grammar are fundamental, good writing in English takes advantage of the rich array of words in the English language. Consult an online thesaurus or purchase one in book form.

Tip # 3 (Niche Learning) – Practice

Once the basics have been learned, practice until you can write sentences and paragraphs with proper spelling, grammar and vocabulary.

Tip # 4 (Skills Development) – Short Stories

For those interested in fiction writing, short stories are a great way to hone your craft before embarking on a novel. Mastering plots, scenes, dialogue and character development takes time and practice. Writer’s Digest Books has a series of books dedicated to each of these components.

Tip #5 (Skills Development) – Poetry

Not all aspiring writers plan to create poetry, but practicing it forces you to be economical with words and helps expand your vocabulary.

Tip # 6 (Skills Development) – Screenplays

Screenplays help development scenes and dialogue. Successful dialogue in a screenplay will help make the dialogue in your fiction credible and compelling.

Tip # 7 (Skills Development) – Test Yourself

Once you’ve had some practice writing short stories, poetry, or screenplays, enter writing contests. Hundreds of magazines have annual writing contests. Usually the winning prize is publication in the magazine. If editors like your work, chances are it’s pretty good.

Tips 8 through 10 (Liberal Understanding) – Further Lectures

The self-taught writer’s work will improve by gaining a deeper understanding of the theory and history of writing. Here are several free online lectures from Yale University that will help with this.

Tip 8 – The history and theory of literature.

Tip 9 – Modern American fiction.

Tip 10 – Poetry from the classics to modern.

Tips 11 and 12 (Liberal Understanding) – Learning Through Reading

The self-taught writer’s work will improve by exposure to works by the great writers.

Tip 11 – Choose five books from the Harvard Shelf of Classics and read them.

Tip 12 – Choose a successful writer in your genre of interest and read them.

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