Monday, August 29, 2016

Learning and Writing

A few months ago, Russ and I decided to spend $20 a month for a subscription to The Great Courses Plus (, which gives us access to so many courses that we have a hard time deciding which ones to do next, both in our 'together' courses and in the ones we do on our own.  I've watched over 63 hours of courses since June 1 when we started.  These are presented in half-hour lectures sets.  A History of India (the first one I did) was 36 lectures (18 hours).  I was never bored.  I did a short Neil DeGrasse Tyson set on The Inexplicable Universe (6 lectures, 3 hours).  Others have been Introduction to Archeology, Origins of Great Civilizations, Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre, The Nature of Earth, Geological Wonders, and Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire.  I'm about to start one of the writing/literature courses, too.
The courses are divided into categories:

Professional & Personal Development
Health, Fitness & Nutrition
Food & Wine
Hobby & Leisure
Economics & Finance
Music & Fine Arts
Literature & Language
Philosophy, Religion & Intellectual History

As far as I can tell, all the presenters are college-level professors at major institutions and most (if not all) with awards in teaching. None of them have been boring.
On the other hand, many people prefer documentaries to lectures. They're more dynamic and easier to engage all the senses.  I like some documentaries, but I take the lectures more seriously since they are less like a television show.
I've started using what I'm learning in my writing.  The new idea I mentioned in last week's blog post came from A History of India.  I know far more about the structure of the world in Silversun because of the two geology courses.  The Alexander the Great course is so filled with fascinating ideas that I'll have to watch it twice to really pull all the material out of it.  Am I going to write a novel about Alexander?  No.  Mary Renault wrote the best trilogy about him with Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games.  However, that doesn't mean I can't look at the world of Alexander and find some fascinating bits and pieces to adapt to another story -- like that new one from last week.
I believe that there are two reasons why the world of publishing (both traditional and indie) get caught up in 'latest best great thing' cycles.  Part of it is that writers (new and old) read the new stuff, get inspired, and write their version of it.  There's nothing wrong with that except that it can get repetitive and insular before long.
This is where reading (or watching) nonfiction can give you ideas outside of the fiction world.  Rather than leaning on someone else's imagination, try exploring some new paths of your own.  Have a fascination with Egypt?  Then pick up a couple books and see what ideas leap out at you.  They don't have to be massive academic tomes about the subject. Remember, you don't have to write about Egypt itself -- unless you want to, of course.  However, Egypt can provide a wonderful bedrock for a new fantasy world.  How about a place less known, like the island of Cyprus?  Historical incidents can be twisted and the reasons behind events can be great insights into why something is happening on your own world, from court intrigue and customs to the outbreak of wars and rebellions.
Many people come out of school with a sense of relief that having to learn anything is over.  It's not true, of course, but the things we learn in everyday life is dull and boring compared to finding some little spark of an idea that you come across that isn't based on someone else's fiction.
Besides, original ideas are how the 'new best things' sometimes happen.  You could be the person to lead the way, at least if you take a chance to find your own path instead of following those of others.

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