Invest In Your Writing

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.

Marcy and Lisa at Write! Canada writer's conference

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?



5 comments on “Invest In Your Writing

  1. There has been a definite shift in the way I do my writing. I went from being very ‘feelings’ oriented about it–writing whenever the ‘urge’ would hit… and I had time… and there was nothing else I could conjure up to keep me from doing what I wanted to do the most–to listening to the advice I kept seeing repeated from those who have gone on ahead. I decided to show up at the same time (or very close to it) every day, at the same place–and just write.

    It’s absolutely amazing! My thousand word daily goal often whizzes right by before I know it. And, if I simply show up–even, no ‘especially’ when I don’t feel like it–it isn’t long before I’m ensconsed again. I would have to say, just ‘doing it’ has been my best investment.

    • That’s fabulous Heather. There is a certain amount of talent in writing, but mostly it’s just hard work. You show up everyday and strive to do better than yesterday. Keep at it!

  2. The best investments that I make are short story contests, because of all the feedback. It’s like paying for a professional critique, except that it doesn’t cost you a ton of money. Each time I enter a contest, I learn a little more about how to write better, or at least write something that sells.

    • Hi Mandy, Good point. I actually had contests in the blog post until one of those annoying computer glitches erased the whole post and I rewrite from memory. I’ve also entered many contests just for the professional feeback – I’m not usually as concerned about winning – though it’s a great bonus. Contests are great because they force you to write to a deadline, and there’s no better value for a professional critique. Most contest judges are open to you contacting them later and are willing to provide additional feedback if they remember your piece, or even a later critique. Those are pure gold!

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