How Praxis Teaches Self-Directed Learning

Praxis, the one year educational bootcamp and apprenticeship program I’m in, encourages and guides self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning is exactly what it sounds like: Learning you pursue yourself.

In the one to two months of pre-program, Praxis participants build their website, LinkedIn, pitch deck, and professional email address. More detail on that here. This is a foundation to build on throughout the remainder of the bootcamp.

In Module/month 1, those pre-program deliverables are refined and further improved. More things are built, including some blog posts to give insight into who you are, how you work, and how you are growing. More on that here.

In Module/month 2, the self-directed learning really goes into full swing. Now participants think of, plan, and execute a month-long project to showcase existing skills or build a new skill. The project is self-directed with additional guidance and feedback from the program advisors and fellow participants.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in the program, but already I’ve taught myself the basics of making a pitch deck, telling my story on LinkedIn, making a pitch video, some video editing, and how to create and self-publish a poetry collection.

I had guidance and input, but I pursued these and the knowledge required for these on my own. I am being taught how to teach myself.

I’m developing my notetaking skills during the Wednseday calls, while reading books, and in the learning I pursue not directly tied to Praxis.

In all this, I’m being encouraged by my peers and advisors to lean in to my curiosity and seek out knowledge, and to showcase my capturing of that knowledge. That’s primarily on my blog, but I’m working to expand that to YouTube as well.

By doing projects and leaning outside of my comfort zone, I’m learning skills and expanding that comfort zone.

Based on my experience, I would say the best way to effectively master self-directed learning is this: Find or build a community of people who seek out knowledge, share that knowledge, and encourage each other in the pursuit of knowledge. Use what you learn. Do a project to learn something or to show the world you have learned it.

If you like reading this blog, please check out my Patreon. There’s some cool rewards available, just waiting for someone like you to claim them.

Some Thoughts on NaNo

It’s November, and while I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, I have in the past and I have friends who are doing it.

At a basic level, NaNo is a 30-day writing challenge, in a similar vein to the month-long personal development projects (PDPs) that are encouraged by Praxis. You spend a month focusing as much time and energy as possible on one goal, one endeavor. At the end, if you’ve spent time each day working toward the goal, you win.

If you don’t write 50k words in November, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the real purpose. If you do, congratulations.

You really win by forming a writing habit and spending focused time working towards a goal, in this case to write a novel, for 30 straight days.

You can make your own rules.

You can set a challenging but obtainable word count goal for yourself. Maybe 50k is too much but you can handle 15 or 20 or even 30k words. Don’t aim so high that you’ll be guaranteed to burn out.

You don’t have to write fiction. You could write poems, blog posts, a non-fiction book, a series of essays. Whatever genre or type of writing you want.

If you really want to, you could decide to do an entirely different month-long project. In fact, I’d encourage you to do some kind of month-long project, NaNo or otherwise.

I’m not doing NaNo, but I am doing a PDP. For the whole month of November, I will be marketing my poetry collection, posting on social media, interacting with people, and creating blog posts and videos about self-publishing.

That’s my project this month.

Tell me about yours in the comments below!

The Journal: 22 May 2017

This is a new series comprised of past journal entries I wrote followed by some current thoughts about it, if I have any. The reason for sharing a particular entry will vary. Some may be recorded story ideas, interesting events from my past, or some weird or fun thought I had that I wrote down.

There is an extent to which the way you write tells the world a little something about how you read. I, for example, write very much as though the events are happening and I’m recording them as they do — almost like writing a book based on a movie, only better. The words are meant to be very visual, the reader should see in their mind the events as they unfold, watch as the characters move around, listen as they speak. It’s almost as though Mystical Warriors was meant to be a movie script but I wrote it in plain prose.


I think this was inspired at least partially by my friends telling me the opening scene for my novel-in-progress felt very much like a movie scene.

Recap: Niche Down

This is part of a series of posts called Recap. In it I will share my notes on the content I consumed followed by my response. The content could vary from a podcast, to an article, to a Youtube video, to a book I read. When applicable, I will link to the content.

Niche Down: How to Become Legendary by Being Different is a book by Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy. Christopher Lochhead is the host of the Legends and Losers podcast, and there is a Recap post about Episode 181. Heather Clancy is a journalist. The subtitle serves as a great synopsis of the book — it is Christopher’s and Heather’s observation of “how to become legendary by being different.”

I just finished Niche Down, and it’s fantastic. Anyone who want to do something big should read it. It’s chock full of excellent examples of people and companies who embody the mindset and approach Heather and Christopher are pushing. Many of the people don’t know either of them, and “niched down” without that term existing to describe their actions.

I did not take detailed, structured notes while reading. My notes are then, mostly my recollection of the book overall. The chapters bleed into each other. Each chapter has a main focus, but they’re interconnected.

Notes:

That by being different, doing something differently, or viewing the world and solving problems in a new way, you will stand out. In order to become legendary, have a household name, be wildly successful, whatever it is, you have to stand out, you have to be different. If you do things like everyone else, play by other people’s rules, you will not be the best. You have to set yourself apart, become a “category king or queen” and set the rules to have the majority of the marketshare for that type of item, service, etc.

You have to identify a problem you care about solving (this is important), find the solution, and sell it. This should be a problem people don’t know they have, or that you can solve in a new way. You have to tell people what the problem is, convince them it is a problem, and then explain why they should take your solution. You can’t “be a mercenary,” you have to “be a missionary.” You have to be so sold out to the problem and your solution that you don’t just gain customers, you gain followers, who are sold out to your perspective. When you do this, you become a cateogry king or queen.

Don’t make something like an existing thing. If you are doing something like someone else, you won’t stand out. You will be compared to whoever did it first. That’s not what you want. You want to redefine the problem, solve a new problem, create a new category entirely. Then people will follow your lead, your ideas, be compared to you. Most people wanting your solution will go to you, not the competitors in your category.

In winning people to your solution, evangelizing them, sharing your unique perspective is vital. You have to build social capital as well and increase your presence online. Have a digital body of work and use it to signal that existing “similar” products/companies/etc. should pay attention. That the problem and solution you are working with are important, that people care about it, and so should they.

Niching down is a scary thing. To do it, you have to go against the crowd, you have to stand out, you can’t stay in the safe zone with everyone else and their ideas. You have to position yourself as a leader rather than a follower.

Response:

There’s so much in this short book (only 110 pages) that’s so good. I could go on so many tangents.

While reading, I thought about myself, my goals, what I love in relation to the content. I found a lot of questions, but very few, if any answers to them as of yet.

I want to make money to at least partially support myself by writing. How can I niche down in that? What problem can I solve with my writing, either a finished product or my skill of writing? I know I want to stand out, I don’t want to be like everyone else, but how do I do that? When there is such a saturation of creative work nowadays with the advent of the internet, how do I stand out from a crowd of writers?

I don’t have answers now, but I’m still at the start of my journey. I only really started seriously pursuing writing earlier this year. I have time, I know that. I’m not using that as an excuse for complacency, however, just an encouragement to myself that I still have days and weeks and months and years to figure this out and refine my approach and define myself and establish my niche.

Most well-known authors are recognized by their works. Romeo and Juliet, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Raven, Inkheart, Eragon, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and others. But it depends on readers what sticks, what has staying power, what is recognizable years, decades, centuries later. (And often times publishers, at least traditionally, but self-publishing is a growing alternative that does not have any approval process limiting what becomes available to readers.)

Organizing a Poetry Collection: What I Learned

As I’m sure you know, I’m hard at work on my upcoming debut poetry collection Inside a Writer’s Head. Since initally deciding to make this collection and amassing all the poems into one Google doc, I’ve learned a few things.

1. Don’t pick categories first.

This might be more relevant to collections that are already topic-specific. Inside a Writer’s Head is a collection of poems written about writing, so they have that theme in common.

I made the mistake of grouping poems together by topics when I was putting them into the Google doc. I had no idea how I wanted the poems arranged when I did this. I didn’t know which poem would open the collection, which would close it. I created buckets without knowing if I’d use them or how many poems would be in each bucket.

This made it harder for me to move forward because the poems were already “organized,” so I wasn’t sure how to “reorganize” them to make a cohesive collection.

2. Do play around with the order.

Move the poems around. Try different poems at the start of the collection, at the end. See what goes together and what you don’t like. What that means will depend on your purposes.

I have a few poems I paired together to create a humorous effect, or because they had a similar implication in some of the lines, or because they gave some clarification to each other.

I’m still not done doing this. I’m much happier with this draft over the previous one, though.

3. Don’t be afraid to cut, combine, or otherwise change the poems in the collection.

I had three poems about my novel-in-progress. They didn’t fit the collection. They would’ve needed some explanation and context and I didn’t want to interrupt the collection and the flow of the poems in order to add that. So I cut them. I didn’t want to, not really, but I did it anyway to improve cohesivity and order.

I had two poems that were very similar thematically, such that they were almost two versions of the same poem. So I made them one poem. A couple other poems needed lines cut or some other changes to be made.

You want the poems to individually be the best they can be. You want the collection as a whole piece to be the best it can be. For that to happen, you will have to make changes and edits. Also, just because you cut lines or a whole poem doesn’t mean you can’t still use it or that it has no merit. But you have to recognize when it doesn’t fit in the collection or the poem.

4. Do make the collection what and how you like it.

This is your piece of art, own it. If you’re not happy with it, it won’t matter how happy everyone else is. Everyone else could think it the best collection in the world, but that won’t make you happy with it.

Take control over your creative product, make it what you want, make it how you want. It’s in your name, you need to own it.

(That’s actually one of my reasons for self-publishing.)

 

I’ve only just finished a second draft. I’m not done crafting the collection, reordering the poems, etc. These are four things I’ve found to be important over the last few days when I moved from draft one to draft two.

For anyone looking to make your own poetry collection, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions about organizing your manuscript, Inside a Writer’s Head, or advice for me, put it in the comments! I’d love to discuss this with you.

Recap: The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems

This is part of a series of posts called Recap. In it I will share my notes on the content I consumed followed by my response. The content could vary from a podcast, to an article, to a Youtube video, to a book I read. When applicable, I will link to the content.

This is a response to The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems by Courtney Martin. While I do not agree with some of the more political examples in her post, she gives some great insight into the main trouble of attempts to solve foreign problems.

Notes

Other people’s problems seems easily solvable from an outside perspective. “It’s not malicious. In many ways, it’s psychologically defensible; we don’t know what we don’t know.” A lot of non-profit organizations are geared towards “saving the world,” and international aid.

It is problematic to try to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity.

It’s dangerous for the people whose problems you’ve avoided. There’s domestic need, which we can better understand because it’s closer to home. It does require more research and as such seems more daunting.

Problems abroad can be tackled, but they take time and effort. You have to cultivate relationships with the people, listen to them, understand them, build trust so you can work with them to solve the problem.

Response

It only seems more because we recognize the complexity of the problem and the depth of understanding required to solve it. If we understood the same for foreign problems we could help the people create better solutions to those problems as well, but it would take time.

 

The article has a lot of excellent real world examples which I did not include. This is far shorter than the original piece, but that is a synopsis. I recommend reading the full article, it’s really good.

Recap: Girl Defined Fixed My Anxiety

This is part of a series of posts called Recap. In it I will share my notes on the content I consumed followed by my response. The content could vary from a podcast, to an article, to a Youtube video, to a book I read. When applicable, I will link to the content.

Additionally this was written September 8th despite the url.

I recently watched Rachel Oates‘ video Girl Defined Fixed My Anxiety. I wrote about my struggle with mental heath on Over the Invisible Wall and I mentioned it in Why I’m Not a Christian. In my response to the video I share more about that.

Notes

Rachel Oates has dealt with anxiety and it’s been a big part of her life.

Girl Defined equates worry and anxiety in their video, but it’s not the same thing. Worry is something everyone faces frequently. Worry usually has an external cause. Anxiety on the other hand is more intense; worry on a way bigger scale. There’s more internal or physiological causes, and anxiety is longer term. It can have external triggers but is more internal.

First of Girl Defined’s points, you should pass your worries onto God. Rachel disagrees: what helped her with anxiety was feeling more in control; it was worst when she felt out of control.

Girl Defined’s 2nd point: don’t worry so much about the future that you forget to live now. Rachel shared how focusing on the present moment helped her at times when she was feeling overwhelmed because of anxiety. She said, “Things can change and things do change and you have the power to change them.”

Third point: worry isn’t helpful. Obviously. But you can’t just tell yourself to stop worrying or stop having a panic attack.

Fourth point: God promises to help those who trust him. Rachel wants proof that God exists, can help her, and has her best interests in mind before she’ll just trust him and throw out her medication.

Point five was to remember that God has a plan for you. Rachel disagrees, thinks better advice would be that while life is crappy sometimes it’s possible to recognize those things that make it so and make a plan to change them.

Girl Defined then tells people that following God more and praying is the best way to deal with and stop worrying or having anxiety. This is a dangerous mindset because it could stop people from getting the help they need and seeking treatment.

Rachel recommends Sane New World by Ruby Wax and Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig.

Response

I grew up in a Christian home and I dealt with depression. Which, yes, is very different, and not related to this specific topic directly, but it is a mental health issue. And I’ve seen Christians suggest partial “cures” for it in the same way Girl Defined suggested things for anxiety-conflated-with-worry. I was told at least once that my depression was probably due at least in part to my poor relationship with God. If only I would fix things with God and grow closer to him, I wouldn’t be so depressed. But I’ve had the opposite problem.

Rather than making me less depressed, it aggravated other problems. I feared I was not truly following Christ, that I hadn’t been forgiven, that my sins hadn’t been washed away, that I was one of the goats who thought they were Christians but were not and would burn in hell. This led me to hopelessness. I had some security in my faith to a degree, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t convince me. It couldn’t convince me. The what ifs swirled on and on, building up. It took me to a point where there was no hope, no certainty, no reason to believe my life mattered.

I was taught that everyone’s true purpose was to glorify God. But I couldn’t discern whether I was truly glorifying him or if I was trying to glorify myself. There was no way to be sure. I kept reaching a point where my relationship with God, if you can call it that, felt ingenuine, more obviously fake than I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter™. And that drove me further into hopelessness and a fear of hell. It also drove me toward atheism.

If this God existed, he clearly did not intend for me to follow him. I can’t. I’ve tried everything and I can’t do it. It always flakes. I always feel like I’m faking it, going through the motions, holding a veil over everyone’s eyes, especially my own. So it seems that he is either not real or he is not good, because he is surely sending me to hell. I wanted to follow him. I wanted to believe. So badly. So badly. But I couldn’t. It always fell apart. Every time.