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Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Creativity & Productivity, The Writing Life | 11 comments

How To Teach Yourself Anything

How To Teach Yourself Anything



Some of you may or may not know that I was homeschooled all the way from cradle to graduation. If you have any quips about all-day pajamas or taking my sister to the prom, please regurgitate them now and get them out of your system. Thank you.


Homeschooling was a fantastic experience for me in many ways. One of the greatest things I learned was the fine art of teaching myself things

I have my mom to thank for this. If I was interested in chemistry, she would hand me a book that showed me how to make tabletop volcanoes. If I found a weird bug and wanted to know what it was, she sent me to a bug encyclopedia. (Or later on, Google.) When I was writing a science-fiction book and needed to know more about astronomy, she gave me an astronomy course that I worked through for a semester.

One of the great things about the 21st century: It’s possible to learn almost anything on your own, if you have the inclination. Here are some of the discoveries I’ve made that make the self-teaching process a little easier.


Find Your Practice Routine


You may aspire to become the world’s best car egger, but you’ll never be any more than a mediocre vandal if you don’t invest a good amount of time in your garage, practicing the many and varied techniques used by all the greatest eggers.

Practice. There’s no going without it.

But while a good practice does tend to make (closer to) perfect, a lousy practice doth make only lousiness. It’s up to you to design your personal practice routine, supercharged to fit your own personality and schedule.

One size does not fit all. Experiment, figure out what works and what doesn’t. All that matters is that you end up with a structured practice routine to consistently move you toward betterment.


Practice In the Real World


Whether you’re writing a book, playing an instrument, learning a language, or baking cupcakes, you will never become truly great if the only place you practice your craft is your bedroom.

Your day-to-day, private practice is essential, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. To truly grow and mature in your craft, you have to experience it in the harsh and unpredictable schoolroom of the real world.

Give your book to people who will give you honest feedback. Play your guitar for open mic night. Send your cupcakes to your friends, family, and favorite politicians.


Make Friends Who Are Better Than You


We all like having friends who will be awed by our skill, who will shake their heads and make sounds of jealousy and admiration when we do our thing.

But you know what’s more important? Having friends who are so much better than you at whatever it is you’re trying to learn that it makes you want to curl into a fetal position under ten feet of quilts and cry bitter, despairing tears.

Because people like this will push you to become better. They are a picture of what you are capable of achieving. And if they really are your friends, they will be only too happy to help you along in your journey.


Try Different Mediums


It’s good to find the methods of learning that work best for you, but don’t let this keep you from trying new things. Maybe you consider yourself primarily a visual learner—try subscribing to some good audio podcasts that address your particular craft. Or maybe you get most of your information from books—try visiting a hands-on workshop for a change.

Keep your mind fresh. Don’t get stuck in a “learning rut”.


Be a Teacher


One of the best ways to learn anything is to teach it to someone. It’s one of the scariest things you’ll ever do, but the benefits are huge and long-lasting.


Learn While You Learn


When you learn something, remember that the concepts you’re learning might just apply to a completely different aspect of your life as well.

I’ve used acting techniques to improve my writing, and writing techniques to improve my acting. Various things I’ve learned about music have also helped me in how I relate to and interact with other people.

Most knowledge boils down to abstract concepts and ideas—and those can be used across the board to improve many different aspects of our lives, if you keep your mind open to them. It’s like MEGA-learning.


Never Graduate


You will never know all there is to know. No matter how good you are at something, there will always be something more to learn. Always keep your mind open to learning new things. Never stop scanning the horizon for your next personal discovery, the next breakthrough that clicks in your brain and takes you to the next level of craft.

There are many secrets to being good at what you do, but that may be the biggest one.


photo credit: School Desk Steelcase Node Business Review’s Innovation Michigan July 28, 20101 via photopin (license)



  1. “Make Friends Who Are Better Than You”

    I’ve found that tip to be extremely helpful. It always motivates me to try my best whenever I see another young writer who is better than me. I’m very competitive. 😛

    • Jealousy can be a great motivator! As long as you let it motivate you, and not grind you into depressed apathy… I’ve been both places. 😉

  2. Excellent advice, Braden. This especially seems to be the case with autodidacts. All of your points helped me immensely with my drumming. It was crucial to establish an effective practice routine that allowed me to focus on a particular area at a time. Playing with others in a public setting allowed for feedback from other musicians. No matter how good one is, there are always those who are much better. Spending time with better drummers was humbling as well as motivating. Studying different styles forced me to expand my horizons and step outside my comfort zone.

    The most challenging (and most rewarding), was when I taught other budding drummers. My students forced me to continually hone my craft. Teaching also requires continual learning, to stay one step ahead. And as with anything worthwhile, there is no graduation, as the skills of each succeeding generation just get better. There is always something worthwhile to learn.

    Great job, as always. May the world continue to offer you many things worth self-learning..

    • Students are the real teachers, I think. We should be paying them to take lessons from us. :p
      Thanks, Eddie! Same to you.

  3. This is great! And I totally agree: being homeschooled opened vast horizons of learning for me that I can’t imagine I would have accessed otherwise. I’m in the midst of trying to teach myself French. Not exactly fluent yet, but I did figure out that the French guy called the German guy a pig in the WWII show I watched the other night. :p

    • @K.M. Weilad:
      Teaching yourself French? That takes dedication! Good for you. I myself am learning German, and have enjoyed understanding the simple German found in movies. 🙂
      By the way, I’ve seen you on this blog before, but I only just now made the connection as to who you are! I just joined your blog about a month ago, but I’ve been reading it for a while longer than that. I love your posts- especially on creating memorable characters. 😀

      @Braden Russel:

      Self teaching is one of the things I greatly enjoyed about homeschooling too. It allowed me to hone my writing skills much more freely than I would have in a public school situation. 🙂

    • Being bi-lingual is an awesome idea if only because of the wonderful new world of insult opportunities it opens up. :p Kudos for that! I’ve been wanting to learn another language for a while, but I’m lazy and intimidated by how thoroughly Latin kicked my rear in highschool.

  4. I would add one additional point to the process of learning – find a way to share and record what you know. This sets a benchmark so that you can look back and see how far you have come. This can be in the form of a private journal, sketchbook, video, blog, recording, etc.
    You may cringe when you look back, but you can be proud of what you accomplished. Something that I have learned about myself, as I look through 25+ years of sketchbooks and writing notebooks is that I was always learning and growing. Each of these books is full of memories and struggles. Struggle + Vision = Growth.
    In addition to benchmarks, keeping track of where you are helps you remember who you are, and then you can set your course to the person that you want to grow into.

    • Excellent point! I try not to throw away anything I make in the learning process–it may be painful to look back on later, but it will also be a great reminder of how far I’ve come.

  5. /When you learn something, remember that the concepts you’re learning might just apply to a completely different aspect of your life as well./ That is a really awesome sentence! Very inspiring post too.
    And that is great that you were homeschooled all your life. I am heading that way.

  6. I can’t say how having friends who are way ahead of me in violin have helped spur me on to practice harder. I started late (age 12) and taught my self until two years ago, and, like you said, it made me want to curl up under my blankets and cry when I heard friends my own age playing Seitz’ pupil concerto no. 2 while I was sawing away at “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” But, it pricked me on to work harder and now I am playing Seitz’ concerto and teaching little girls to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Thank you for writing this article.

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