It seems this is the only way I ever learn. I think I remember my parents telling me that a long time ago. But telling me things rarely does much good. I seem to need to find them out for myself. This writing endeavor has been much the same as the time my parents told me that I wouldn't enjoy a multi-day many mile bicycle trip from Santa Cruz to San Simeon in high school. I was absolutely convinced that it would be amazing. Never mind that my ballet legs rarely rode a bike. Never mind that there was camping involved and I don't do camping. I borrowed my dad's bike, got a cushy seat and a couple pairs of bike shorts and I was off. I spent the first night sweating in the humid tent, nursing a very serious sunburn that crossed my thighs about midway up in a straight line that mirrored my new shorts, and thrashing around trying to relieve the terrible cramps in my legs. I spent much of the second day riding along in the "injury van." That second night I came down with a terrible cold. I don't even remember what might have happened the third night. The point is that my parents were right. But I couldn't be told.
Another example? I recently ordered a ballet skirt from 32fouettes. If you haven't seen these, and you dance, check them out -- they're adorable. Anyway, having not yet received the skirt, I decided that it should be no problem at all for me to make one for myself. Then, I thought, I could make a whole bunch more, have them in a million colors and eventually sell them to my classmates, making me not only popular but also extremely rich. (okay, I didn't really think all that). But I like making things, and I do okay with a sewing machine if I have good directions. Which, in this case, I did not. So I ended up making a very silly looking circle skirt out of a sheer black stretch chiffon, which would probably be adorable on a five year old. Not so much on yours truly. Not one to be daunted, I embarked on a search for an actual pattern and found the Selfish Seamstress, who very unselfishly offered a free pattern for a very cute wrap skirt (though I don't like trying to tie these, hers is very nice and I thought I could probably handle that). Here's the beautiful skirt she made: Ballet Skirt for Grownups. She also looks like a very pretty dancer, by the way. ANYWAY, the point is that I made this skirt, using the same fabric mentioned above, and then found a teal grosgrain ribbon in a drawer that would work perfectly for the waist. I sewed it on with a really cool leaf and vine stitch that my machine does itself, so the black skirt had a teal ribbon with contrasting decorative black stitching. It is SO pretty. And would be great if I hadn't cut the ribbon so f'ing short. Did I listen to Selfish when she told me how much to cut? No. I did not. Two skirts down, enough fabric left to try one more time. THIS one will be perfect. I'm sure of it.
With that in mind, I'm trying really hard to listen to the advice that is all around me, coming from more experienced writers. I'm trying to learn about agents, about publishing, about the craft itself. And I think maybe I'm doing better. But I still seem to have to discover things like Scribophile and Duotrope for myself. Maybe people told me about these, maybe they didn't. If they did, I don't think I listened. (Although, I finally did head over to Scrib on the advice of one of my commenters here, so thank you!!)
So for you other stubborn do-it-yourselfers:
1) Scribophile is a wonderful community of writers where you can post your work and get honest and helpful critiques and support. There are forums where you can ask the silliest or most esoteric question, and you can learn quite a bit just in reading and critiquing the work of others. I believe that my writing has improved drastically just through the time I've invested here.
2) Duotrope is a market listing site that offers a great search tool to help writers find markets for their work, and also offers a submission tracker to help stay on top of what's been sent where (something I'm terrible at on my own.)
Please, go forth and learn from my mistakes.