Discount training: worth all you won’t pay for it

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plasticflowersI have an old friend who’s embarking on a new book. His first, in fact, although he’s been writing for his business for many years. A book demands more of a writer than an article, of course. I brought more than 20 years of journalism editing and writing to my first day of creating fiction. Making a 4,000-word article is not enough experience to create an 80,000-word book. You can’t just create 20 stories and stitch them together. You need to practice skills you might not have polished yet.

The same kind of calculation is part of choosing a coach or a class for your writing. People go to the gym and pay $30 for a hour with a trainer. Ask them to pay more than $50 for a writing coaching session, and some will point to Udemy on the Web. “It’s just $40 for 35 modules of writing. I can do that.” Ah, the Web, the great discounter of all learning.

There’s been a revolution in buying and selling services. As writers, we now can choose the world over for our writing lessons. Coaching, too, if your coach provides you 1:1 time. Some of the lessons come from far away, places where English is not the common language. But it’s not just the native language that matters. Mistaking coaching for such instruction is commonplace. Instruction is only as good as the practice it triggers. If a $40 Udemy course doesn’t require you to write and turn in for an evaluation, you’re not going to pay for all of that expertise which reveals what you know—and what you still need to master.

“Why should I care about getting graded?” you might say. “I never liked that part of school anyway.” To avoid all that grading, we then audited courses instead of taking the tests. College systems didn’t discount tuition for audited courses, though. Remember, right alongside you were students working to prove they learned the lessons. Submitting work. Hearing evaluations. Seeing where you misunderstood, so you can master the skills.

I’m making a series of Write Skills videos this year. Just about one a week is my goal, and you invest about 4 minutes watching each one. When you finish each, you’ll have one more tool in your writing belt. Write Skills are free, but you won’t get your practicing afterward evaluated. (If you don’t have a plan for practice, you’re not growing your skills. Short lessons, yes. Longer practice.) That’s what coaching does, or sitting in a real class in-person, or online. You measure your training through evaluated practice. You won’t have to pay for that training when you buy a $40 writing course. You might be paying later on, though, when your writing hasn’t seemed to improve as much as you desired.

Desire drives genuine growth. It’s worth the investment to build a book that people will finish reading and remember. Other kinds of books are everywhere, of course. They’re set aside unfinished, or leave an impression that no writer wants. Whether you’re creating your first work, or just the latest, all of us need to keep growing our craft. I like to think of discount training like plastic flowers. They look great. But if you want the aroma of a genuine bouquet, then an arranger working with the fresh stuff gives you what you really desire.

New resources for researching

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The Internet makes it easier than ever for the writer to research a subject. Back in the day, we had to get good with the phone, or write letters, to learn about a subject. I used to keep very wooly magazine files, or trod down to the library to learn about subjects like genetics, viruses and AIDS (all part of my Viral Times novel project.)

Now your instinct would be to tap a series of keywords into the Google search box. Google’s great, but not perfect. If it frustrates you after a few minutes, let me pass along a few other research start points, courtesy of the journalism Web site.

At Poynter, publisher Jonathan Dube recommends (the name comes from “Hakuna Matata,” which means “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in Swahili).

The site’s news and business search engines are built on artificial intelligence algorithms, which enable the search engine to return not just results containing your search term, but also any stories the artificial intelligence thinks are associated with the search term.

Dube’s column also points out, a site that

searches Google, Yahoo!, and MSN simultaneously and delivers results from all three. A neat feature that differentiates this from other metasearch sites is that you can weight search engine results using the “Search Tuner button” so that, for example, Google’s results are given more weight than MSN’s (but MSN’s are still included).

You can get lost in research, and forget about writing your dreamstorms and drafts. But a story also needs accurate details. Having several search tools is better than just the obvious one.