Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

The “Self”-Education of Writers . . .

I must begin this post by making it clear that many fine writers have completed what’s considered a full education—appropriate degrees and banners flying high.

Yet, many other fine writers have tasted the fare of society’s brand of learning and decided, sometimes seemingly “against their will”, to set their own sails on their own ship of pedagogy.

I, for instance, tried college three times—thrice found it wanting—am still a devoted learner

Many are the writers whose education—beyond that which is learned from living fully and authentically—comes from reading other writers—their creative fiction, not books about how to write.

From the previous post, How To Read Like A Writer—here’s a quote of me quoting Maria Popova who’s quoting Francine Prose from her book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them:

Concerning writers reading to learn how to write—”…the connection has to do with whatever mysterious promptings make you want to write. It’s like watching someone dance and then secretly, in your own room, trying out a few steps.”

“You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading.”

“The only time my passion for reading steered me in the wrong direction was when I let it persuade me to go to graduate school….I left graduate school and became a writer.”

And, concerning authors who stopped their schooling, FlavorWire has an article called, 10 Famous Authors Who Dropped Out of School.

Harper Lee who dropped out during her junior year of university.

Augusten Burroughs, dropped out at age 13.

Charles Dickens, forced out of school at 12 to work long hours for little pay, returned to school, yet many feel his early working days color his writing.

Jack Kerouac dropped out during his freshman year from football injuries.

William Faulkner dropped out at 15 and again at 22.

Mark Twain was forced out of school at 12 due to his father’s death and the need to work for the family.

George Bernard Shaw, dropped out at 14 and once wrote, “Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

H.G. Wells, out at 11 due do his father’s injury.

Jack London, out at 13.

Can you share others in the Comments?

Did you also drop out of school?
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8 responses to “The “Self”-Education of Writers . . .

  1. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen September 28, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Dropping out of school isn’t the same as deciding not to go to university or leaving university. We must keep in mind that those who became fine writers without education are exceptions: intelligent, strong, determined and lucky. I don’t mean to say that people who leave school without any qualifications, say between 14 and 18, are less able. In my experience they are as intelligent as those who remain at school but their problems are too many and often go back a long time. Many feel humiliated. If writing or any other creative activity can help them overcome their obstacles, that’s great. And exceptional.


    • Alexander M Zoltai September 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Perhaps, Martina, education is quite different in Germany?

      I admit my blog can have a bit of USA-bias, even though I try to write to an international community

      Most people I’ve talked to—writers and others—have many complaints about education in the US

      But, these Comments are where folks from other countries can balance the perspective :-)


  2. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen September 29, 2012 at 6:10 am

    I wonder if anyone is entirely happy with educational systems. There is no German education because each of the 16 provinces has its own system. As seveveral OECD studies have shown educational succes in Germany depends strongly on economic status. Where I live, after four years of primary school children receive recommendations for one of the three types of secondary schools. Only one of the schools leads directly to an exam that allows access to university. There is a fourth type of school where the other three are merged, but this fourth type doesn’t exist everywhere. Statistics show that most students drop out of the type of school that offers the lowest level of education. These students are often burdened with social problems. If they are under sixteen they have to take part in remedial programs, but … By the way, educational reform aims at reaching university level at a younger age, not at helping students in danger of falling out of school.


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