Archive for March 13th, 2009

Friday, March 13th, 2009 by LViehl
Learn Freely

I know it’s Friday the 13th again, but I did the bad luck post last month. This month we’ll just pretend it’s the 14th.

Now that we’ve taken care of that problem, I have a question for you: would you pay $2500.00 to spend a week in workshops on literary journalism and fiction writing? How about $6500.00 for a week of filmmaking workshops? According to this month’s issue of Poets & Writers, that’s how much you’ll have to fork over to attend them in 2009 at The Norman Mailer Writers Colony (travel cost not included.)

Poets & Writers also has some other interesting conference listings. For example, if you’d love to attend the four-day Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference, expect to hand over $995.00 to $1295.00 after you pay for your travel expenses. And if you can’t live without attending the two-day New York Roundtable Writers Conference, make out a check for $250.00 for one day or $350.00 for both (after you pay for your lodging, travel and meals, of course.)

If you go for the high-end ticket to all three of these events, you’ve just dropped over eight thousand dollars on writing instruction. And for that money you get room and board (sometimes), the privilege of hanging out with some Name authors, poets, agents and editors, and space to sit and listen to their speeches and workshops, and . . . well, that’s about all you get for your eight grand. Oh, and toss in another two grand for the expenses that aren’t covered, and you’re looking at spending ten thousand dollars.

I know writers who spend twice that much — more than twenty thousand dollars a year — all to attend writing conferences, weekends, workshops and retreats. They are spoken to and lectured and advised by the best in the business. These events allow them to hang with their writer friends, wallow in nonstop writer wisdom, and then they go home. They describe these experiences as inspirational and renewing and marvelous, and then they start planning to go to the next one.

What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing. It’s your ten thousand dollars, and if you want to spend it hanging out in hotels and colleges talking about writing with your pals and listening to people who are being paid a portion of your ten grand to show up and talk, it’s your money, and your business.

But what if you don’t have ten thousand dollars? What if you don’t have ten bucks to splurge on writing conferences and retreats right now? Does that mean you have to miss out on all that wonderful knowledge, instruction and writerly inspiration?

Nope. You can have it for free.

Early on in my career I would get together with anywhere from five to fifteen local area writers for an afternoon or evening. We’d have a meal or snacks, and then sit at a table and help each other plot out novel ideas. Cost: nothing but whatever I agreed to contribute to the meal or snacks. These were an offshoot of my Novel Plotting workshop, and we held them at each other’s homes.

There are online writing courses you can take that will help you with everything from preparing a synopsis to structuring a story. I wrote about some of them on my author blog here. Cost: nothing. They’re all free to whoever wants to take them.

One week every year I pack up my family and send them on a writing vacation. My writing vacation. I stow their stuff in the truck, hand the keys to their dad, and wave goodbye. They spend a week having a blast in the islands or the mountains, and I have seven days of wonderful, blissful, absolute solitude in which to write as much and as often as I like. Cost to me: nothing. My guy and the kids go off on vacation every year; I simply choose not to go with them.

There is a great writing center in our town, and I go there frequently. There are rooms where I can sit in total silence and read, research or write. There are free-access computers I’m able to use whenever I want, and thousands of books and magazines on every topic under the sun that I can take home with me. There are also audio tapes and DVDs I can borrow, too; and every couple of weeks an author comes to give a free talk about their books, writing, or their writing life. Cost to me: nothing. It’s the public library.

Every summer I attend a couple dozen writing workshops. I can go to them in my birthday suit if I want, and learn about what other writers are doing, how they do it and where I can find the resources they use. I can ask questions and get direct answers and even enter to win some giveaways. All of this is free of charge, and I happen to run it, too — they’re my annual Left Behind & Loving It virtual workshops.

Much fun is made of writers who work in coffeeshops — I’ve done it myself — but when you consider for the price of a cup of coffee or a can of soda you can sit and work uninterrupted for three or four hours in those coffeeshops, that’s a pretty cheap personal retreat.

Having local writer friends can mean more opportunities for mini no-cost retreats. A couple of stay at home mom writers could take turns watching each other’s kids for an afternoon, allowing the other mom a couple of hours to write. Writer friends with spare rooms can swap weekends staying at each other’s homes (the host writer can cook for and pamper the guest writer.) Troubleshooting writing problems or discussing career strategies during a shared lunch hour or while car pooling to work also cost nothing but the price of a burger or a couple gallons of gas.

While you may be skeptical as to how valuable any of this free stuff is, consider how much you’d expect a NYT bestselling novelist with over forty novels in print to have paid for their writing education. In my case? Nothing. I never went to a single conference, retreat or workshop before I signed my first publishing contract. Everything valuable I’ve learned about writing came from borrowing and reading free books from that amazing writing resource center. You know, the public library.