The last part of our series on goal setting focuses on continuing your education as a writer. There are many ways to enhance your knowledge of the craft of writing, and many of them will cost you nothing. All you need is the determination to keep learning.
If you missed the previous posts in this series, here are the links:
Since each of us has different styles of learning, and varying levels of comfort, we'll start from large-group activities, and work down to the individual level. Feel free to pick and choose what appeals to you.
Benefits. You want to feel like you're not alone in what you do. There are many others out there, many with the same fears and insecurities that you have. Inspirational keynote speakers give you the vision to keep going if you're feeling burnt out. You'll network with other writers, meet industry professionals, and learn from dozens of workshop presenters. Many conferences offer opportunities for personalized critiques and chances to pitch to editors and agents.
Drawbacks. The size of some (but not all) writing conferences can be daunting for the shy writer. While many workshop sessions are offered, they may not line up with what you specifically want to learn. And conferences cost a significant amount of money.
What you can do. If money (or your geographic location) is a factor, consider attending an online conference. Several are free, like the Muse Conference and WriteOnCon, and provide many of the benefits listed above without the drawbacks. Most conferences offer scholarships as well. The key to choosing a conference is to find one that lines up with your needs, budget and location. A good spot to search for writing conferences is Shaw Guides or the list by state at NewPages. You can also look for smaller regional conferences and writer retreats.
Benefits. Focused courses on how to write, taught by successful authors in their field. Individual critique of your work. The camaraderie of learning with other writers. Most Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs have "low residency" options, where you do most coursework online, and in-residence attendance a few times each year.
Drawbacks. Not everyone has the money to invest in graduate classes. And some writers feel their writing style changes too much with this level of intense study. Before you decide, talk to writers and authors who have gone both routes.
What you can do. Research the different programs available at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
Workshops and courses.
Benefits. You can choose to attend the ones that target the topic you really want to learn. The smaller group lends itself to more personalized feedback. Online workshops and courses eliminate the complication of distance, and some of them are free.
Drawbacks. Depending on the course, prices might be prohibitive. If so, focus on the free courses you can take until you have the resources for the pricier ones.
What you can do. Sign up for newsletters from writer's organizations, and check their websites for courses. See if any of your local writer's groups offer free or low-cost workshops.
Books and blogs.
Benefits. It's surprising how much you can learn from books on craft. Read reviews to narrow down the possibilities, then borrow from the library before you decide whether to purchase a copy. Writing magazines offer a wide variety of information for a low cost. Check out magazines like Writer's Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers. They offer many articles online so you can get a feel for what they offer. And then there are blogs. Agent blogs are often as good as attending a workshop. And many authors offer free resources that can add to your store of knowledge.
Drawbacks. If internet time is at a premium for you, you'll want to lean more toward books and magazines. But if the cost of buying the books you'd like is prohibitive, then keeping up with a few blogs is worthwhile.
What you can do. There are so many books, magazines, and blogs to choose from, it can be paralyzing to sort them out. Check out book reviews and use Amazon's "look inside" feature to get a better idea of a book's value to you. Try out a few blogs each week before deciding which are the best fit for your current needs.
Benefits. Most people learn best one-on-one. This can be getting together with a writing friend, a critique group, or even reading a novel crafted by a competent author. Some writers decide to hire a professional editor, book doctor or coach.
Drawbacks. Be prepared for actual feedback on your writing. It means developing the skin of a rhino, but it will improve your writing. Hiring an editor can be quite expensive, so you may want to reserve it for after you've run your manuscript through several critiques.
What you can do. Start asking. Find writers around you who might be willing to get together. If that's impossible, join an online critique group. If you're considering an editor or coach, a few I recommend are A. Victoria Mixon, Mary DeMuth at The Writing Spa, and Meredith Efken's Fiction Fix-it Shop. If the cost is too high, keep an eye out on blogs for writing "auctions"--usually a fundraiser for a charity. Editors and agents offer critiques to the highest bidder, which can be far cheaper than hiring them directly.
Well, I threw a lot of information at you today. Don't get overwhelmed, just start with the information that's easiest for you to accomplish, and bookmark the page so you can come back each month to tackle a little more. By December, you'll be amazed at what you've learned.
Completing some online courses is first on my list. I think I'll start with some of Bob & Jack's offerings. How about you?