I think I’m about to become a Benjamin Franklin fanboi.
While working in his brother’s printing-house during his teens, little Ben would steal time whenever he could to improve his writing ability.
Here’s the cliff-notes of his genius method of self-teaching.
1. Find a source of writing you find inspiring
About this time I met with an odd volume of the “Spectator,” it was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.
2. Take certain articles or passages and turn them into bullet points
With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence…
3. Take a break
…laid them by a few days…
4. Try to recreate the passages from your “hints”
…and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before…
Then I compared my “Spectator” with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.
6. Repeat by replacing the hints with poetic verse
I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again.
This was in part because he had a fondness for poetry from earlier in life, and to vastly expand his vocabulary.
7. Repeat by jumbling everything together
I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavoured to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was to teach me the method in the arrangement of thoughts.
The principles that guided Benjamin’s method, which can undoubtedly be applied to any skill, is to break down the larger skill into sub-skills and knowledge-bases. Then, to devise a way of training yourself in these subcomponents by hard-graft.
He recognised that writing was compose of laying out single thoughts in a clear way (rewriting sentences from hints), command of vocabulary (rewriting them in “verse”), and organising thoughts in a cohesive way that leads to reader smoothly from one to another (jumbling everything up to rearrange later).