The Autodidact at Work and Play

Reflections on the Writerly Life

Every writer is an autodidact, for reasons that are fairly obvious when you think about it.  First, the business of writing (as distinguished from composition) cannot be taught but must be learned by imitation and by practice.  And, second, unless he is a scholar, newspaper journalist, or technical-scientific writer, a writer must discover his proper subject for himself—or, rather, it must discover him.  Thus, formal education is the background, not the training, for the writing life—a thing hardly worth the misery and travail if it is nothing more than a career.  For this writer, for whom education and educators have always been irritants, and ignorance boredom in its most complete form, writing is more than the ideal occupation; it is a godsend, a type of earthly salvation.

Schooling, for me, was always an affliction.  Somehow, I endured 22 years of formal education.  Only 14 of them were mandatory.  Why did I inflict another eight elective ones on myself?  Dropping out of school, in the context of the 60’s, seemed a vulgar thing to do, for one thing.  For another, it amounted to hurling myself into the Armed Forces’ massive intake duct.  (While plenty open to adventure, then as now, I had in mind the romantic life of a buckaroo on an Australian cattle ranch, not the slogging existence of a GI suffering gunshot wounds and jungle rot to deliver “freedom”...

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