Depending on your chosen industry, trade, or craft, there might be a number of strong communities of practice to collaborate and practice with. Or you might be forging new trails, mixing up trades and crafts to better fit your creative vision.
Whatever your situation, you do yourself a world of good by developing your own projects to drive your learning and give you a meaningful practice space that will likely help you gain feedback. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned, just by deciding I wanted to try to do something I’d never done before.
For example, when I wanted to learn how to create educational videos, I was just starting to fumble my way through creating Dead Bunny. Because I knew how to blog and to write, the original plan was to blog about all the skills I wanted to cover, and then turn that blog into a textbook of sorts. But I love a challenge, and as I was reading about video production and educational videos, I realized I could attempt to turn Dead Bunny into a series of educational videos.
It was definitely a learning experience. I decided to go the route of narrated slide shows because I had no video camera. I had to learn Impress (the OpenOffice/LibreOffice version of PowerPoint), Audacity, and different video production tools as I moved between computers (I was blowing up computers every six months at that point). I had to learn how to script, to storyboard, to manage both my image and my audio components. With every video, I learned a lot about production and asset management and kept fine-tuning my process. It took me six years, but I finally completed all of the videos I intended to create.
Knowledge that I gained while learning how to produce Dead Bunny has ended up serving me well in my voiceover work, although it is completely fair to say that Dead Bunny did not adequately prepare me for the production challenges that come along with creating audiobooks. I’m far more competent on a wide range of tasks on Audacity now than I was two years ago, but my asset management skills have proven invaluable. (I have yet to produce a personal voiceover project. I haven’t found the right project to attempt yet, so I stick to learning from working with others.)
Recently, I started posting to Archive of Our Own a fan fiction project I’ve referred to in reference to using fan fiction to learn how to write. At the time I started writing those pieces, I had fallen out of fan fiction and, to an extent, out of writing and I was afraid of losing my skills. So I started using a dubbed anime series as writing prompts. It gave me an excuse to write when I couldn’t motivate myself to write anything else. But more than that, it got me thinking about plot and character development. I kept them to myself for a long time, despite having shared the rest of my fan fiction with the fanfic community, but even privately they had a positive impact on my writing skills.
You really do learn a lot from designing and working through your own projects, and they can inspire you to investigate skills, industries, trades, and crafts you might otherwise have never considered trying out yourself. It’s a good way to get your feet wet in skills you’ve been thinking about learning, and to create opportunities for feedback. So get out there. Find a skill you’ve been meaning to try, create a project that will force you to start learning that skill, and then do it! And then go really crazy, and build the project that will help you level up in that skill. Let me know how it goes.