Weekly Musing: Investment in the Future

Some may not think writers participate in career development but we do. I certainly never realized it when I began writing in earnest. I just thought writers sat down, or stood or lay down even, and just wrote. I had no idea writing groups existed, nor that there were conferences, books galore, classes, and associations.

Discovering this immense world of career development was mind boggling. It got me thinking about does a writer honestly need all those classes, conferences, writers retreats, and every book about the craft ever produced? Will that speed up the process to get from fledging writer to published author? Or is all of it just a waste of time and money, both of which many of us have little as it is?

To me, it all depends upon the individual writer and what his goals are.

Classes and Books: Sure, I knew there were creative writing classes, I even took one at the local junior college, but I had no idea that so many specialized classes existed. Many of these go beyond the basics of grammar and sentence structure, but how to add more drama to a story, landing an agent, one-on-one feedback for your manuscript, and even classes specializing in a genre.

Most are offered online and aren’t affiliated with any particular college or university. This means they are generally open to anyone. Some colleges offer online classes but you don’t necessarily have to be a student at that school to sign up. Like everything else, there is a cost. Some classes are free but many require a fee.

Personally, I haven’t taken any classes beyond the one creative writing class. Part of that is I am hesitant to shell out money to an online program not backed up by a college. I’m kind of old school that way. I much prefer books because I can take my time. A disadvantage is not getting feedback or being able to ask questions. I think in the future, when I’ve gotten a decent draft done of my first book, I’d like to look into courses that provide feedback. This would be in addition to any beta readers I can wrestle up. Any strengths and weaknesses noted will more than likely prompt me to investigate other courses.

Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats: When it comes to these particular types of help, I am woefully overwhelmed at the options available. I’ve been to one conference, attended a year and a half ago, and held over a weekend at a local library. It was great for me and helped solidify my decision writing was what I was meant to do. I attended a variety of presentations not knowing what to expect. The classes were small and the environment was welcoming. People of all writing levels attended which gave me confidence to ask questions.

In addition to the one conference, I’ve attended a one day workshop put on by the leader of the writers group I was in. It was a small group and we got to spend the whole day with two published authors. While there was a schedule of topics to cover, the day was flexible. Time was allotted for Q & A but the biggest thing I got out of it was just learning more about what a successful author’s life is like. It was a bit intimidating but also motivating.

One thing I have yet to experience is going to a writers retreat. A writers retreat is generally a place allowing writers to spend a set amount of time, could be a weekend or longer, secluded away from the rest of the world. Usually these are held in quiet, nature areas far, far away from the noise of everyday life. There are generally set programs but the main goal of a writers retreat is to set aside all those real life worries and just focus on writing.

I must admit, when I see some of the places these retreats are at, I can see why they are pricey but perhaps worth it. I am not at that point, though, to go to one. Besides the price, when I look closer at what kind of writer they target, I realize at this stage in my career, it might be too over my head.

For my experience level, I’m going to stick more to short conferences and workshops. The chance to interact with like-minded people is attractive. So, too is the opportunity to ask questions and learn. My goal is to attend at least one or two conferences this year. Since price is a huge concern, local is better. Local conferences and workshops seem to be more centered on craft development rather than landing an agent or publishing contract. True, there can be editors and agents a writer can speak with but it’s not the sole focus like some of the super big ones held in major cities tend to be.

I am optimistic that all this investment in my career will pay off. I may not see it in the immediate future but with any luck in five or ten years I’ll see that return on investment.