How creative writing helped me prepare for the CFA Exam

In a word: discipline.

Writing isn’t so much different from studying. For the most part it is a lonely, thankless task with an uncertain payoff. Most of us (myself included) have to squeeze it in between making a living, spending time with significant others, working out and handling all of life’s other ups and downs. As I see it there are two main things that keep writers going:

  1. A compulsive (mildly unhealthy?) desire to transfer ideas from our imaginations to the page.
  2. The knowledge that with every word we write we get better at our “craft.” Ironically enough, reason number two is pretty much the same reason people pursue professional development. That and making more money — which I’m pretty sure most writers aspire to anyway.

Motivation aside, writing is a long haul. If I’m really in the zone I can knock out about 1,000 words an hour. My average is probably closer to 500 or 600. Assuming the average novel is 100,000 words long, it would take me an average 200 hours to produce a draft.

The CFA Institute recommends roughly 300 hours of study for each level of the exam. From a time perspective, studying is like writing a somewhat longer-than-average novel every year for three years. Challenging but hardly impossible — particularly when you’ve spent a couple decades honing your independent study skills.

Speaking broadly, the discipline you develop writing will help you throughout life. People tend to dislike tasks that are lonely, introspective and time-consuming. People also tend to lack discipline. If you develop the ability to work independently on projects and deliver consistent results, you will be shocked at what you can achieve, whether in the realm of art, business, finance or fitness.

Breathe a sigh of relief, writers: you’re basically there already.

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