I’m a work-from-home mom with three kids. I’ve never had a lot of money to invest in developing my writing. I’m all about free or nearly free. Deciding what you want out of this writing adventure is the first step in determining how much time and money to invest in developing your talent. Is this a hobby or a career choice? There are a lot of great workshops, seminars, courses and degrees to work through–all very valuable. But I thought I’d share how I work on professional development on the cheap 🙂
Just keep writing
If you spend all your time researching the craft of writing and don’t actually spend time writing, you’re defeating the purpose. Let others read what you write (see Marcy’s post Let Criticism Make You Better). Promise yourself that the next piece will be better, no matter where you are in your writing career, and keep writing.
There are a lot of great books out there that teach how to write better. I love books by writers about writing. Brandilyn Collins’ Getting Into Character should be a staple in any writing library. I enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing. Writers Digest offers lots of great free articles about writing and a book club. Take advantage of sales and promotional deals. When I first started writing, I joined their book club because you could get five books for 1cent each if you agreed to buy two more at full price. So for $30 (after shipping and handling) I got seven books–no strings. I think I ‘joined’ three times. Check out your public library. If they don’t have the book, recommend they buy it. Share personal libraries among friends. Ask for giftcards to Chapters or some other bookstore for Christmas or birthdays. One word: Ebay!
Read the kind of books you want to write. Read the good ones and the bad ones–you’ll learn from both. Read mysteries to learn about building suspense and conflict. Study your favourite authors. Ted Dekker taught me about pacing and plot twists. Frank Peretti taught me about creepy. Melanie Wells taught me about using humour to relieve tension. Read Lawhead or another historical writer to learn about setting and description. I think almost every Nicholas Sparks novel has made me cry, so did Cecelia Ahearn’s PS I Love You. How do they make you care so deeply? Since everyone knows the book is always better than the movie, I narrow my reading list to novels made into movies. I have two reasons for this. One, they only make movies out of bestsellers generally, so the author must have done something right. Two, novels turned into movies are always rereleased as a trade paperback which means they’re cheaper to buy and are stocked in most libraries. Win win. There have been some duds, but I’ve learned from those too.
There are many writers conferences to take advantage of. Where else can you rub elbows with agents, editors and published authors, and have them answer questions? Most conferences offer critiques as part of the registration fee or for small cost. Many times this is the only opportunity you might have to get your writing in front of somebody influential. Most conferences offer scholarships, bursaries or contests to earn full or partial registration. Everyone knows someone, ask if friends or family can help with accommodation. If you can’t go, most conferences now offer CD’s of all the sessions so you can still get great teaching at very little cost. To make the most of your conference experience, set your goals ahead of time. Be realistic. Don’t consider the conference investment a waste if you don’t get an agent or book deal–those kinds of deals rarely happen on the spot. Decide to make your goal networking, getting new assignments, learning, get feedback from someone you respect, or just be encouraged. Do your research so you don’t waste your time or someone else’s.
Most of the industry’s best publish a blog now, choose to follow the ones you like the most. Be sure to check out their blogroll also. Who do they recommend or follow themselves? If Chip MacGregor (a respected literary agent) follows so and so, it’s probably worth a look. It’s a kind of endorsement. I have to budget my time on blog surfing because I could spend days at it.
Writers Associations and Writing Groups
There are as many writers associations as there are kinds of writing I think. Marcy and I are long-time members of The Word Guild. I’m also a member of PWAC. Most charge a fee, so weigh the cost against the benefit. You’ll only get out of those memberships the time you put into it. Join their listserv, Facebook group, go to local meetings, join a critique group, take advantage of promotional opportunities online, get involved. Some writers associations lend credibility by offering professional memberships. Professional memberships are tax deductible (check with your accountant). Writers groups can be a great resource or a great waste of time. Know what you’re looking for in a group and what you have to offer, and find something that fits. If nothing is available locally, join an online group.
What has been the best investment you’ve made to develop your writing?