I learned a lot from all the expected and logical places, programs, and people: MFA faculty members. Conferences. Official mentors. Unofficial advisers. Fellow freelancers. Editors. Bosses. Books. Writing friends. Writing idols who somehow became writing acquaintances (and in a few wonderful cases, friends).
But I also learned -- and still learn, all the time -- from people I would not have at first considered potential (or willing, interested, logical) teachers.
I learned an effective submission tracking system from a poet I met only once for a half hour (at a time when I knew very few poets).
I learned a lesson about rhythm and cadence in writing from a mystery novelist whose presentation at a conference I attended only because the panel I originally wanted to attend was over capacity and I was just looking for someplace to sit.
I learned a few good submissions tips from a reporter for a glossy magazine who writes (and publishes) short stories in her spare time. (We met in the restroom at a conference for freelance writers where she was scheduled to talk about interviewing celebs. Go figure.)
I learned the value of writing way beyond my comfort zone from a stoic professor who pushed me to read books I insisted were far too upsetting at a particular time in my life, and which I just knew had nothing to do with what I wanted to write. (I was wrong, he knew it, he pushed.)
I learned something about my writing when, at the coffee-and-danish table at a conference, I ran into an editor who had recently rejected my work and remembered the essay and precisely why he'd passed.
I learned about the value of writing draft after draft from a successful children's book author who has never written fewer than six drafts of a manuscript.
I learn from my writing students all the time.
Which makes me wonder: What might I learn in the future from someone who, at first glance, I am tempted to discount as a possible *teacher* because we don't share the same genre, orbit, skill level, aesthetic? Because the learning is supposed to be happening in the opposite direction? Because I don't ask? Or listen?