How to Use Blogs to Self-Educate & Help Master Your Craft

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I was inspired to write this post after reading The Birth of Self-Guided Education (the only real option left), by Scott Dinsmore at Live Your Legend.

In his post, Scott challenges the idea of dropping out of school and using that time and effort to build your business or goals. He was a prestigious student placing at the top 5% of his class. He went to school for Business, Economics, Accounting, and Spanish; and when he went to start his investment fund, he had to teach himself everything all over.

That’s pretty crazy. You work your ass off in school, getting the best possible grades, and the only real way to get great grades is to be an excellent student. The fact that he had to teach himself all over makes me question education.

But we both came to an agreement.

Education is something we have to build ourselves. We have to develop the habit and discipline of sitting down, meticulously studying and learning and experimenting our craft. My biggest mistake in going to college was believing that I could learn everything there is about my craft just through textbooks and professors — that’s very limited, and it should never end there. I’d also like to add, maybe you aren’t a college student . . . maybe you already graduated, but regardless, education should never ever stop; if you stop going to the gym you get fat, and believe me, if you stop exercising your mind like any other muscle, it will wither away.

Most people will not go out of their way to educate themselves; they have to be told by another person, someone with status, to actually exercise and challenge their mind and thinking. The smart people, the ones who seem to know everything there is about their craft, are the ones who spend valuable time out of their day — everyday — and study, study, study. They experiment, they learn, they teach themselves how to become great. They read books, articles, how-to guides, personal stories and experiences. They challenge themselves.

A typical response from a college student nowadays (and one that I gave for a handful of years): “But I don’t know what I want to do.”

I was in this boat, and I realized how fast it was sinking. I wanted to do something — anything! Towards my last semester of community college, when I finally turned my grades around, I explored the craft of writing and blogging.

Within a week, my best friend Eddy helped me start up a blog, and I began playing with it like a child. My writing and whole understanding of the craft was foolish, confused, but beyond interested.

I realized no one was going to teach me how to become a better writer unless I took up Creative Writing courses — the thought of reading American Literature in the 1800′s and comparing it to some unimaginable figure is not something I wanted to do.

And I realized there were no blogging courses in my Print Journalism program — although, blogs are the new magazine, and anyone that is blogging has Journalism in their blood.

So what did I do? What were my methods of self-educating, and how can this apply to your situation?

First way: read magazines, blogs, websites: I don’t need to tell you how much information is on the internet — you already know. With that being said, sometimes we don’t take advantage of what we can get for free, or we take it for granted. The way I wanted to blog required a specific kind of writing; it had to be clear, concise, injected with my personality, helpful, understanding, educational, interesting, but most of all . . . it had to be me. Who could teach me that? Who is already doing this?

So I started to research for all popular blogs and what they were about. I landed on websites like Problogger, Copyblogger, Men with Pens, Write to Done, Zen Habits, GoinsWriter, Ghostwriter Dad, Live Your Legend, Aliventures, Dumb Little Man, and many more.

To me it felt like I struck oil.

I couldn’t believe the kind of blogs I found. Here are real people, doing what I want to do, making a living, and they’re teaching you for free! Sure, they have products, books, and courses, but their blog content was absolutely free and filled with insight. (If you love magazines, you should love blogs, because they really are the same thing. Not the blogs like the personal ones where they share what they ate for lunch. I’m talking about real professional, organized blogs).

I realized what I had found, then the opportunity of self-educating hit me.

You may not want to become a writer or a blogger, but if you do have particular interests, it’s time to take advantage of the web and online content to help you educate yourself, here’s how:

  1. Research for blogs or websites that are related to your passion, niche, job, work, etc. How do you do that? Check out Alltop.com, a website that organizes all the top blogs for specific niches so you can find them quicker without having to go to war with Google search. Let’s say you want to start gardening. Once you find a great gardening blog with a large reader base, you can usually find other great blogs by checking out the comments and each individual post; from there you will see a network of people. You can visit their site, and if it’s what you’re looking for, subscribe and bookmark.
  2. Once you have found a handful of blogs that are directly related to your craft, it’s time to engage them. If you are a fan of Google Reader or any program or platform that helps you organize your RSS, then subscribe to all those blogs so you never miss a post.
  3. Check if they have free eBooks or articles. When I wanted to know more about blogging and marketing and content, I signed up to Copyblogger’s email marketing newsletter and downloaded all their free and available PDFs. The information was golden. The whole time I was saying to myself that I wish they taught this in college. Maybe they do, but from my experience so far, nothing can compete (and it was free!). If they have products, services, coaching, and you’re really passionate about learning more, then purchase them. I blogged for about a year without having a clue on how to network and become popular within a niche. I signed up for Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging course, and within three months, I have been featured on four very popular blogs. It has helped me focus on what I really want to do with my blog and my writing — the experience outweighed the cost.
  4. If you hate email and you aren’t savvy with it, then newsletters may not be for you. But, a little personal advice: you’re missing out. Sean Platt is the writer and owner of Ghostwriter Dad, and his 30-day newsletter on writing tips was a tremendous factor in my improvement on writing. It’s almost strange how this all works, I know, but it’s remarkable. I even replied to one of his newsletters and from there built a friendship.  During one of his newsletters, he shared a page of resources that helped him become a better writer. Through that I purchased Stephen King’s A Memoir of the Craft, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — both amazing writing books that every writer should purchase and read. Did those books help me? Ha . . . I wish I found those books when I first started…
  5. Read the comments on the blog post. Not all comments will be insightful and great, but by reading other people’s responses, you can learn different perspectives and see what people have to say about the topic. You can even chime in and throw in your two-cents.
  6. Take advantage of eBooks. This one is huge for me because I have a separate folder of all the free eBooks I’ve downloaded from many popular and successful bloggers. The information and stories in eBooks is incredible. Blog posts are one thing, but eBook is like a collection of all the best posts they have ever written — or wanted to write — and they’re sharing it with you. Take advantage. Read them more than once if you have to. Some of these eBooks are so valuable, it’s shocking that I was able to download them for free.
  7. Many of these successful bloggers offer coaching or online courses. If you’re like me, it takes a lot of persuasion to take out my credit card and punch in my information to someone I won’t be seeing in person. If you’re passionate and hungry for this knowledge, and you know it’s going to benefit your craft, then I say do it. If I didn’t sign up for the Guest Blogging course, who knows where I would be right now. I sure as hell wouldn’t have five guest posts on four different blogs.
  8. Last but not least, once you build a small relationship with your author of the blog, and they respond to your comments, feel free to email them any questions. Believe me, bloggers such as my self love when people email and ask questions (we feel important). This is how you should do it. Always construct a well-written email to the author so they know how serious you are. You will be shocked with the response the you get (depending on the person, of course), but from my new experiences: every blogger that I have ever emailed with a request or question have responded professionally and kindly.

Just look at how things are changing:

  • Traditional t.v. turned into YouTube and tube sites.
  • Newspapers went digital, now viewable on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.
  • Print Magazines went digital, and a new kind of magazine spawned: blogs.
  • Radio, podcasts, are now simple, clear, sometimes free, and better than before.
  • The sharing of videos, images, and ideas are viral, instant, and growing.

This is the age where we have to learn how to keep up with the times because these new technologies and platforms and mediums will help us in many aspects — it depends on how we use it.

In all my years of living, I have never valued education as much as I do. I believe knowledge is power. The more knowledge, the more power in your life and decisions — I truly believe in that. Which is why education is something all of us should be practicing everyday.

Let’s start with blogs. Something simple. Something accessible from a few clicks and words away. A place where there’s a wealth of knowledge, personal experience, stories, guidance, tips, and other people interested in your niche.

Learn how to use it to your advantage.

This is just one way, with many avenues within, to begin self-educating yourself. It is not a hard process — it’s just hard to begin. Once you get the ball rolling, things will start to pick up, and before you know it, you’re going to be wiser and more knowledgable in your craft. This, to me, is a wonderful thing.

I hope this has opened your eyes to a new way of educating yourself, taking advantage of blogs and the incredible amount of information that is at our fingertips.

I will do more of these posts, on how to educate yourself with different mediums. I hope you enjoyed, and if you have more tips and ideas on how to self-educate, please, tell us your story.

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