Friday, September 21, 2012

COMMENTARY: The Three Hardest Lessons I Learned

We all learn lessons the hard way. Some of them in school and many of them not. I'm focusing on school in this post, because my current WIP brought up some of these issues.

LESSON ONE:  Don't ever let anyone share your work

It was fourth grade and a girl who I both went to church and school with begged me to let her see my homework. At the time, she had a good reason and I took pity on her. As she said, "It's the Christian thing to do..."

Big surprise. She copied all my hard work. She got an A and I got called up by Mrs. Stone to explain why I copied HER. Lucky for me, Mom helped me find the information I needed and worked with me on my homework. She ended up talking to Mrs. Stone about the situation.

Result:  The girl who copied still got an A. I got a C-. Why? My handwriting wasn't as good as the girl who copied me. Of course, there were other reasons, I was the handicapped kid in the classroom and the copier was the Senator's Daughter. I never made that mistake again.

LESSON TWO:  Follow the Rules

The next lesson came in a Masters level course in Creative Writing. Jerry Vancook, the instructor, gave us a pretty nitpicky assignment including margins, word count, font, etc.

My homework came back with a big fat F. So did most of the class'. What was the objective of that lesson? According to Jerry:  "Publishers will reject your MS if you don't follow their rules. This time you got an F. Next time, your book's rejected. That's a lot harder to deal with."

Jerry was kind. He let us re-do our assignments, but as he said, real life doesn't give you that option so learn now.

LESSON THREE:  Check Your Sources

Dr. Wyllys taught my first class at library school and I learned more from him in one semester than many years before. Our first assignment looked deceptively simple. Find the answers to some common questions on the Web and cite your sources.

I had the work done in five minutes. So did many of my other classmates taking their first LIS course. Big mistake.

Our answers were correct, but we got the whole question wrong when we didn't have an authoritative source.

What's that, you're going to ask. Good question, it's important. Just because something appears on the web as factual, you can't take it as such. You've got to question the source and find the most authoritative answer.

I thought about writing up the answer here, but I've found excellent sources to help you, Dear Reader, learn if you are interested:

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

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