How a writer can commit to continuous professional development (CPD)

In my day job I’m a big fan of CPD. There’s always something you can learn or some new way of doing things that you can embrace. In fact, I’m so committed that for the past three years I’ve been an accredited practitioner in the membership organisation for my profession. This means that for three years I’ve completed a certain number of points by carrying out certain activities and demonstrated my desire to advance my career. This has often led me to re-examine the way I work and make changes. Yes, change is scary, but often this type of shake-up can bring about improvements that you never would have imagined.

I feel the same way about writing. I may have been writing something for most of my life, but I’m still learning as I go along. In fact, the more I read, the more podcasts I listen to, the more I realise how much I still have to learn.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need to learn new things. In fact, in the next year, I’m going to instill a practice I use at work when I’m planning my CPD for the year and look at the objectives that I’ve been set in my appraisal. This gives me a chance to identify what I need to learn to meet those objectives. It may not be as elaborate as the process at work, but in the coming months I’ll be starting the process for self-publishing my first novel, so learning about that is where my focus needs to be. CPD in the past year has been learning more about editing and refining the process I use. In fact, this isn’t strictly true – I was actually just creating a process because previously I didn’t have one. A steep, but necessary, learning curve.

It’s true that in writing there is no CPD scheme, you can’t collect points and there’s no certificate at the end (unless you print one of your own), but if you know what you need to achieve, then set yourself goals. I’d suggest breaking the year down into four quarters and completing something each quarter, to spread your learning out across the year.

So, how do you go about professional development as a writer?

  • Reading books – by this I don’t just mean writing how-to books. These are all very well and can be very useful, but what I mean is by reading widely, both in your genre and in others. Don’t just read though, read analytically. Look at what the writer is doing and how they’re doing it. How do they create an atmosphere? How do they describe their characters?
  • Podcasts – if you’re not already a lover of podcasts then you need to at least try one out. I would recommend The Creative Penn if you’re looking for advice on writing, publishing and marketing your book, and The Creative Life Show by Joanna Pieters if you’re looking for something more focused on creativity. It’s an easy way to use the time on your commute or out walking and get benefit for your writing as well.
  • Workshops – these can sometimes be expensive, and it’s worth doing a little research to see whether it’s right for you. The most valuable one I went to was a ‘boost your creativity’ workshop. I was very apprehensive beforehand, worried about what ‘playing games’ meant, but in the end they were all useful exercises. I’m just disappointed that I can’t play ‘Word Cricket’ back at home on my own. Try it as a game and you’ll be amazed what you come up with! At some point I’ll post what I wrote during that game!
  • Talking to other writers – you might not consider this to be ‘proper’ CPD but chatting to other writers and networking at events are learning opportunities. Find out how they plan their books, how they boost their productivity or which courses they’ve taken. Make as many connections as you can. I’ve found that Twitter is a great place to start in meeting people and it’s a great source of articles and podcasts.

There are of course other ways of learning new things, and I’d love to hear from you about how you go about improving your skills and perfecting your craft. Do you attend writing festivals or book festivals? What do you learn from them?

You can also see some of the ‘how to’ books I’ve found useful on my Recommended Reading page.

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