Learning by doing

There are some things you can really only learn by doing them. The process of doing something when you really don’t know how to do it tends to feel exposed. In the beginning, you may be awful, which can be off-putting and might be very uncomfortable. How will people react?

Sometimes very experienced writers of essays, short stories and articles can jump straight into novel writing and make it work. For most people, the first novel is a hot mess you hide and never speak of. Until you’ve tried to write one, it’s hard to grasp what it takes to write a novel, and just how many ideas you need to make it to 60k words – which is short by book standards. It’s not until you try and write a book that you can really get to grips with how pacing works, and character arcs and themes. There’s a lot you can learn from reading, but it’s not the same as doing.

Playing music or singing with people when you aren’t working from a written composition brings similar issues. You can learn to play your instrument, you can learn songs, and there’s a great deal of theory that can be handy for this, if it suits how you think. You can only learn how to play by ear by doing it. You can only learn to sing with other people, or to join in by improvising, by doing it, and you have to do it with other people.

There are things about being on stage and interacting with an audience that you can only learn by experiencing it. This also applies to giving talks, being on panels and being interviewed. There are a lot of things you can learn by observation, but in order to learn how to navigate yourself through this sort of thing, you need practice.

This is why it is so important to have safe spaces where people can have a go. If the only spaces you can find are for professional people who already know how to do these things, there’s no scope for anyone else to advance to that level. Accessible, grass roots spaces where people feel welcome and supported as they learn, are absolutely essential. The only way we get people who are great at these things is if we support them while they aren’t great. No one comes fully fledged into their creative powers, everyone has to spend time learning and making mistakes.

If you’re an organiser, this is something you can factor in by creating opportunities. If you’re an audience member, your willingness to be kind and supportive is hugely important. Mocking people and knocking them down will stop people from becoming all that they could be. Kindness, support and encouragement helps people grow and develop. Often the single biggest issue for people putting their stuff out is confidence – nerves can mangle performances or stop people showing up. Help people build their confidence and you help them become all that they can be. 

It may be tempting to think that surviving setbacks and hard knocks is a good way of weeding out the wimps and only getting the really committed performers. This isn’t how it works. Confidence and determination don’t have any relationship with quality. I’ve seen some really confident people doing terrible things in public places and no amount of negative feedback will slow them down. It’s the more sensitive people, the gentler people, the ones already knocked around who suffer most from being put down. Those qualities are good qualities in a creator, and might be worth more than the ability to disregard all criticism. People learn a lot when you can tell them what you like about what they do.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Learning by doing

  • lornasmithers

    Yes, I’m on that learning curve at the moment. It took me a while to work out the thing was a novel. I have written novels in the past but they’ve been bloody awful and I’m determined to make this one work. It is taking a lot of redrafting and a lot of learning.

    It is a huge amount of investment in terms of time and energy in relation to handling such a large amount of words that must all fit together and made sense. Changing one plot point meaning the whole thing can be affected in terms of direction and the development of the characters and their thoughts and feelings.

    In the absence of tuition reading good novels is helping!

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