Should You Invest Money In Your Writing?
If you use the English language, surely you can write? Or is there much to learn?
When I started writing 22 years ago, I thought a f*cked up imagination and reasonable command of the English language would be enough to get my book written and published. It was years before I realised that I needed to learn about story structure and understand the mechanics behind other books.
In 2007 a friend did a story structure course with Hollywood script fixer, John Truby. She urged me to do it too, at a cost of £250. It was a revelation to me that stories have structure and are really about the change in character and behaviour of the protagonist, rather than what happens next.
A few years later I invested in a series of writing workshops run by the Guardian newspaper. The cost was £325. We looked at great works of literature and did writing exercises in the course which we had to share with the rest of the group. Through that process the penny finally dropped on what “show don’t tell” was all about. Again, money well spent.
When I decided to self-publish I bought Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course for $499 from which I learnt everything about how to build a marketing pipeline, the mechanics of self-publishing, technical tutorials on everything from building an author website to listing a book on Amazon, and access to a community of other self-publishers.
In the publishing process I had to invest in cover design, editing and proof-reading which came to a combined cost of £1860. Without those, I wouldn’t have had a publishable book.
Recently I have bought another story structure course which is helping me solve issues with both my 2nd and 3rd Countess books. Nowadays, I know much more about this topic but sometimes you need to hear things with different classifications and guidelines that hit home to where you’re currently at.
On the non-fiction side, I had personal coaching with Mindy Gibbins-Klein at The Book Midwife when I wrote my personal development book, Don’t Give Up Your Day Job. Mindy had a brilliant method for structuring and planning the book which meant that it only took 90 days to write the first draft and the whole things was ready for publication within six months.
I’ve also taken two courses on blogging as well as a self-study course on building a website.
This is where a day-job comes in handy – because it was my job that financed my writing investment. My book sales haven’t come anywhere close to paying back all of that money.
There is a lot to learn about novel writing. Yes, you can self-study by reading and analysing great works of literature and books in the genres that you write but being guided by an expert can make this process more effective.
Investing in your writing could be about joining writers’ communities which can help with your accountability. Many writers’ clubs and online groups have “write along” hours when you join a zoom call or live-stream and write for an hour at regular times.
It is important to hang out with other writers. They understand the foibles of being a writer in way that your family and non-writer friends don’t. You’ll also see that issues that you might have with your work are very common and you are not cursed because you have them.
Investing in a writing course or community or attending a conference is excellent networking. You can find the help that you need and it might lead to interesting opportunities.
There are many ways to learn. On Substack, there are some fantastic newsletters about writing which cost just a few dollars a month. My favourite on the craft of writing isby . Writing publications such as Mslexia or Writers Digest are inexpensive and contain a lot of useful information and encouragement.
Resistance. It is very easy to become a course junkie and feel that you have to do “just one more” course before you actually start work on your novel. If you’re doing a lot of learning but not much doing, then it is resistance. Save your money, put your butt in your chair and start putting words on paper.
Be careful of sales pitches, particularly for internet courses. They use very persuasive language and testimonials. Yes, some people will have taken the course and become best-sellers, or get booked on prestigious podcasts or find a top-tier publisher – but not everyone will have those results. The majority of people won’t.
Think carefully about going into debt for courses. Are you doing it for the validation that “you’re a proper writer if you have an MFA”? A course might help you to develop the discipline to write regularly, but for lasting results, you will need to keep up that routine long after it has ended.
Buying a writing course isn’t like going on other vocational training where you are likely to find tangible work in that profession. Your writing may never pay back the money you spent.
Any endeavour that involves learning skills costs time and money, whether that be windsurfing or cake decorating or public speaking. Writing is no different.
Every course I have taken has helped spark ideas for what I can write about and how to go about doing that effectively.
What do you need to learn now in order to advance?
P.S. The self-publishing course that I took with Mark Dawson is currently open for enrolment. It is now called Self-Publishing Launchpad and you can find out about it here.
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Check out this article on Medium about Time Management
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If you’ve been in the Gentle Creative community for a short time and you suspect that you’re not being effective with your time, check out this article which I originally wrote back in February.