April 19, 2011

Learning and Blogging and Writing—Oh My!

Balancing rock piles

Fantasy: To become an author, we just need to have a great idea, write it down, and then agents, publishers, and readers will all magically appear.

Reality: Nothing like that.

Becoming an author isn’t simple.  Oh no.  We have what seems like a never-ending list of things to learn and do if we want to succeed.

In the comments of my last post asking if you’re a learning addict, Kerry Meacham noted:

One of the things I’ve found about writing is that there is so much to learn. It can take almost all your time and there’s no time for the actual writing.

He’s right.  Even the briefest summary of a writer’s to-do list looks rather intimidating:

  • Learn about the writing craft (from non-fiction books, blogs, workshops, critique groups, beta readers, published fiction books, etc.)
  • Learn about the publishing industry (from non-fiction books, blogs, workshops, conferences, etc.)
  • Network and build platform (create website/blog, write blog posts, attend conferences, use Twitter and Facebook, etc.)
  • And oh yeah, find time to write.

And that’s not including family life and day job.  How is it possible to learn it all and do it all?  Balance.

Learning how to balance all aspects of our lives is just as important as all the other stuff we have to learn.  Maybe more important.  Once we’re under contract, we’ll have to add deadlines and more marketing to our to-do lists.  As a previous post about balance noted, it’s better to learn this balancing skill now, before we have to face those deadlines too.

One way to find that precious writing time is to realize that we don’t have to learn everything this instant.  When we first start out and realize how much there is to know, we want to inhale knowledge.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes that device that let Neo learn everything instantly in Matrix was real.  But as I mentioned in my post about the stages of learning, we’ll never learn everything and there will always be more to learn.

I replied to Kerry’s comment with:

[O]ur learning doesn’t end. That’s good news—because now we know we can take our time learning and balance it with the actual writing.

There’s a reason why so much advice about learning how to write centers around, well, writing.  If we wait to learn everything first before settling in to write, the writing will never happen because the learning never ends.

Also, the lessons we absorb while reading become second nature as we use them in our writing.  Many things I used to have to pay attention to as I wrote now happen automatically.  Writing helps our learning just as much as the reverse.

I’ve kept all my feedback from beta readers, critique partners, and contest judges.  I go back and review those notes a couple of times a year to see if I can learn anything new from them.  Often, my understanding of an issue (show vs. tell, sensory writing, etc.) has grown so much during the interim that I see new ways to improve my work.

So don’t worry about trying to cram for this writing test.  Mix your learning with your writing.  Both your learning and your writing will be better for it.

Do you have a hard time pausing the learning and researching to actually write?  What techniques do you have to encourage writing?  Do you have set times for each?  Word count goals?  Do you keep notes about what you want to learn about or research later?

Comments — What do you think?

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Billie Jo Woods

I find getting the balance very difficult at this point but I am working on it. You are right though there is plenty of time to learn – I hope so anyway! Thanks for this Jami.

J.A. Paul

Maybe that is why I like writing. I function better when I have a solid To Do list. Like you said, writers never lack for a To Do list.

Another good piece, thanks Jami!


Hi Jami: Recently, I had something amazing, but inadvertent, happen to me. When I went to visit my son’s house (he lives in a different state), I forgot my laptop and cellphone at home. Haven’t done that EVER. So, there I was – unable to access any of my programs (passwords all stored and when my TOTALLY computer illiterate sister tried to help me out from my house and change the stored user names and passwords, she wound up screwing that up to a fair-thee-well – so I gave up and decided I’d deal with everything – everyone – when I got back. At first I panicked and thought I was gonna die. But then, within a day and a half I relaxed, took a deep breath, and suddenly felt an inspiration to write, the likes of which I hadn’t felt in a year. It was awesome. But, you know me? I didn’t just go with it. Nope, I wanted to know why this happened – how? And thinking about it put it into perspective. There is a creative aspect to writing that can be suffocated by our need to learn scads of the how-to-write things better. And if we suffocate that creative aspect the whole purpose of our needing to learn this stuff becomes pointless. So yes! Balance is the key. On my to-do-list? I’m going to stop and watch the world around me more often, so I can feed the most important part of the writing process: creative…  — Read More »

Michele Shaw

I was good at balancing when I had writing, learning, and everyday life to juggle. When social media/platform building/blogging came into the mix, that is when I stumbled. I felt like I had to go back to square one to figure it all out. I haven’t mastered my “new” balance yet, but I’m getting closer.

Gene Lempp
Gene Lempp

Hey Jami 🙂

I tend to go in bursts, between learning and application. I’ll read a half-dozen books or spend a week researching something and then stop to digest, much like a good meal. While things are internalizing I try to find ways to apply them, time is never our friend, but it takes only a little to gain large returns.

I’m still learning, well, everything, and honestly I never want to stop. With each new addition there has to be a time to apply and learn how to balance the new into whole. Doing that with Twitter and building my blog at the moment. However, I know in the near future I’ll have methods to manage them into my day and maintain them in good order. Why sweat the moment when the long term benefits are of great value?

Another great thoughtful post 🙂

Laura Pauling

I love looking back and knowing I’ve learned. And yes researching, reading craft blogs and books helps but unless I write and learn to apply it – it means nothing. So yes, actually writing is the most important!

Nigel Blackwell

Hi Jami
Yeah, that dream of sitting down and concentrating on my writing died soon after I started. 🙁
I find it difficult to keep swapping from one task to another (male=one track mind, no grinning at this point). So I plan for hitting a couple of things each evening, which means my wip doesn’t get a look in several nights a week. But I’ve come to realize that not rushing helps, it gives ideas time to gestate before I spend effort on them, and those that die before I get to them aren’t half as much work!

Kerry Meacham
Kerry Meacham

Thanks for the shout out on my comment Jami. Balance is a never ending struggle for me, and I appreciate different prespectives on what works for others. It’s an elusive and ever changing goal that’s difficult to achieve and I think even harder to maintain.

Rachel Firasek

I write. When I come to something that needs to be researched, I leave a big blank space and type in insert researched item… then I keep going. My first drafts are a mess. But the story is what is important on the first pass. Not the details.

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Quote:”Learning how to balance all aspects of our lives is just as important as all the other stuff we have to learn.” – Yes, I can balance alright, but I need 48 hours in a day to do that. 🙂 I think I need a PC program that will read the tweets, read the interesting posts on them, give me a summary of them and retweet those. And yes, writing the comments on those interesting posts, as the one you have posted 😀 Oh, and maybe write my posts?

Thank you

Lisa Gail Green

I know realistically it isn’t this drastic, but it feels like I haven’t written in forever. Life has been hectic. But there’s nothing I’m looking forward to more. 😀 Balance is difficult to find, that in and of itself is an art, but you are right – it’s sooooo important!

Maryanne Fantalis

Since I’ve added social networking (blog and Twitter) as I embark on marketing my latest novel, I have written almost nothing. But that’s ok — the land has to lie fallow for a while. When I’m writing, I find I have to commit to myself, whether it’s an hour a day or two, because if I don’t, writing falls to the bottom of the list because it’s the “least important.” Well, it’s not, but it is, if you know what I mean (I’m a full time mom). I really believe that the key is to remember what the goal is: a published work, a finished manuscript, something to be proud of. If you keep your eyes on the end in sight, you’ll get there. Just don’t let it take 20 years. 🙂

Great post, Jami. So glad I found you!


I’m single now, but even when I was married and had a stepdaughter over on weekends, I had the same writing time every night. To quote Lestat from the movie “Interview With the Vampire”: “Madam, my evenings are sacrosanct.” I realize that my time period won’t work for a lot of people with husbands and kids–and my ex could never accept it–but you have to pick a time and a place and make that your writing space, and refuse to give an inch. Not one single inch. You have to find some time somewhere in your day or night and establish a routine. The routine of the same place and time is crucial. I don’t do word count goals. I favorite blog posts from Twitter that I need to read and read them when I get a chance during the day. But again, my life is a lot easier than many other people’s because I’m single. This is just how I do it.

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