A Belief You Already Have That’s Essential for Claiming The Writer’s Life

Will Newman

Today, while working on this week’s articles for The Writer's Life, radio host Terry Gross derailed me.

I’d already planned what I was going to write. I had a rough outline and had done my normal research. As usual when I write, I had my favorite talk shows on in the background to ‘keep me company.’ (I’ve learned how to filter. And when I’m stuck, off goes the radio.)

So, I was listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Her guests’ discussion carried on in the background as I typed away without it catching much of my notice. Until …

Until one guest, Scott Weidensaul, said the current theory is that birds migrate long distance using quantum entanglement.

‘Quantum entanglement’ grabbed my attention and kept me riveted for the next seven minutes. Why those words?

Why? I did well in science classes, except I struggled with physics in college. I had to work ridiculously hard to grasp the math behind concepts. But once I was far enough removed from ever having to worry about grades, I decided to study physics as a nonscientist. And I enjoy it.

And one area that fascinates me: Quantum physics.

(Don’t worry, I won’t impose my fascination with quantum physics on you. I barely, barely understand it myself.)

So when I heard that birds may be navigating by quantum entanglement, the program grabbed my attention. And derailed my plans for today’s article.

What Fresh Air convinced me to write about is an essential belief for any copywriter. For you.

You see, at 67 years old, why should I care about quantum entanglement and birds? Or why earthquakes prevail where I live? Or — most recently, as mentioned last week — the finer points of social media for us copywriters?

An essential quality of success …

Why do I care?

Because … I love to learn …

Thanks to my mother.

A single parent mostly, my mother bought my sister and me the World Book Encyclopedia when I was around four or five years old. When one of us asked Mommy a question, her regular answer was, “Look it up.” Then she’d discuss what we’d read, or read it to us when we couldn’t figure out all the words.

This from a woman who never finished 8th grade. From a self-taught lover of learning.

But my mother isn’t my sole model for loving to learn. My transition from science to teaching brought me to a classroom as an aide in a residential treatment facility for adolescents. I had my basic teaching credential and was treading water before starting the special ed program.

The teacher, Irv, and I discussed philosophy, literature, science, opera, sports … and gambling. In a former life, Irv dealt craps and blackjack in Las Vegas. In that former life, he was, in his words, “one of those ‘dese, dems, and dose’ guys.”

Irv made a decision midlife to change his life. He studied. He read. He learned. He claimed a new career.

A life-changing belief …

My mother and Irv are hardly the only folks I’ve known who made the decision to keep learning, to keep changing. Every October at Bootcamp, I get to meet people who follow a core belief my mother and Irv lived by.

Every time I write an article for AWAI, I’m writing to readers who hold this belief … or they wouldn’t be reading what I write.

You are one of those people who embrace this belief.

So today, I’m not writing to teach something new. I’m writing to congratulate you on embracing that same belief … The belief that derailed my writing when I heard about birds and quantum entanglement on Fresh Air.

This belief we hold in common:

Learning never stops! Success comes from learning.

Do you know people like Irv and my mother? Tell us about them — or about your own commitment to lifelong learning — by commenting below.

And I’m looking forward to seeing you again tomorrow. I’ll introduce you then to someone very much like you who’s parlayed his belief in lifelong learning into a new, growing copywriting career.

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Published: May 3, 2016

40 Responses to “A Belief You Already Have That’s Essential for Claiming The Writer’s Life”

  1. I love this article! You hit the nail on the head -- I love to learn, as much as I love to teach. One of my biggest challenges is to not subscribe to each new class or tutorial that AWAI markets to me in a persuasive email. :) To keep focus, I'm trying to follow Joshua Boswell's advice for FOCUS. That is, "Follow One Class Until Successful."

    Guest (Tammy Y)

  2. Hi Will, I love that you got sidetracked by Fresh Air...I am one of those people who finds myself saying"I heard it on NPR". Learning, reading, discovery and change have always been a part of my mental and spiritual diet. I think it was one of the greatest gifts I was given as a child, curiosity and the love of learning. My mom's line was "Make a friend of the dictionary" but I also had a couple of teachers that made literature and history come to life for me and I have been hooked ever since!

    Guest (Lesley Saunders)

  3. Hey Will - I finally came back up for air! What an inspiring article - one I can relate to. Roy Furr caught my attention when he asked a question, "Are you an information junkie?" I am - I AM! I'm still figuring stuff out but no longer uptight about it; when it's time for me to hunker down into my niche, it'll come. Meanwhile, everything you've taught me is on a shelf, neatly cataloged and squirreled away in my brain for recall when needed. Bless you and see you at Bootcamp. Blessings.


  4. The passion for life-long learning is what (in my perhaps not so humble opinion) keeps the elderly young. All of my friends who are in their eighties and nineties (and one of them 100+) (including my mother at age 91, with whom I make regular road trips) study something every day, are grabbed by books of a wide variety of subjects, and are engaged in interaction with everyone from toddlers to oldsters. I usually have to make an appointment with them to go visit - if I just drop in, they may well not be home.

    These people listen to their passion and chase it with gusto.

    Guest (Sally M Chetwynd)

  5. Mr. Newman, I think this is my most favorite of all your articles! You see, I, too, am 67, and my mother was very similar to yours.

    My mom grew up very poor, in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. She was the first in her family, and of all of her relatives, to graduate from high school. She was a voracious reader, and used to say that when you stop learning, your brain starts dying!

    My father was a research bio-chemist, and our home was filled with books, newspapers, magazines, the "World Book Encyclopedia", and dinner time conversations that always began with, "Well, Kids, what did you learn to day?" What an amazing heritage!

    [FROM WILL: The comments about your mother brought a lump to my throat.]


  6. My mother was almost the same. Grew up in upper Michigan, small town. She had a normal education, but was bad at spelling and math. She made sure I had piano lessons and encouraged any/every amount of learning that I wanted to try. She inspires me to this day! She took up painting when she was in her late 50's just because it was something she always wanted to do! I hope I can pass this love along to my grandson.

    Guest (Rachel Helberg)

  7. At a certain age your head is full,..and if you have not learned about human nature, and discovered and began to use any natural talent you may have been given, by GOD, well then, it simply is too late,..this writing to influence business is pure talent, and trial and error, nothing more,..this business about there being a certain series of steps that can be taught to anyone, to make them a successful copywriter, are gross overstatements, bordering on fraud...Thank YOU...

    Guest (BEAR )

  8. Hi Will, I read all your letters and articles because you look so cool in your picture.Well, this is not the only reason, your articles are knowledgeable, thought- provoking and interesting too.Your charismatic and classical approach to catching the attention of your readers is awesome.
    I am a few years younger than you and determined to change the course of my life at this stage. Copywriting has become my passion though I've not gained any success yet, but I will soon.
    During my childhood,my faith teaches me to keep on learning from cradle to grave later in life I learned from my teachers that knowledge is like an ocean and you keep on filling your bucket whenever you get a chance.
    Will, I love you.

    Guest (Nusrat)

  9. Hello Will, your post about entanglement caught my attention. I'm older than you and on the morph again. Three or four times in my life, I've had to change roles/hats/lifestyles so morphing is nothing new. Currently I'm morphing out of ESL teaching into some form of writing. I'm lurking in the bushes of AWAI do to the high costs of the courses, in Canadian dollars. But, I am picking up a number of tips to prepare for my new life as a writer. Keep your words & thoughts flowing. Cheers

    Will Craig

  10. Hello Will

    I always find your articles fascinating and in this one a scientific explanation for bird migration.
    I must confess to being a great fan of wildlife of all sorts and have followed many discussions on bird migration to far away locations.
    The one conclusion on this subject that all those who have spent a lifetime on studying come back to is that most birds who have to migrate inherit this need from their parents and in the same way know the best way of going to and from their destination, i.e. it's inbred.
    I watched a program again on goose migration and how they communicate to each other in flight and it made me think we try to complicate things sometimes. Often the logical solution is the answer.


  11. You hit the nail right on the head with this article Will. Thanks.


    Denise Barbini

  12. Six months ago I was at the threshold of major life changes. I just turned 60, I was wrapping up 25 years of homeschooling with the graduation of my youngest son, and I was closing shop on a drama teaching business that just wasn't making it. I had a hard time imagining that, at 60, I could/should start a new career until I heard a comment on NPR: "Someone who is alive today will probably be among the first to live to 120 years old." What if that was me? Then I'm just at midlife! Writing...yes!

    Arlene Marquis

  13. I am a 73 yr old retired teacher/librarian. I had been feeling left out and wishing I could go to work. I am so excited to find AWAI. I am now studying to become a Social Media Consultant. I love this company and want to learn all I can.

    Guest (Linda McVey)

  14. I am also a life long learner and a couple of years older than you. Three degrees, two children, and several divorces later, I have a lot of knowledge and experience in many areas, but find my current income to be lacking. I do not want to go back into another soul killing job...so I want to learn to be a copy writer! And maybe more.

    Guest (Francine Fields)

  15. One needs to ask where the real motivation for learning springs from?

    For me, as I'm close on 67, it's the need to keep my life perspectives in synch with the times - a mind thing really - and avoid rapid decline into irrelevance!

    Advances in technology by leaps and bounds, is now the defining factor for the gaps between successive generations being reduced significantly.

    Guest (Teejay)

  16. I was taught that the man who WILL NOT read is no smarter than the man who CANNOT read.

    [FROM WILL: I have to disagree, Bruce. The man who cannot read can be taught. The man who WILL not read cannot be taught until he opens his mind. But the essence is the same. And thank you for the stimulating comment.]

    Guest (radarbruce)

  17. Hi Will, I always love to hear your commentary & I am beginning to understand why. I think we may be kindred souls. I could never deal with the traditional public school setting and never did well grade wise unless it was a subject I was interested in or an instructor that I felt had a passion for teaching. I went to college or to trade school to learn a specific skill but never received a degree. As a kid, I always had my nose in a book & as an adult, I have the largest library of anyone I know. I have worked at various jobs in my lifetime & always prided myself on getting paid to learn a new skill on the job! I have invested in a subscription to the Great Courses as a treat for myself. I am reinventing myself one more time with AWAI

    Kat B

  18. Hi Will,

    I must be one of those people you spoke about loving to learn. I do believe it is essential; at least it is for me.
    I love to learn new things and do so with regularity non-stop.
    So much so, my mother said I was just a perpetual student. I think that will always be the case.


  19. I fully agree with the necessity of life long learning. It just isn't any fun without new and interesting info every day. I am 74 and although I have been writing for a very long time I have launched my AWAI career just last year. It has been slow so far, only two clients, but they are good ones. Thanks for all you do for writers.

    P.S. great beard, I have one too.

    Tom Emanuel

  20. Excellent article, we have some things in common! Love quantum physics :), like you, I'm in my infancy of understanding it, but endlessly fascinated.

    [FROM WILL: Quantum physics is much like Taoism. A Taoist philosopher said, "The one who understands the Tao does not understand it." Neils Bohr said of quantum physics something along the lines of "Anyone who claims to understand quantum physics doesn't really understand it." Maybe that's why I love both disciplines.]

    Guest (Denise)

  21. Will, Yes, I know someone like that- two at least, my Mom was one and I am one for sure.She always told me to go look it up. That is why I asked for the assurance that I would take possession of Grandpa Webster. It is a huge dictionary. Now, it's mine. I still get lost playing with words.
    Take care.


  22. Amen to lifelong learning. My husband and I have both adapted and changed as we grew. He taught himself to be a newspaper editor when his formal training became obsolete and is now going into video. I'm on this wonderful adventure in copywriting plus earned my Master's after the kids left the house. Thinking of going for the PhD.

    A love of learning makes all the difference. It gives you options instead of regrets. And you're never bored. Great article, Will, and thanks for all your wisdom through these posts.

    Wendy Strain

  23. I admired my father-in-law who was still picking up new computer skills in his nineties. In my late forties, I got pushed back into school while adjusting to a vision loss. It was addictive and I kept going until I had an M.A. in a new field. Now at fifty-six, I do health, cooking and/or feline research every day and I'm learning about copywriting, blogging and website administration. With any luck, I will still be learning new things in my nineties!

    Rebecca Sidebotham

  24. Gooday Will, from Western Australia thank you for all the good articles you write. I enjoy them very much and I am hoping to become a copywriter one day. Typing is a bit daunting for a 72 year old ex farmer but I think I have another 30 years yet to enjoy life so that will give me something constructive to do learning to write. I would love to meet you and all of the crew at AWAI some day, kindest regards Dave E.

    Guest (Dave E)

  25. My dad was a life-long learner with the compulsion to read whatever was handy - textbooks and library books we brought home as well as any and all magazines in the doctor's office waiting room. If you didn't want him reading it, don't bring it home! He didn't read from front to back, but jumped all over the book, skimming the majority of it - after all, who knew if he'd have another crack at it. He was an inventor of sorts and sat and thought for hours, then went and built something. We had weird contraptions that were built from his 'junk' that did amazing things and needed no maintenance or upkeep. I think the hardest thing for him at the end was being unable to read. Once he couldn't read, his decline was rapid.

    Val Wedman

  26. I relish your articles. They have umph (oomph?) and inspiration, and I can usually tell when beginning to read a piece whether you've written it or not.

    Sometimes my eagerness to learn causes me distraction difficulties, but it also makes life interesting.

    I'm still plugging away at copywriting, and by God's grace plan to send out a query soon.

    Thank you for your encouragement to us writers.

    Clara Mae

  27. Dear Will,

    I LOVE quantum physics! It is truly fascinating, especially when you get into quantum entanglement and how a single entity can actually exist in two different states. It is really mind blowing. It is like our living spirits existing inside our bodies - our body can appear calm on the outside while our minds are racing inside. Not exactly the same thing, but it's the closest I can come to. With quantum physics, there does not appear to be one thing 'inside' of another.

    Guest (Tami)

  28. Every fantastic article Will Newman. Learning is the way to the knowledge. I grew up among a cow's herders, where there's no schools in South Sudan ,but later on ,I got a chance and began my my educational journey in Arabic language until, I attain a degree bachelor in Economic.
    This field didn't convince me as my real desire, because I learnt under recommendation of others so my inclination to language or writing is greater than the mentioned above.
    This is why aim trying to follow AWAI to reinvent my self.

    Guest (Magey thow )

  29. Wow--what an inspirational group of people on this thread! I'm going on 59 and didn't realize there were so many others like me here, getting older and moving into new careers via AWAI. I too love NPR, dictionaries, encyclopedias, Wikipedia, and also the Great Courses, like my namesake on this thread, Krazy Kat. I was only an average student when I was young, but next week I am receiving my B. S. in Health Communication because of my love of learning. I think that's the true anti-aging secret!

    Guest (Kat)

  30. At 59 years young life is only getting better. I've always wondered what I'd do when I grew up and I'm happy to say copywriting fits the bill.
    Learning something new everyday is one of the best reasons to get up in the morning,(Besides kissing my husband!)and gives me plenty to write about.
    I'm so thankful for finding AWAI and you Will Newman. Keep the articles coming I really enjoy your insight.

    Guest (Kay)

  31. Hi Will:

    I apologize for missing this post yesterday. computer mis-haps... However this article is very interesting...I've only been with AWAI for just a few days under a month. I actually get my attention grabbed. I believe we are meant to learn. The key however is what do we do with that learning once we have it. That is what I find so fascinating about copy writing. Not only is it learning, but also learning to share that learning clearly with others.

    Guest (Monica P)

  32. Refering to Will Newmam article on learning never stops My late principle sister Stella who taught me education is your life. Based on the bible verse Proverbs 4:13


  33. As usual, another inspirational article. Thanks, Will!

    Unlike many commenters here, I grew up in a family and culture which saw an appreciation of learning and critical thinking as being "too big for one's britches".

    The first in four generations to go to college, I earned my BS in Computer Science in 2004, at age 43. The response from friends and family? "Meh."

    I'm glad to have found a group of people to inspire me and share my love of learning (and of NPR!)

    Keep on inspiring, Will!

    Guest (Joe Martin)

  34. Hi Will Fromm early on I would watch my father - a jack-of-all-trades. That lead me to be a designer. Projects of all types were not only a challenge but an opportunity to learn as we had hundreds of blue collar employees, engineers and scientists. What got me hooked was the idea "I can create what I can imagine" - With a generous amount of research, checking all the facts, talking to the experts and some deep thought satisfaction/success was almost guaranteed!
    Life does have a way of throwing curve balls that keep it interesting.. so it also helps to laugh at your mistakes!


  35. Notwithstanding that "ne'er the twain shall meet," particle specificity and unwavering waves DO entangle. Even gravity and acceleration are equitable. So too light and time; each unto the other our staying power's greatest move. Like migrating birds, we.

    Guest (Chris Morris)

  36. I've loved to learn since I was little. It's not only fascinating to me but an essential tool for creation. How can you create if you don't know? I just got out of a bad situation which had the added bonus of being an intellectual and cultural wasteland, but even that I learned from. Now I've discovered a handful of Youtube channels which offer information on everything from theoretical physics to psychology and biology. I've been learning so much lately and it's already improved my outlook and my skill set. I make it a point to be able to do as many things as possible, even if I'm not an expert at all of them.

    Guest (Simon Ohare)

  37. My mother was a genius, and she taught me to read using phonetics when I was in first grade and had become frustrated by the flash card technique my teacher was using. By the middle of the first grade I was up to third grade reading level. The next year I had taught myself how to read silently and began checking out piles of books from the library. This was before I discovered the joy of reading novels, so my topics ranged from Florence Nightingale to the secret life of bees.

    Now I'm nearly 54, and I still love learning. I also love writing about a few of the things I've learned quite a bit about. Especially healing, because nearly everyone has something about themselves needing healing.

    [FROM WILL: I can't remember if I said this in the article. My sister was more responsible for my learning how to read than anybody. Two years younger than she, I wanted to do everything she did. So she helped me learn how to read, teaching me what she. I think it worked. We're both inveterate

    Guest (Kari Velasquez)

  38. My learning role model, besides my parents was my grandfather, the wisest man I ever met.He grew up in Germany andnever finished high school, but he never stopped learning. I can't remember a single time visiting when he wasn't reading something. I guess it stuck, At 61 years of age, I went back to grad school to do a PhD in engineering. I read and studt everything I can, especially on subjects I know very little about. After thehD, I enrolled again in business school.
    And so it goes.

    Guest (wALT fAIR)

  39. I started reading books early, not just fiction, but when I got to high school wanting to learn kept me going to school. With all the bullying and some not very positive stuff from school and home, I learned as much as I could and hung around in the library a lot. Believing in myself took longer, but writing became a lifeline and love then. Learning is still important to me, I just wish searches online didn't take up so much time. The wonder of a child is terrible to lose.

    Tamara Kratzer

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