Train Like an Athlete

Professionals of every type, from programmers to basketball players to chess champions to painters, all face the same challenge: doing the work requires synthesizing countless sub-skills into a competent—sometimes masterful—whole.

Authors alone are thrown in the deep end and encouraged to “write more books.” But writing a novel is like juggling flaming batons. At best, you drop them, and at worst, you set yourself on fire, never to try again. Even a short story demands attending to dozens of skills and hundreds of story elements. It’s hard, and even if you learn to churn them out, finishing work will only make you a master of finishing, not of any of the sub-skills that separate mediocre writing from great.

So in addition to finishing work, train like an athlete and drill yourself in isolated skills. At the start of each week, pick a skill, and every day, devote 15 minutes to practice. Become a master of one-sentence character introductions, of sexual innuendo, of hooky chapter endings, of dialogue-only scenes, of no-dialogue scenes, of describing location, and so on. Become the Serena Williams of Urban Fantasy, the Gary Kasparov of Cozy Mystery, the Michael Jordan of Regency Romance.

You will be stunned by how much you improve, week after week.