What is Creative Cross-Training?

Intro to Creative Cross-Training for Writers

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Our Creative Cross-Training course has been happily living on the internet for almost a year now. One of the most common questions we get is how we came up with the idea in the first place. This blog post answers that question with a quick overview of the genesis of Creative Cross-Training and the theory behind it.

Before we jump into the origin story, let’s clear up why this approach is called “cross-training.” The idea here is that, just like any activity, writing takes practice. Just like someone couldn’t just jump off the couch and run a marathon, writers need to train their writing muscles.

We’re also keen to get away from the idea that writing is a magical thing that only a select few can be good at. Of course there is something to be said for natural talent – and great writers surely have it. But writing, like most any skill, is something that pretty much anyone can become good at with some practice. Consistent practice is crucial for all skills, not just physical ones but intellectual ones, too. And so that’s why the course is named using language from athletics and fitness. 

The Creative Cross-Training Story (so far)

The history of what would become our Creative Cross-Training course begins when I (Jon) was a graduate student. I used short, creative activities to generate momentum for writing a dissertation. I found that my formal writing output and quality was massively improved by doing something every day that engaged my creativity, specifically through five-minute activities in poetry, prose, photography, painting, or other forms of expression. And that’s how I was able to finish my PhD dissertation and continue on as a writer.

I decided to apply the same strategy in my work as a teacher. I was lucky at the time to get some funding from a teaching and learning organization in Canada to develop an online resource called Expressive Subjects, which I workshopped with a community of bloggers I had been writing with for many years. What came out of that work was a series of writing activities and challenges, the primary purpose of which was to foster reflective engagement with language and encourage creativity.

Many of the activities in the Expressive Subjects project were then turned into a weekly blogging component for a first-year undergraduate course I taught on critical reading and writing. The course was focused on formal writing skills, and specifically essay writing. The expressive blogging component asked students to do creative activities in the service of improving formal writing skills. This course component was hugely successful, and was taken up by a number of other instructors at the university.

Later, I developed the activities from the course component into a book. From there, it just made sense to recreate and reimagine the entire thing as a brand new course all on its own, and to offer it to the whole wide world. And so the idea for Creative Cross-Training was born.

Get a free sample of our book, Expressive Subjects!

Creative Cross-Training in Theory

That’s the story behind the development of the course. Now what about the theory?

One of the main streams of theory that informs the structure and content is based on best practices for productivity and habit formation. We’re are all about productivity hacks and creating habits over here! We preach that every writer needs an infrastructure in place to plan their writing and to keep track of their work. Writers need to be highly organized. And writers also need to have a regime in place so that they are able to consistently write and get work done, day in and day out, week after week, not losing momentum until the project is complete.

person writing in journal

In a simple and straightforward way, that’s what the Creative Cross-Training course does. For the writer who does not have a solid writing habit or productivity infrastructure, it shows them how to start. The course is structured to provide 21 days worth of five- to ten-minute writing activities, based on the research on habit-formation, which suggests that it takes around three weeks to have a new habit take root.

The course also provides productivity tools like a writing calendar and habit planner, so writers can start to track their work. Plus, the course has a few special sections on mindfulness, since wellbeing and mental focus are such important pieces for maintaining writing habits and productivity over the long-term.

Most of these pieces around habits and productivity are our take on popular approaches found in books like Atomic Habits, Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and Start Finishing: How to go from Idea to Done. Our innovation has mainly been to apply the thinking around habits and productivity to the process and practice of writing. Through taking the course, writers are able to plant the seeds of a writing infrastructure that works for them to make their work more efficient and ultimately more successful.

As mentioned above, it is our firm belief that being a successful writer is not about having natural talent. That’s not to say everyone can be Stephen King, but that beyond a certain point of essential proficiency with written language, it is the better organized, consistent, and persistent writer who will be most successful.

Find your writing flex

That’s Creative Cross-Training in a nutshell. It’s a productivity hack for writers. It encourages creativity, mindfulness, and a deliberate approach to setting up a writing infrastructure. And it’s really for everybody – there’s something there for both the writer who is just starting out and for the seasoned pro who wants to sharpen their skills and rekindle their joy for writing.

The course has certainly evolved through practice and trial. We’ve also learned lots from making the course in its current form and working with writers who are using Creative Cross-Training to get the ball rolling on their publishing projects.

What does your creative process look like? We’d love to hear your thoughts on creative cross-training! Leave a comment below 🙂

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