Just-in-Time Learning


Are you curious about the craft of writing, about marketing, about all the skills you might need down the road? Me, too.

And frankly, that can be a problem.

Information Overload

This past six months, one thing I’ve worked on is just-in-time learning. I’m trying to get better at not overwhelming my brain with so much information that I’m just not ready for.

I know I’m not the only one who does this. When Lisa and I presented in October at the local SCBWI conference on marketing your first book, we were explicit that the session was geared toward writers whose first book was already out or was due out in the coming year. I think we had only one attendee who fit that criterion. Why? Because the topic isn’t often covered, or because the writers hoped they would need this info eventually, so they wanted to take advantage of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we were happy to chat with writers of any stage. But if you consistently do this—gather information that you can’t apply now—you end up with a brainload full of confusing information, no time or opportunity to implement any of the great info you learn, and less time to learn whatever it is you actually SHOULD be learning right now.

I have some podcasts I listen to that are about various things: writing, teaching, business, etc. My favorites are people I can relate to, whose teaching/sharing style I like. I enjoy listening to them and I trust that the information they give me is honest and well-grounded in their own particular area. That’s awesome! What’s not awesome is that I tend to listen to every podcast they do, even the ones that clearly don’t apply to my situation as a children’s writer making a living from writing. How to write thrillers for adults? Yup, I listened to it, even though I 1) don’t write for adults; 2) don’t write thrillers; and 3) actually don’t even care for the thriller genre. Now, did I glean a tidbit that I might be able to apply in my writing? Sure. But is one tidbit for an hourlong podcast a very efficient way to learn? Nope. Especially if you’re always time-crunched, as I seem to be.

How To Streamline Your Learning Time

So. I think there are two things to do to make your learning useful and efficient, able to transform your own writing.

First, identify some mentors. I don’t mean necessarily paid mentors. I just mean people who share info that often applies to you in a style you like. Lisa and I are happy to have you here reading, and we appreciate you. Hopefully, you have 5 or 6 bloggers, podcasters, teachers, FB Groups, etc., where you can often get info and support that resonates with you. But if you have 20 or 30 of those, it might be time to ask, “Whose writing (or speaking, etc.) most often feels on-target and useful to me? Who shows me things I am ready to try?”

Second, identify what it is that you need to learn RIGHT NOW. Sure, it can be interesting to read about people far ahead of you on the journey. But do you need to read about 20 of them? No. Be honest about where you are in your own writing journey. If you are pre-published and not submitting your work yet, then content about the craft of writing is what you probably need most. Plus a bit about how the submissions process works, so that you can start looking ahead to that and be prepared for it. Do you need to learn how to create a Pinterest-friendly campaign for your book? No! You don’t have a book yet. And technology and social media will change by the time you do. If you’re published or submitting regularly and getting personal feedback, you might want to learn about building relationships with editors. Or marketing your book. Etc. Just-in-time learning is all about learning what you need to learn WHEN you need to learn it. Stuff learned too early will be quickly forgotten or outdated.

You need to have a few people you trust, I think, to get the big picture of the arena you’re creating in—in this case, children’s literature. But it’s important to value your time. Read through blog post titles or episode titles and ask yourself, “Does this apply to me right now?” If not, skip it. Spend the time writing instead!

Or, identify the thing you’re struggling with and do a search on Google for info specifically about that. (I usually restrict my searches to the past year so that I’m getting current thinking/info on a topic). Then read or listen to the results that seem most promising.


This is one reason I’m so interested in creating courses right now. That way, people can find information and encouragement on whatever topic they’re ready for–not the topic I happen to be thinking about that day:>)

It’s just a matter of comfort and laziness. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the amount of information out there that it’s easier to just listen to the next podcast in my queue rather than seek out someone new (who I might or might not relate to). But if you’re like me, if your brain is about to explode from the amount of input it’s getting, it’s probably time to narrow down the people you’re following and expand your quest for content on the skills you really need to learn/improve.

Happy reading/listening!


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Writing Advice, Your Writing Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Just-in-Time Learning

  1. Right now, I have 19 tabs open on my computer, most of them with articles I intend to read about something I’d like to learn someday. I tend to let them accumulate, read a whole slew at once, bookmark the rest, & try to file the bookmarks in relevant folders. No, I will never catch up! Your approach makes a lot more sense–thank you!

  2. OK, I can SO relate. I generally bookmark all of them and put them into folders like “Possible Passage Topics” and “Read Later.” Some I go back to look at…many I never do. But I console myself that I just haven’t needed them yet:>)

  3. ldk says:

    Laura, I’ve struggled for years with information overload. Between reading articles and blogs about teaching, writing, and self-help, I start feeling overwhelmed! I do file some of them and intend to read them, but as more information keeps flooding in, I can’t paddle fast enough to get to all of them. : ) I’m going to try your strategy. Great tip! Thanks!

  4. kdveiten says:

    This is such timely information! Thank you for an illuminating article. Just what I needed right now!

  5. Pingback: Networking: Building and Maintaining Relationships with Editors | Mentors for Rent

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