Rapid Learning Techniques for Authors
Ask the average person what an author does and they will answer, “they write.” As an afterthought, they might add public speaking. And while that might have been true twenty years ago, the responsibilities of modern authors have spiralled over the past two decades, regardless of how they publish.
First, we were expected to write a blog. Perhaps grow a “social media presence.” Then self-publishing became a viable option and it all got a lot more complicated. Many writers far prefer the agency of this option – the ability to write a novel, have it edited, launch it and garner thousands of sales before it would even have left a publisher’s slush pile. Yet there’s no denying that it’s a lot more complicated than the dream many of us shared as children.
The average indie now conducts a team of freelancers. We have to know about cover design, be expert marketers, stay updated on distribution rules and help our readers with tech problems. We need to know a thousand things and how they all fit together. On top of all that, we have to remember to write – sometimes several books a year – all while staying abreast of the latest trends, which can be a daunting prospect.
If you find yourself overwhelmed then don’t worry. You’re not alone. Everyone struggles at times and you can’t be perfect at everything. However, there are a few strategies you can implement to stay ahead without driving yourself insane. In today’s blog post we will explore a few effective techniques you can borrow to learn at a rapid rate and give yourself more time for writing.
Become an Active Learner
Few people succeed if they live a passive life. For authors, you can see this phenomenon in action when it comes to their education. Without a plan, many writers meander, falling into the trap of browsing blogs and podcasts, spending hours digesting content without implementing any of it, all while avoiding their writing. This is “just-in-case” learning – the act of learning something just in case it ever comes up. The problem with this method is that a lot of what you learn is wasted. You either never get an opportunity to use it or forget it by the time one arises.
Instead of repeating this cycle, try “just-in-time” learning – only looking something up when you need it to achieve your next goal. For example, say you discover a clickable table of contents in an ebook you’re reading and wonder how the author managed to include that feature. Rather than trawling Google for the answer, ask yourself if knowing how it’s done will help you right now. If you’ve only written the first quarter of your debut novel then the answer is no. Overcome your curiosity and focus your day on writing instead. That way, you will get more productive tasks done and will save time by learning the process when you’re in a position to put it into practice.
It may seem like you need to know everything there is to know about publishing but you only really need to understand enough to help you overcome the challenge in front of you. Anything more will only waste your time. If you want to read around your subject then you could always assign some time in your schedule for extra-curricular learning after you’ve done your most pressing task for the day. That way, you stay productive and keep growing.
Space Your Learning
A study conducted by teaching expert Hailey S. Sobel in 2010 stated that students who practiced spaced learning techniques experienced an average boost in long-term knowledge recall of 117%. How it worked is simple. Instead of “cramming” a year’s curriculum in one intense revision session before an exam, students revisited what they had learned frequently throughout the year to refresh their memories. Each time they did, they further cemented the knowledge in their minds and remembered more until it stuck. They didn’t need to cram and even retained more of what they learned long after the exam.
You might wonder how this is relevant for writers. Well, which bits of being an author do you hate but have to do often if you want to succeed? We all have our bugbears. Rather than only deep-diving into those areas when you have to fix a problem or launch a book, you might find the topic more palatable and improve your aptitude if you micro-dosed on information as the students did in the study.
Advertising is the perfect example. Authors who jump into Amazon or Facebook ads often struggle with the dashboards and get overwhelmed. They muddle through it to launch a book then turn off the whole operation and don’t try again until the next launch. If they took a slower approach, monitoring a few low-cost campaigns on a continuous basis, the practical repetition would inspire confidence and accelerate the learning process. As a result, they would struggle far less whenever something changes or updates because they would understand the fundamentals.
Create a Business Journal
Have you ever started a 10-minute job only to see it evolve into a two-hour headache because you can’t find the information you need online? It happens to us all. Best case scenario, it’s annoying; worst case, the domino effect knocks our schedule off kilter for the rest of the day. Yet despite falling into this trap, we rarely write down the thing that took us ages to find and end up repeating the process months later.
Let’s face it. There are some boring parts of running an author business we don’t want to learn: where to find our SWIFT banking numbers, whether to tick “yes” or “no” for the “derivation of income” question on retailer tax forms, how to remove phantom page breaks from Mobi files. These are the bland details that prop up the colourful author dream – necessary but not something we want to learn.
Thankfully, there’s a way to minimise the friction in these areas long term without having to become an expert: a business journal. Much like a diary, it’s a place to write down the things you’ve done. Unlike a diary, though, it’s not for everything, just the answers to problems that previously stalled your progress. Looking for that SWIFT number or Mobi formatting explanation again? No problem. With a business journal, you only have to go through that ordeal once. Create it as a Word document with dated entries and key words and you can quickly search it for the answer if you ever need it again. No need to learn this information. You can just store it and focus on the parts of your author business you actually want to understand.
Ask an Expert
With masses of information on the internet, we can now learn any skill, from writing novels to re-mastering podcast audio. However, sometimes the problem isn’t finding information; it’s identifying credible voices in the ocean of noise. That’s why asking an expert can be the fastest way to learn high-quality information.
Companies pay millions to consultants every year. It’s how they train their teams, crack unfamiliar territories and adopt new marketing strategies. If you have deep enough pockets to do this then great. You can hire a consultant and quiz them, using their experience to avoid pitfalls and accelerate your progress. Not everyone, however, can or needs to pay a fortune to access mentors. With a can-do attitude, you could find someone who is already achieving your goal and ask them questions. Their time is valuable but you might be surprised by how generous and helpful many industry titans can be. Of course, if you want a middle-ground option then you could always purchase a course. Good ones are concise and up to date with relevant information, cutting out the fluff of blogs and podcasts while offering students group access to a hive mind and moral support, all at a cost that is far cheaper than most consultant fees.
Which route you take will depend on your means and what problems you want fixed. If you only need one quick question answered then you could take to Twitter or Facebook and ask an expert. If your issue is more complex, however, then a consultant might be a better option. And for extensive information on a wide subject like publishing, a course is often the best bet.
The things we need to learn as authors are always evolving, as are our learning methods. Just remember that there’s no need to stress over this. You don’t need to remember everything to be a competent author. Everyone makes mistakes. Those who succeed just remember to nurture the fundamentals – writing great books and keeping readers happy. While some things change constantly, those priorities always stay the same.
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