If there’s anything I’ve learned as a writer is that writers are lifelong learners. They are naturally curious about the world around them and they tend to ask a lot of questions. They’re intrigued by new ideas, or even a fresh take on an old one, and are usually willing to experiment with a new ways of doing things.
Fortunately, there are plenty of situations in which writers can continue their learning. Our profession requires it. Stop and think about how you learned to do what you do, and you’ll realize that there are more sources of learning than you thought were possible.
It’s important to keep up with the latest skills, technology and tools available to help us do our jobs better, or at least help us become better writers. Where to find that information will depend on what type of knowledge you seek. You won’t find it all in one place. Yes, at the same time, you find opportunities to learn all around us.
Think about all the different types of learning you’ve gained on your writing journey. Notice what areas you need to improve.
- The craft of story telling. It’s one thing to be a good writer, it’s quite another to know how to tell a good story. I’ve always been a good writer and had strong technical skills. But I knew nothing about creating a work of fiction until I took several classes at a local writing studio. Not until then did I begin to understand plot structure, character development and how to create tension and suspense. I’m still learning. Different rules apply for writers of poetry and memoir. If you want to specialize in a particular style of writing, you have to learn the craft.
- Research. As a freelancer, I’ve been assigned to write articles about some of the most obscure topics, such as high-performance homes, blockchain technology in real estate, and refrigeration phase-down policies affecting facilities managers. But with each assignment, I’ve become a mini-expert. I had to so I could prepare for the interviews. Whether you’re working on an essay, a magazine feature or a full-length novel, it’s necessary to do research so you understand your topic inside and out.
- Communications skills. Writers may be called upon to make a speech, negotiate their fees or interview sources for feature articles. That requires solid communications skills, but not all writers have mastered these skills. That requires confidence and a lot of practice. If you’re lacking in any one of these communications skills, you might consider taking a class to build that confidence.
- Copy-editing and proofreading. Writers need to master copy-editing, proofreading and grammar skills. Many editors expect writers to proof and edit their own work before submitting the final draft to them. While it helps to have another pair of eyes review your work, it’s also important to be able to proof your own if no one else is available. If you lack these skills but are a good writer, you can easily develop them with practice.
- Organizational and time management skills. Writers may get so caught up in the act of creation that they might lose track of time — and deadlines. Writers need to balance their work load, especially when working with multiple editors and projects. Whether you develop your own system for tracking projects and deadlines, or you use a platform that does most of the work for you, you’ll learn to stay organized no matter what clients or employers throw at you.
- Math aptitude. Writers may work with words, but there are times when a basic aptitude for math will be necessary. Sure you might have an accountant who does your books, but when it comes to writing, there are times when you need to solve a complex math equation or calculate percentages? Math is necessary to balance the books, and your checkbook.
- Marketing and social media. Many writers I know aren’t very comfortable about marketing themselves, including yours truly. The thought of promoting themselves makes their stomachs churn. Yet successful writers know that marketing is a part of their arsenal of skills. Marketing is necessary to showcase your writing and attract new clients. Just like the communications skills above, it might be helpful to take a course in digital marketing or social media to know how to navigate the landscape and build confidence in your marketing abilities.
- Technical know-how. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would need to know certain software programs and configure my own computer equipment, I would have rolled my eyes. I’m not known for my technical ability, but I know enough to get by. Anything more difficult and I have to call in an expert. I enjoy the challenge of learning new software. As technology continues to grow, writers need to keep pace to stay relevant in our industry.
- Business side of writing. Writers might focus so much on the creative side of their careers that they overlook the business side. If your business acumen is lacking, it might be time to update your knowledge in that area. Consider a course in basic accounting, project management, or business planning. At first glance, these topics might seem dry and dull, but they can help prepare you for the day you hang your own shingle as a self-employed writer.
- Advanced degrees. If you feel an advanced degree will help your writing career, there are plenty of MFA and MGA programs. (Personally, I don’t think you do need one these days.) However, some industries require it. For example, some health and wellness blogs require articles be written by nurses, doctors and psychologists. Another thing to keep in mind is that MBA and MFA programs are pricy and require a huge chunk of time. You need to weigh the cost of getting specialized advanced training against your future career goals.
- Informal mentoring from other professionals. Whether meeting with a former boss over coffee or networking with other professionals at a workshop, you have a chance to learn from others. You can bet that whatever work problem you may be grappling with is something that someone else has already dealt with. The beautiful thing about networks is the opportunity to learn from others.
- Volunteer work. Many years ago, when I wanted to expand my portfolio, I sought volunteer opportunities to write newsletter articles for a local membership organization. By contributing articles and planning some of their education programs, I was able to gain valuable experience that I could share with potential employers. Don’t overlook volunteer work as a means of gaining hands-on experience.
- Practice, practice, practice. The key to becoming a better writer is to practice—and practice often. Even if you spend only ten minutes each day writing, you continue to improve your skills. It’s much like learning to play the piano. You get better with practice.
- Life experience. Don’t overlook your life experience, which can fuel your most creative stories. That experience can be anything from moving to a new neighborhood to fighting with your best friend or finding out you have cancer. Tap into those deep emotions from your life experience to fuel your writing.
When you consider the many ways we acquire knowledge, writers are well equipped to handle any kind of writing project that comes their way.