Saturday, 25 January 2014

Learning your craft: The 20 Minute Master Plan for improving your writing

There is nothing more important than continuing to learn and APPLY your learning.

It takes a while for the things you learn to sink in, for them to connect to what else you’ve learnt & experienced and for it all to make any sense, so doing it in dribs and drabs is unlikely to give you the feeling that you are reaping any benefit from the time and effort you are putting in.

Equally, doing any kind of intensive learning or course often takes you away from your core activity of writing your own project and requires a much larger investment of both time and often money. 

While intensive courses can be and feel fantastic, if you aren’t continuing to learn in your regular routine as well, you aren’t likely to continue improving and the inspiration gained from those courses can quickly wane. 

For these reasons, I deeply encourage you to try learning regularly for an extended period of time. With this approach you will find you start to feel a difference, your mind processes the information, makes connections and hears the same ideas presented in a variety of ways. These different contexts give us a much better understanding of those ideas, much like when you hear a new word for the first time – it’s possible to grasp the wrong meaning from the context, but if you hear it used in another context, all of a sudden it makes sense. The same happens with learning a skill or concept – how the information is presented to you will affect how you understand it and subsequently use it. 

The more information you have, the better picture you will build of the subject and the better grasp you will have. So learning in different contexts, from different sources, is much better than a single source or context, so get out there and learn from as many sources as you can (those with a flighty nature will be doing cartwheels right now). Try blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts, books, seminars, webinars, ongoing courses or evening classes, coaching, radio and TV programmes, interviews… any source you can think of. The beauty of it is in this day and age, a lot of these sources are free or available for very little. 

The added benefit of learning regularly is that having something new to apply inspires you to write just as regularly. You want to try these new ideas out, sometimes immediately! Or simply the act of working on improving yourself will drive the intention of writing in your subconscious mind and you will suddenly have a flash of inspiration about what to write. Sometimes this isn’t even related to what you were learning at the time, it’s just that your mind was in the right space to work on your own writing.

Another benefit is that you will be improving by practising with intent – in other words you will be proactively making progress on your skill set rather than attempting to improve purely through repetition of the act of writing (which has been proved not to work – Practice is not just repeating the same action).

This all sounds great, you may say, but how do I go about it? How do I motivate myself to do all this learning or fit it in? Surely I’ll get bored or forget?

My answer to that is: Get organised, decide which skills you want to work on then brainstorm all the different sources you can learn from. Research who the experts are and find out what they have to offer: books, interviews, videos etc. Pick the offerings that best suit your time & budget and write them down in the order you would like to do them in. Effectively you are creating your own curriculum. You will be tailoring your own learning time perfectly and by mixing up the media – an audiobook one day and a workbook the next – you will stay fresh and excited about what you are doing as well as having the flexibility to fit it in with your own life and activities. Schedule your curriculum in advance, so you can do things like put an audiobook in the schedule for a day you know you’re doing a long drive.

Researching what you can do and planning it is great fun, and once you’ve got it written in your diary along with where to find your source, it will be easy to follow and stick to. Look at it another way, if you spend just 20 minutes a day reading, watching or listening to something that will help you improve, in one year you will have done 121 hours of study! Time wise that equates to a 3 week intensive, full time course… but this way it’s tailored entirely to you and with the time built in to properly absorb & apply it.

If this sounds like a course you want to do, put a date in your diary right now to create your own 20 Minute Master Plan for learning your craft. Because if you do, the sky’s the limit!

Heather Zanetti


  1. Great post! It is truly amazing what one can learn in 20 minutes, as long as it's a consistent habit, as daily as brushing one's teeth. I've come to the point in my life where I feel deprived if the day hasn't allowed my 20-minute improvement session: exercise for the writer's mind.

  2. Thanks, Gemwriter! It really is. I've only recently discovered the concept of the 'Power Hour' (or Hour of Power) with 3 x 20 minute periods of meditation, reading and exercise, but I've always believed in taking what little time you have and using it to best effect. It also fits so nicely with the (currently accepted) natural attention span. I used to be a crammer in my learning style, for many years, believing that the cumulative learning I did never really sunk in. I realise now that is was because I was always trying to fit in too much at once, not applying it alongside and with little continuity. We are taught so much in our educational systems - yet how to learn effectively - not so much!

    I absolutely agree about habit - so important. That's exactly how I feel! Once we have those habits, it just feels more comfortable to do the activity rather than not. "Exercise for the writer's mind" - well put!