John Robin’s Highbrow Courses – An Interview

If you’re anything like me, you can’t imagine the day you want to stop learning. I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, to get better at what I already know, and to learn new, exciting things. So when I learned (see what I did there?) that John Robin, who I already interviewed about his Your Daily Journal: 100 Day Starter and Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet, also writes courses for Highbrow, I knew I had to invite him over one more time.


Hi, John! Thanks for joining us one more time! Please, explain to us, what is Highbrow?

Highbrow is a resource for lifelong learners. They have hundreds of courses, covering topics ranging from productivity to writing and book marketing to business and investment and even science and psychology. You can view their full catalogue here.

Highbrow courses are delivered in the form of daily emails over 10 days. When you sign up for a course, you will get your first lesson the morning after in your inbox. This lesson is designed to take about 5 minutes to read, and to teach you something important on the topic. Over 10 consecutive days, you will learn more and finish the course feeling more knowledgeable about the course material.

How is Highbrow different from other learning platforms out there?

Unlike most online learning websites, Highbrow courses are compact and don’t involve enormous time commitment. They also don’t have homework that adds to your work load. The lessons are designed to teach you a little bit every day, by focusing on topics you are interested in.

Personally, I love the complement Highbrow courses add to my own reading/learning regimen. In addition to general knowledge gained through strategic Wikipedia reading, I enjoy absorbing further targeted lessons curated from authors who have expertise in the field they are teaching about. I’ve absorbed not just knowledge, but practical skills as well. For example, the course on how to create a productivity system has become the foundation of my own time management system that I still use today. I’m currently enjoying some of the writing courses, namely K.M. Weiland’s course on how to outline your novel.

Fun fact: Highbrow was one of Writer’s Digest’s top recommended websites for writers for 2018!

You write courses for Highbrow as well. How did this new writing venture start?

I started as a Highbrow student. I’ve taken more than 30 courses to date. I usually have one on the go all the time.

As I took them, though, I realised I had a lot I could teach about author marketing and author careers from the work I do with writers. After querying and having my proposal accepted, I put together these courses based on my knowledge.

After writing these courses, the main producers on Highbrow said they really like my teaching style and encouraged me to write more courses. Namely, I have a background in mathematics and was told when I used to work with students that I have a gift for explaining mathematical concepts in a way that’s entertaining and clear.

I’ve now written 3 courses for Highbrow on mathematics. The current one was a lot of fun: challenging logic puzzles. It was just published, in fact: The World’s Most Compelling Logic Puzzles.

(You can view all my courses here. I would recommend How To Market Your Book Online—it’s been taken by almost 1,000 students and has a 100% recommendation score.)

I’d say that writing for Highbrow helped me see more generally how writing nonfiction is as much a part of the writing career I’m developing as time immersed in epic fantasy drafts. It’s lots of fun, and I’m currently working on a 4th math course, by popular request, which will be about brain teasers.

Who will benefit from Highbrow?

I think all writers who want to constantly self-improve through careful reading and learning will enjoy what they find on Highbrow. The best thing about Highbrow is they are constantly growing and adding more courses. You could conceivably take 30 courses a year, and in that year they’ll add far more than that. It’s a direct channel to keep your inbox full of valuable lessons.

And if you get busy (like I do), you can just star the emails then save them for a special day. I created a Saturday morning routine this way: every Saturday I go to my favourite Starbucks early in the morning and catch up on emails. I enjoy reading through several lessons at once as I sip my Americano and unwind from the busy week.

You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy these courses. I think anyone who is out of school and wants to still keep learning will enjoy this.

I’m sorry, John, but I’m just going to ask again: What is the best writing advice you were ever given?

This is my third time saying this on your blog, but I’ll say it again because it’s my cornerstone: Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: to be a good writer, you should read a lot, and that you should write a lot.

This time though I’ll emphasise the ‘read a lot’ advice. I don’t even know where to start with this one…

First of all, read a lot doesn’t mean read lots of novels. Reading novels is just one small piece, I’ve found. Ultimately, as I really chased this advice as deep as possible, I realised the underlying goal is to learn through reading, and that is when my writing skill (and scope) improved noticeably. When you read, you are doing the inverse of what you’re doing when you’re writing. If you’re an editor, I’d count the time you spend editing as reading (though you’ll want to balance that out with other reading as well).

I started putting in reading sprints, the same as writing sprints, and aiming to get as many of these in each day as I do writing. Wow, what a difference. The biggest improvement I’ve noticed is how what I think I should be writing changes. I’ve abandoned a lot of would-be dead ends this way, because I realise what I thought I had to say was not unique and has already been explored, and I levelled up creatively with this new perspective, to create newer, fresher—that ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ effect in action.

About John

After working for many years in academia and adult education, John left his job to pursue his dreams as a writer. Having cut his teeth as an editor at a small publishing company, John decided that, while he worked hard to prepare his debut novel, he would build a book production business to help connect self-publishing authors with editing, cover, design, and marketing services based on the traditional model. He presently is the creative director, senior editor, and production manager for his company and oversees a team of twelve.

As a writer, John’s commitment to the craft has put him on course for a debut epic fantasy novel, A Thousand Roads (January 9, 2019). He also enjoys writing nonfiction, as an instructor for the lifelong learning website Highbrow, and recently as author of Your Daily Journal: 100 Day Starter. He has numerous other projects in the pipeline, both in fiction and nonfiction, and is also a ghostwriter.

When he’s not writing, John enjoys reading, listening to educational podcasts, playing chess, recreational mathematics, drawing trees or maps with pen, creating vector graphic artwork (mostly fractals), working with textiles, playing classical piano (especially Beethoven and Chopin), long distance running and strength training, gardening, long walks, serially watching his way through TV series’ in the evenings, board game nights with friends, and of course…pandering to the whims of his cat, Wizard, who is the true muse behind his stories.


(The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you buy through these links.)

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