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3 Ways to Invest in Yourself as a Writer

If you want to be a writer* I don’t think you need to go to school and earn an MFA.  It’s not a bad idea and you’d probably get a lot of value out of it, but necessary? I don’t think so.

That being said, I do think that if you invest in yourself as a writer, you stand a greater chance of fulfilling clear and specific professional goals related to getting published.

Some writers realize this. Alyssa Martino of The Pen and Paper Chronicles is one, and she wrote about the investments she’s considering in making to promote her development as a professional writer here.

If I were making recommendations to Alyssa or other writers just getting serious about publishing, here are the resources I’d recommend investing in:

Media Bistro:  For $55 USD, you’ll get a one year membership to Media Bistro’s AvantGuild program. There are many benefits associated with the AvantGuild program, but the best one for my money is the How to Pitch board, which provides detailed specifications for pitching dozens of publications. Most of those publications are based in the US (and hint, hint Media Bistro- I’d pay double the price of membership if you expanded your listings to include a respectable representation of international publications).

MatadorU:   I’m obviously biased about MatadorU, as I work for Matador and helped develop this 12-week travel writing course. But apart from the lessons themselves, which were written by published travel writers, one of the most valuable aspects of this program is the instant access you get to other writers who are eager to support and promote your writing and share resources, as well as instant access to a market leads board, which lists paid and unpaid gigs and assignments. And a special insider’s tip? I’m working on developing paid travel writing assignments for U students and alumni. It’s a hefty investment at $350 USD, but we offer a payment plan, and the long term return will be worth the investment.

Poets & Writers: I started reading Poets & Writers as a teenager and then abandoned it throughout my 20s. I happened to pick up the most recent issue a couple weeks ago and found myself so taken in by almost every single article that I was underlining sentences as if reading some important academic text.  A subscription to Poets & Writers is an excellent investment not only because you’ll gain insight into your craft, but because the magazine (and its equally useful website) give you access to submission guides, contest calendars, and other ways to actually get your work out into the world.

What are some of the ways you’ve invested in yourself as a writer? What resources do you view as indispensable? Share your recommendations in the comments.

*which I’ve always thought is a somewhat silly articulation of an aspiration. You’re either a writer or your not. You’re not an aspiring writer (or a “budding” or “burgeoning” writer)… you’re just a writer. Perhaps you’re aspiring to be a published writer, but that’s different.

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14 responses »

  1. Thanks for the great advice Julie! Financially, MatadorU has been the biggest step I’ve taken to invest in my writing but it’s provided guidance, advice, coursework and a network of supportive writing buddies that I wouldn’t have otherwise made!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing about Media Bistro. I think that will be my next investment, although I feel like I’ve come up with so many lists of opportunities just through doing the Matador U course and browsing P & W over the last three months that I could go for a year without any more leads!

    I decided to get serious about writing about a year ago. First I researched graduate programs in journalism and decided against applying since ‘journalists’ are more likely to be denied visas in many countries I’d like to live in. Then I spent months researching MFAs, only to decide that I didn’t want to pack up to the middle of nowhere for three years nor did I want to have $40K in loans. Finally I decided to do an MA in English with a creative writing concentration at an affordable state college, since I’m professionally a secondary English teacher, but once I was in I learned that the school had discontinued the creative writing concentration.

    My poor husband. The night I found that out I was a mess. I felt like I had all this writing inside of me, and that if I didn’t do something soon I’d explode. Cliche, I know, but I really felt like that!

    About a month later I decided to cut down on my graduate course load and sign up for the Matador U course. Now I wish I had just done that first!

    Reply
    • Heather-

      I don’t know what’s worse– finding out just after you start that a program or concentration has been discontinued, or being in the program for a while and having it be discontinued! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Hey Julie,

    Thanks for writing this–obviously I was/am in need of advising on the topic! Randomly, I just signed up for Media Bistro a few weeks ago and yes, it’s so helpful (but I agree on the need for international magazines, yes! and what about online!!?). I’ve heard of Poets & Writers but didn’t know much about it, so I’m definitely going to check it out.

    Again, thanks! It’s great to hear some feedback on how to get ahead in this industry without spending thousands of dollars on a graduate degree just yet!!

    Reply
  4. When I interviewed travel author Stephanie Elizondo Griest a couple of months ago I was surprised to learn that she recently enrolled in a nonfiction writing program program even after having written two widely distributed books and appearing pretty regularly on sites such as World Hum. She’s also a savvy marketer who speaks at college campuses and book groups.

    But she told me “the only aspect of the writing biz that seems remotely secure these days is academia, so I thought it prudent to pick up teaching credentials.”

    Ann Patchett–one of my favorite authors–attended U. of Iowa’s MFA program. So did her late friend and best selling author Lucy Grealy. Patchett writes about it in her book “Truth and Beauty.”

    Just yesterday I heard on NPR’s Fresh Air, an interview with Melissa Febo, the author of the recently released memoir “Whip Smart.” Febo writes about her time working as a dominatrix in Manhattan.

    But before she wrote her book she got her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She also has a teaching gig at SUNY Purchase.

    It looks like Stephanie is on to something.

    Reply
    • Steve-

      I heard that Febo interview, too…. 🙂
      And I love Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, one of the best fiction books I’ve read.
      And I thought your interview with Stephanie was particularly interesting because of her relationship with the MFA program.

      I don’t think that an MFA or any other degree is “bad”– I think they’re very useful in many ways, not the least being the people you meet. But for those of us with limited income, they might not be the first best choice. And I think that many programs also completely overlook the business aspect of writing, which is so sorely lacking.

      After obtaining my Masters (in social work) and then working on a PhD (in Spanish/Latin American literature) for a while, I realized that the maxim that it was necessary to get a degree to advance–both professionally and financially–just wasn’t always true. There were people in the field who were far more degreed than I was who were making much less money than I was. And there were people who had no degree or “only” an AA or a BA/BS who were doing much better than I were.

      I’m definitely an advocate of learning, and I love school. I just don’t think it’s always the smartest investment.

      Reply
    • Thanks for the Media Bistro info, Julie! I’ve been on the fence for a long time about whether or not to invest in it, and you definitely helped me make a decision.

      In response to what Steven said, I’m actually not sure that academia is all that secure at the moment. It’s a “job,” and for poets and fiction writers, that’s a big deal. The thing is, you won’t get a good teaching gig after you get out. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an adjunct position at a community college (which is becoming rare, as there are hiring freezes all over the country). And they pay you hopelessly little. You’ve got to publish something, and hopefully publish big. That can take a long time for a fiction writer/poet.

      I think MFAs are helpful in that the well-funded ones buy you time. The few, the brave, and the impossible to get into pay your tuition and pay you a stipend. It’s a glorious thing. Last year I actually applied to a few MFAs, got into a good school, but declined when I ultimately wasn’t given the tuition waiver and stipend. I agree with Julie — it just isn’t the smartest idea to go 40 grand in debt when you’re a writer. And my application was for poetry!

      I’d love to do Matador U, eventually — just can’t afford it at the moment. I think programs like Matador U, or even small, independently-run workshops are very helpful, actually. One inspirational story: Ever heard of The Help, which has been at the top of the fiction best seller list for ages? And is now being made into a movie that Spielberg’s directing? About four years ago, I was in a fiction workshop that took place in a living room. One of the students was Kitty. She hadn’t published a thing, but I remember our teacher was tremendously proud of her — for how hard she worked and how much her writing had grown. The novel she was workshopping with us was The Help.

      Reply
  5. Mat U definitely kickstarted SO many things for me, I’d recommend it to anyone 🙂 I will have to check out that mag – I usually shy away from magazines because they all seem to be fictional writing, but I guess I could learn from them anyway!

    Reply
    • Abbie-

      I’ve avoided lots of those magazines for the same reasons, but P&W actually has lots of resources for writers of “creative non-fiction.”

      Reply
  6. My yearly writing investments have been:

    * A subscription to Writer’s Digest – I write fiction, non-fiction, children’s, YA, poetry, etc., etc., and this magazine offers help on all of those subjects as well as writing prompts and information about workshops and seminars.
    * A copy of The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers and a copy of Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers – These are both published by Writer’s Institute Publications. I much prefer them to the standard Writer’s Market that most people get because they have a more thorough listing of trade and regional publications. That said, this year’s editions have a lot more non-paying markets than usual (maybe a sign of the times?) and I’ll be the first to say that their customer service leaves something to be desired. It used to be you could only buy these via phone (I just get mine automatically in the mail now), and trying to correct orders, etc. has always been a nightmare.
    * Membership fees for a writer’s group – The writer’s group I’ve been in for the last couple years dissolved at the new year, but I recently signed up with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and LOVE IT. The people in the group are very accomplished writers and the feedback on work has been great. I also meet casually with some other writers once a week in a non-paying atmosphere, but paying for a national writers’ group provides access to conferences, printed materials, mentoring programs and online discussion boards.

    Reply

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