Has this ever happened to you?
You sign up for something. Maybe you sign up for a course. Or you buy a self-help book .Or you buy a ticket to a conference.
And then you start, but don’t finish. Or maybe, you don’t even start at all.
Maybe you log into the course once or twice, but then you don’t show up for a group call or you skip the assignment since no one is expecting you to turn it in.
Maybe you read the book, or part of it. But you don’t actually do any of the exercises inside it.
Maybe you go to the conference, but spend most of your time in the hotel bar socializing. Or worse, in your hotel room hiding out from the crowd.
I read a statistic when I first started Ninja Writers and offered my own course — A Novel Idea. A mentor told me to expect that only two percent of the people who sign up for my course would follow through all the way to the end.
And he was right. Most of the people who buy A Novel Idea don’t finish it. Like the vast, vast majority. In 2018 I ran a moderated version of the course with live chats every week for six months. Only a dozen people showed up for all the chats — which is maybe 10 percent of the people enrolled.
And only one or two actually finished a manuscript, which was the goal of the course.
I’m hosting my first Writer’s Conference this spring and summer and I keep thinking about how only about two percent of everyone who learns about it will sign up. And how only about two percent of those people will actually show up and follow through on all of the sessions.
I’ve taken that mentor’s advice to heart. If only two percent of people are going to get the full effect of whatever course I’ve signed up for or conference I’m attending or book I’m reading — then I want to be part of that two percent.
I want you to be, too.
I have a pretty simple (at least in theory) three-step plan for that.
The first step is always the hardest, isn’t it? If you’re anything like me, for everything you decide to do, there are three other things you could be doing instead.
So the number one thing is to just choose the thing, whatever it is.
Make the time to read the book. Sit in the workshops instead of in the lobby bar. Actually go through that online class you signed up for.
Right now I’m taking Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass on the Art of Storytelling. There isn’t anyone taking roll. If I don’t show up, no one would know but me. It would be easy to just let it go, even if I did pay for the experience. Trust me when I tell you that I have so much else to do with my time.
But I want to be part of the two percent. So I put time for the class in my planner and I show up.
You’ve chosen to spend your time with this thing — course, conference, book — and so try not to let your mind wander to all the stuff you could be doing instead.
A big part of this is having an open mind. There’s always someone in every group situation who comes in positive that whatever is being taught absolutely will not apply to them. There’s some reason why they can’t do pretty much anything.
Don’t be that person. Go in with an open mind and pay attention with an attitude of taking everything in so that you can use what works for you.
Just learn. Ask questions if you need help figuring out how to make what you’re learning work for you. If asking questions isn’t possible, write them down and do your own research.
For me, paying attention means bringing a notebook and taking notes. I need to write down information to retain it. I also write down questions that I want to ask if I can, or research later. And any exercises or tips that come up.
If I’m reading a book I want to learn from, I read with a pencil in hand. I take notes in the margins, underline important parts. Whenever I make a note on page, I fold down the corner page or use a flag to mark it. When I’m done reading, I come back and transcribe my notes into my notebook.
Implement What You Learn
I think this is the most important part — and I think it’s the part that separates the two percent from everyone else.
When you learn something, put it into action.
Actually do the exercises in writing craft books. When you learn something new from a teacher, a conference, or a book — open your work-in-progress or a trunk-novel or start a new short story and do the thing.
When I first started Ninja Writers, I took part in a lot of webinars and workshops and courses about building an email list. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I literally just followed almost every instruction. I tried out what I was learning.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.