Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 18, 2023

If I Could Learn One New Skill to Change My Life

by Lisa Norman

baby reading a book

I have a magic wand to share with you. If you use it, it’ll change your brain chemistry, make you a more interesting person, fight boredom and dementia, and increase your adaptability, making every day of the coming year just a tiny bit easier.( The Top 7 Benefits of Learning a New Skill - CCSU)

I’m talking about picking one aspect of your life that you find frustrating, one skill that is holding you back, and tackling it.

Forge a Happy New Year

As we look back on this year and think about our goals for the next year, this is a great time to isolate one thing that if you could make it better, your whole life would change.

However, some of the most life-changing skills are not the ones you might think of.

One of my students used to dread opening her email every morning. She had thousands of unread messages, many of them urgent or important. She felt overwhelmed and anxious, and often missed deadlines or opportunities. After learning how to use her email program effectively, she was able to clear her inbox in a week and keep it that way. She learned how to archive, search, and snooze emails, as well as how to flag spam, unsubscribe, and recognize phishing attempts. This skill has made her more productive, organized, and confident.

It took her less than a day to learn how her email program worked, but she hadn’t thought about it as a thing to be studied until we covered “inbox zero” in class.

When I teach basic tech classes, I'm stunned by how many people secretly believe that everyone else somehow magically understands how tech works... without ever taking a class or setting aside a few days to learn how their new software works. They think other people somehow intuitively learned to use the technology in their lives, not realizing that everyone has had many moments when they come to a piece of technology as a complete newbie and they either read a manual, get someone to teach them, or set aside time for practice.

Daily Tech Skills

One of my students lived in a perpetual state of fear that her computer would fail, and she’d lose her stories. We took some time and investigated her cloud backup options. She discovered that she was already paying for space that she wasn’t using. We created an organization system and backed up everything in the cloud for her. When her computer crashed a few months later, she didn’t lose any data. Her new computer synced up with her backup and she was back at work on her novel in a day.

What would your life look like if you had an organization system set up where you could find not only the latest version of your book, but also your blurb, cover files, and even the list of people to include in the acknowledgments?

Here are some other basic tech skills that might be life-changing:

  • Learning how to use your computer's internet browser
  • Learning new features on your phone
  • Exploring the tech in your car

And this one is controversial: How many of your programs now include some sort of AI help? Have you tried it? This doesn't have to be a scene from the movie War Games. I've been surprised how many times I can take a problem and drop it into an AI and cut my workload in half. Don’t use AI as a writer. Use it like a virtual assistant. Expect to rewrite, fact-check, and improve.

Writing Skills

This most fundamental part of our careers embraces a wide range of skills.

Are you looking at starting a new series and questioning if you have enough knowledge of the time or the culture that you want to portray? Do a deep dive on the time, place, or culture you want to focus on.

How about learning to use a piece of writing software?

  • OneNote, Joplin, or other note taking software (replacements for Evernote)
  • Scrivener
  • Word
  • World Anvil

What if you focused on mastering:

Editing Skills

You might want to learn:

  • ProWritingAid
  • AutoCrit
  • Track changes or comments in Word

I've watched my favorite editor teach her clients to use track changes and comments in Word many times. Professionals know how to use these features. Are you just using a tool to get by? Or are you taking advantage of powerful features that are there to help you?

Career Building Skills

How about taking a master class from one of your favorite authors?

What about taking a class in legalese for writers?

Marketing Skills

Would you benefit from a basic marketing class?

Or do you want to explore:

Is this the year you finally build that website? Or the year you finally start using the one you built a few years ago?

Don't say "all of it!" Because “all of it” will be the same as learning none of it.

You want to pick one thing.

Just-in-time learning is important.

Don't spend a ton of time learning to market while you are writing your first book. Why? Because marketing will have changed by the time you're ready to dive in. The pace of technological change is increasing daily. You want to learn just enough to get by, leaving your deep-dive time for things you need right now.

For instance, if you are writing your first book, you might not need to worry about how to use TikTok or Clubhouse to promote your book. By the time you finish your book, there might be new platforms or features that you will want to learn to reach your target audience.

I see writers beating themselves up because they don’t know all the things. They get trapped in a loop of studying and learning and don’t move forward. Don’t get stuck! Pick just one thing that you can learn that will help make every day better.

Last year, I committed to learning how to edit and finalize a novel. I learned a lot, but got distracted by moving my school to a new platform. I didn't put everything I'd learned into practice, so I'm carrying that goal into this next year. I'm set up for success, and excited to see what 2024 brings.

What are you waiting for? Pick one skill that you want to learn and start today. You will be amazed by how much it can change your life for the better.

Let me know in the comments what skill you have chosen and why. I would love to hear from you!

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter or check out her brand new classroom where she teaches social media, organization skills, and marketing for authors!

Top image by 2081671 from Pixabay.

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22 comments on “If I Could Learn One New Skill to Change My Life”

  1. Marketing, always marketing.

    The writing goes well, slowly as usual, limited to when the brain deigns to be on - chronic illness isn't really conducive to much of anything, and this is what I want to do.

    But marketing a mainstream literary love story with a side order of disability literature as an indie - in a world where the dividing line seems to be traditional publishing+literary fiction in this corner, self-publishing+genre fiction in the other is neither easy nor fast.

    The books have done well in the review area, and will do better when the trilogy is finished (and the huge train wreck dealt with) - but sometimes I think I'm selling something unsavory because, well, I'm not sure why, because after I persuade someone to read, the results are gratifying.

    I've rewritten the books' descriptions, tried so many different forms of copywriting, and keep finding that advertising such as BookBub are happy to take you on IF you already are doing well on your own. Getting traction needs a gimmick, and I haven't found one yet.

    I'm tempted to order stacks of the first book, and leave them in public places! Except I can't walk to do that.

    I'll figure it out, most likely when I can focus on the marketing, but we all hope to at least have a trickle of sales as we go.

    Ideas welcome - but not the publish at rock bottom prices ones common to indie sites - I even tried those. Unsuccessfully.

    If I were to name the skill I want it would be 'How to make your novel go viral.' To get to the tipping point.

    1. Alicia - I do NOT recommend the rock bottom pricing. My best suggestion would be to ignore the mass-market viral approach and instead focus on the true fans, that niche market that will love your writing. The good reviews let you know it isn't the quality, but the discoverability. And for that you're going to need super-fans. The people who read your book and feel SEEN. The people who feel represented. You may have trouble finding them at first, but once you do, if you find the right ones, THEY will do the marketing bit for you. The trick is finding those first ones and truly connecting with them. How you do that... will depend on two things: 1) who you are and 2) who they are.

      Hopefully, that'll give you some ideas. Ignore all of the mass, paid hype... because for a niche book it often doesn't work well anyway! Instead, think about where your true fans are. Then go find them and connect with them as one human to another.

  2. Thank you for an informative post Lisa. I have signed up for your newsletter. I would love to know more about your use of AI as a virtual assistant.

    1. You're welcome, Sylvia! Ooooh. I'll have to write up some more posts of my adventures with Bing, Bard, and the crew! Thanks for signing up for my newsletter!

  3. I need to get better at tech, have systems in place rather than re-inventing the wheel every time. And list building.

    1. Sylvie - We all need to learn more tech, and that'll only get worse as the speed of change improves. List building - now THERE is where the actual magic is. It takes time and practice to learn, not something most writers can just learn overnight. There are a lot of nuances to the practice. But if this is the Sylvie I THINK it is, you're getting there.

  4. Hi Lisa,

    My wish for the new year is to learn to use my phone. Simple questions like:
    1) Where did that text message go that I wanted to keep?
    2) How do I send a text message after my phone did an "automatic," overnight update that I didn't want?
    3) How do I catalog all those names and ever find them again? Is the Chris in my directory my landscaper, my new cleaning woman, my long-lost niece, or the agent who expressed a luke-warm interest in the first ten pages of my unpublished novel?
    4) And finally, where did I put that #@* #^@! phone?

  5. Thank you Lisa, for an inspirational idea for the new year! Learner is my number one Clifton strength so choosing only one area is a challenge. lol

    One of the things I've been working on is building my email list. I'll focus on that in 2024. I'll continue studying with the Newsletter Ninja as I finish my Fellowship trilogy.

    Thank you for encouraging me to intentionally focus on one thing.

    1. Hi Lynette,
      Clifton strengths was a useful tool for identifying one's skills. I took the test for a class at work.

      Learner was one of my top identifying characters too. I was surprised to learn that everyone wasn't automatically excited to learn new things,especially if they are unrelated to what you do for a living or to the problem you are trying to solve.

      This learning, however unrelated or random it may seem to others, feeds my interest in writing, keeping my ideas fresh and flowing, but now I also understand that a barrage of new items to learn can also just be overwhelming. 🙂

      I just find that introspection interesting.
      Here's to an upcoming 2024 of focus and growth!

    2. ROFL, Lynette. Well - one at a time, how about that? Newsletters are POWERFUL! You'll notice others mentioning working on their list building in different forms. You are doing good with yours! From what I've seen, you've got the basics and some of the more advanced techniques down. Now it is the hard part of reading statistics, analyzing, testing, and repeating until you hit your audience just right. Have fun with it!

    3. Lynette, learner is my number one, too! It's so easy to get distracted with all the learning. Lisa, I like that you're reminding us not to be afraid of tech and that it's something available to us regular folk. I have to tuck that in the back of my mind and pull it out more often...

  6. One of my writing goals in 2024 is to purchase Dragon Speaking Pro and learn to Dictate. I am trying to speed up my writing. I purchased a Dictation course in 2023 by Nick Thacker and he walks through how to set up and dictate using various methods. He uses editing software like ProWritingAid and ChapGPT, which I found really interesting. And some human editors, of course. And he offered a step-by-step system to follow. So I'm going to do the set up, and try his method. I am refusing to get frustrated by it.

    1. Hi Jeanne,

      Hopefully you saw the post he put up here at WITS?

      I was also intrigued with his system and took his course. It was eye-opening for me and I plan to use dictation more in the upcoming year.

      Cheers to more writing on the page, however it gets there!

  7. Oh my gosh, Lisa, I so want to organize my file folders in the 'cloud' and to dial out that process.

    I've made one of my email boxes a zero inbox - and it is life changing for me. I can say that I have a better grip on prioritizing my tasks, which results in a more efficient workflow.

    I also experience less stress and more satisfaction as my empty inbox shines empty and complete.

    Thanks for helping us to organize our tech and to downsize our chaos!
    Kris

    1. Kris, Woohoo! Yay for the inbox zero success! It is amazing how freeing that can be! And having all of your files organized is another huge help! I recently saw someone who could find any cover art, interior file (including dated backups) within moments. I was in awe. She was WAY more organized than I am, even. And wow... was it paying off for her!

    1. Denise, I think we can all say this. People see me working with tech and think I've got skillz... but they don't see me sitting in my car with the manual. I took a special class on working with the tech in my car last weekend that left me in overwhelm. Have fun exploring new tech!

  8. This is so helpful, Lisa, and I will keep this post and go through it thoughtfully and pick something to learn (probably a major overhaul of my website).
    But I'd also put in a plea here for the benefits to a writer of learning a creative skill unrelated to writing. Two years ago, at an age where I have teenage grandchildren, I first picked up the guitar, found a teacher and started lessons. It has been transformational.
    During Covid lock down, I began learning a new language online, which has given me a greater appreciation of English. Any kind of creative activity is good for a writer's brain, and can also expand what we know and can write about.
    But your post on improving our tech skills is a neat compendium of what we sometimes avoid, and would so much benefit from if we just identified our biggest roadblock and tackled it. Thank you.

    1. Julia - absolutely! And that is huge! These alternative areas of exploring our creativity go a long way in filling the well we draw from in our writing.

      Thanks for reading!!!

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