Writers: Cross-training is essential

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Just like “playing professional football” isn’t one solitary skill, but a set of separate skills, you don’t study and practice “writing.”

There are dozens of separate skills involved.

  • Structure and storytelling, which is done best by the screenwriting peoples of Hollywood
  • Hooks and headlines (which you learn from ink-stained journalists and smooth-talking copywriters)
  • Taglines (Hollywood) and pitches (publicity peoples)
  • Speeches, opeds and persuasive writing (the rarely seen speechwriter, often riding fleet unicorns while fleeing from trolls)
  • Small-bore editing (grammar, copy editing and all that)
  • Dialogue (playwrights and novelists)
  • Big-bore editing (destroying a piece with your wicked red pen, then stitching it back together: better, faster, stronger)
  • Design and layout (book designers, cover artists, photographers, web designers)
  • The use and abuse of photos and imagery (photographers, journalists, photo-journalists
  • Publicity, sales and marketing

It’s a lot like the 53-whatever guys who play on a football team. Want to learn how to kick a field goal? Don’t ask the quarterback – bribe the kickers after teasing them about how clean their unis always are.

Need to become a better tackler? Talk to the linebackers. Want to run faster? Work out with the wide receivers and cornerbacks.

Because if you don’t cross-train, you’ll wind up looking silly. Like this.

Same thing with MMA fighters. They’re so well-rounded now, mixing striking with wrestling and ju-jitsu. Nobody who fights for money would think of spending all their time on one skill while ignoring the others, because they would get crushed into powder … and no longer pay the bills as a professional fighter. Delivering pizzas, maybe. Fighting, no. Unlike the bad old days of boxing, there isn’t a market for tomato cans that up-and-coming fighters match up with to pump up their record.

As a writer, I’ve learned the most from cross-training. Journalism and speechwriting are completely different, just like writing screenplays happens on a different planet from writing novels.

You can’t learn the other things while you play around in your favorite sandbox — but the skills you learn from hanging out in other writerly sandboxes has gargantuan payoffs.