The Importance of Continuing Education
It doesn’t have to be formal and it doesn’t have to break your piggy bank.
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I’ve never understood people who don’t want to learn new things.
Allow me to clarify: I’m not talking about going to school for additional years, or taking more tests, or being forced to study things that don’t interest you.
I’m talking about learning for the sake of expanding your knowledge. Expanding your interests. Expanding your world.
There are people who proudly proclaim that they’ve never picked up a book since they graduated from high school. I can’t imagine it. The thought of the sum of my knowledge, stopped at a point when I barely knew how to be an adult? It’s laughable. For as much as I knew then, I was ignorant of much. And years in the future, I’ll look back on this time and realize I was ignorant as I wrote this post.
The fact is that we’re always learning something, even if we don’t realize it.
Do I want to keep track of the price of soybeans? No. I don’t even like soybeans. I would learn about them if it were part of my job, but I dare say it would be a struggle for me, because soybeans are most certainly not my passion in life. So why not learn about what interests us?
As a child, I loved music of all kinds, and would spend hours at my grandma’s house, playing around on her little out-of-tune piano. She said she never minded the noise, and encouraged me as I flipped through the yellowed pages of her old John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano, teaching myself the notes and playing such classics as “Blow the Man Down” and “The Banjo Picker”—one finger at a time, of course.
I didn’t have access to a piano again until my adult years, but taught myself some music theory and can now play well enough to accompany myself on piano using only a guitar chord chart and a melody in my head. The more often I play—which is just about every week in a worship band at my other job—the more comfortable I am with my skills. I have a passion for music, and performing it regularly with skilled musicians is a huge bonus for me.
When we pursue our passion, the learning isn’t a chore.
My passion for the written word has led me to a path of constant learning. Much like my early piano exploration, my early attempts at writing and editing now cause me to realize how bold I was in my ignorance, and how much I’ve learned in the past decade. But homeschooling our children made me realize that I actually liked the learning process when there was no pressure of a test looming on the horizon.
Over the past few years, I’ve taken editing courses, participated in webinars, and attended conferences. Just two short weeks ago, I went to my very first Editorial Freelancers Association conference and loved the experience so much that I can’t wait for the next one.
One of the things I love about the EFA is that they’re not only equipped to help me become a better editor, but they’re also intent on making me a better business owner. My biggest regret of the EFACon was that I couldn’t clone myself and go to at least three of the four hourly sessions. There were so many “greats” speaking, and so much variety.
Sessions covered everything from getting started as a freelancer to having a business large enough to hire other freelancers. There were tech sessions for learning macros, tools and programs for timesaving and consistency (I met Daniel Heuman, creator of PerfectIt!), and knowing how & when to hire virtual assistants. There was a session on sensitivity reading and another on editorial ethics. And really, just so much more, with a total of twenty-six sessions—something for everyone, whether that person was a fiction editor, a medical editor, an academic editor, or something else.
Networking without an agenda was my favorite part.
Usually, when I hear the word “networking,” I cringe. So often, when people meet up in a business setting, they’re trying to sell a product or their services, and the goal is basically to kiss up to the most important person in the room and work their way down to the mere peasants if there’s time.
Not so at this conference. Though some of the speakers and attendees were superstars in their own right, top of the heap in their field, you’d never know it. I had some wonderful conversations with people I’d never dreamed of meeting.
One of those people was author Carol Saller, whose words from The Subversive Copy Editor you can see here on the home page of my website. I introduced myself during one of the coffee breaks, thanked her for giving me permission to use the quote when I set up my website in 2018, and we ended up having a wonderful talk about why we enjoy our favorite reference books (usually the author’s sense of humor), the horrid idea of forcing ourselves to finish a book that’s a dry read because someone’s trying to convince us “it really is worth it and picks up in the last half” (I’m looking at you, Crime and Punishment), and why it’s so important to support each other.
Carol was such a lovely person to talk to, and never made me feel as if she had something more important she needed to attend to while we chatted. I was already a fan, and the conversation simply cemented it. If you’re an editor who’s never read her book, you are guaranteed to learn a lot about doing the job well without being a pompous jerk about it. If you’re a writer, you’ll enjoy her book because it will help you to realize that your readers are foremost in an editor’s mind, and we really do want what’s best for your book.
Conferences are a unique method of further education.
I’ve taken editing courses and I’ve self-taught with a slew of wonderful resource books. But there’s something about going to a conference and being supercharged by those around you and inspired by superb speakers, and coming home with a fresh perspective on your passion and business, chock-full of ideas on how to do things better.
Back in my earlier homeschooling days, a friend and I used to attend the annual homeschool convention in PA, the state I live in. This thing was huge, with over 600 vendors, two full days of speakers, and more crowds than I prefer to deal with in a year’s time. But we’d plan out which presenters we wanted to see, which vendors we needed to visit, and which items were on our Christmas lists (for ourselves and for the kids, because books).
Each year, we’d come home fired up and full of fresh ideas for how to improve our homeschooling experience—enjoyable as it may be, school is still school, after all. And even when we were in the waning years of schooling and didn’t actually need any new curriculum, we still wanted to make that five-hour drive to stay inspired for another season.
If you’re in the habit of learning, you’re aware of how much more there is—and always will be—to learn.
I’ve found that when I pursue my interests, there’s always something new on the horizon. In the writing and editing world, the language is always evolving, so there’s no time to be stagnant. Keeping up with trends means keeping the workload flowing. And doing what I love always inspires me to want to do it better.
Sometimes, improving means taking a class. Other times, it can be as simple as getting together with other writer friends online or in person and trading ideas. Every bit helps.
Do you have a favorite method of learning? Are you a self-teacher, or do you thrive in classroom after classroom? Do you have a favorite class or conference you’ve participated in that changed the way you work?
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