My nascent writing skills took a huge leap forward when I started writing fan fiction as a teenager… I lost all the inhibitions and hang-ups of the classroom… and wrote purely for the fun of it.
@snazdoll on the value of writing (and reading) fan fiction. I agree totally: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy inspired me to fill whole exercise books with thinly-disguised knock-offs; even if the writing was terrible, I was learning the conventions of dialogue, paragraph rhythm, even stuff as rudimentary as indenting text for readability. Later I got into fan fiction through reading and publishing stories in Doctor Who fanzines. Fan fiction was far less visible then than it is now, so I guess that’s why I never felt much shame about it; there was nobody around to sneer at it.
There isn’t a university of writing. There are courses that help talented writers reach their potential or forge professional networks, sure, but for that talent to exist in the first place, would-be writers need the freedom to fill exercise books or post to fanfic boards, without inhibitions or hang-ups.