Forget quick fixes, choose incremental progress instead.
It’s fun to play a little game with yourself sometimes, where you challenge yourself to do something in a certain amount of time. “I’m going to get the laundry folded in exactly five minutes and get it over with.” Or, “I give myself fifteen minutes to cook a meal for myself with my own hands instead of ordering takeout again.”
Quick is good when it comes to some things. When it comes to learning a new skill and mastering it, though? A skill like copywriting, in which I train people? Be prepared for it to take time, with small, incremental steps.
In the age of impatience (although, when were we ever a patient species?), the more impatient among us (myself included) gravitate towards a quickly-earned sense of achievement. It is gratifying to gain praise from the Duolingo owl for learning a bunch of words in a new language. But genuine fluency in that language will need a lot more from me; it will need that consistent commitment of which the owl has tried so many times to convince me. (As an aside, the language was Latin, and in some sobering evaluations of my life, I have questioned the usefulness of being able to say, with impeccable grammar albeit, that I have visited the graves and sacrificed.)
Participants in a copywriting workshop are so excited and enthusiastic about putting into practice the things they’ve learnt. We work through projects and activities. We consider different ways of writing things and the effects of these differences. We push words and brand messages to their limits. The energy is high, people are laughing, people are doing cool new things. It’s infectious. And then someone asks the question: how they should learn to do this quicker and better when at their desks at work.
My answer is almost always to practise. Start small, and improve slowly. But practise consistently. As someone who spent a childhood and adolescence enduring the ire of piano and dance teachers when it was clear that I didn’t practise, this answer sometimes shocks me. It also probably makes me one of the most boring copywriting instructors on the planet, a confession which often earns laughter from participants in a workshop, but once again, in those moments of sobering evaluation, makes me wonder how come I have any friends at all.
But that doesn’t make it any less true. I teach frameworks. I teach systems. Techniques, concepts, ideas. Processes that facilitate writing; structures that build on knowledge and skills in organisations. But none of this works without individual practice, and that takes time and effort.
Entirely hypocritically, I am as impatient as workshop participants who ask me how to get better quickly when it comes a new skill I’m learning. So I remind myself that, as someone who advocates long-term, sustained learning, this is a mindset that I’ll need to struggle through. If nothing else, it makes it easier for me to empathise with participants in workshops.
But the fun little game works with practising too. “I’ll set a timer for ten minutes and get all my thoughts on paper,” is a great way to practise writing. “I’ll spend exactly fifteen minutes polishing up this draft,” or “I’ll start by writing for two minutes every day,” work just as well for writers at any stage of progress. They’re quick. They don’t fix the entire problem, but they do mean small, incremental improvement. And progress is progress. So now, barring any distractions, I’m off to please the Duolingo owl again.
(The question about how I have any friends at all is a valid one, as my Duolingo profile suggests. I welcome challenges and friendly competition, but draw the line at turning on practice notifications.)