As someone who has made a living in providing professional development for writers, this is a question I often ask. What do you need right now that would make a difference? And as a writer, I ask it of myself. What do I need, right now?
Ask yourself: What do you need, right now, as a writer?
If you’re like most people you answered one of two things. Or maybe both of them. Time or money. Money or time. It can be very hard to keep the balance right, between what you need to earn, what you need to do for others, and what you still need to do for yourself. Of all the relationships in your life, the one between you and your writing is as intimate and demanding. Sometimes you must negotiate with it as you would a partner, coax it as you would a child, listen to it as you would an old, dear friend who had need of you. Sometimes, just slowing down is enough to make a difference. But what if you know that what you actually need is support, guidance and advice? And what if you aren’t even sure what it is that you need? That is where professional development comes in, and it is provided to writers in a number of ways. Here’s a breakdown, to see which might be of most use to you:
WRITERS’ GROUPS/BETA READERS: a group of writers with similar tastes and, perhaps, a shared background of training through a workshop process. The next time you attend a workshop, use the email address sheet sent around afterward to try to create a group of writers who can support your work and act as crucial first readers. This is the lowest cost option, but probably the most complicated logistically, as someone will have to organise meeting times, venues, materials and refreshments. Working with a group and sharing your work at monthly meetings helps you set writing targets and makes you accountable for meeting them, but with no “leader” a writing group can also flounder and splinter.
WRITING NETWORKS: an organisation that provides information and training via newsletters, websites and events. There is terrific support available to writers in the following regions, courtesy of national or regional funding:
Southeast: New Writing South
Southwest: Cypress Well
East: Writers’ Centre Norwich
West Midlands: Writing West Midlands
East Midlands: Writing East Midlands
North: New Writing North
Scotland: Edinburgh City of Literature
Networks may be free to join or may require a fee. To get the most out of any network, read what they send you, comment on it, feedback what works for you and what doesn’t.
PROFESSIONAL WORKSHOPS: a work-out space to inject fresh life into your writing. It can also be a great place to meet other writers. There are so many workshops being offered now, it can be hard to know the difference. How do you know that you are getting value for money? How do you know the course will address what it is that you really need? Subscribing to Mslexia is one great way to find workshops available by region (they also offer their own ones online), so you don’t spend all your time and money travelling. But if you can afford a splurge, we would certainly recommend an Arvon course. A week-long residential with other writers who are as committed as you are can make a real difference to your work. And access to the professional writers who work as mentors doesn’t hurt.
MENTORING: a one-to-one relationship with a professional writer who is further along in the process than you. A mentor reads your work and works with you as you rewrite and develop your work, checking in with you, being a support system for the writing. Mentors ordinarily charge per meeting as well as offering contact time via email. Mentoring is the most expensive option and a mentor won’t hold your hand, but they will be there for you.
MANUSCRIPT ASSESSMENT: a literary consultancy who reads your work for a set fee, assesses what they read, and offers specific and detailed feedback and suggestions for improving the work. This is a one-off fee and you may not know the name of the writer or editor who has read the piece, nor will you be allowed access afterward. Should you want the assessor to read a rewrite, another fee is incurred. If you don’t need hand holding, but you have lost track of your draft and you want feedback from someone who knows how to read new work, this is a good option. Some consultancies also scout for literary agents, so if that’s your goal ask who they scout for upfront. We particularly recommend the services of Hilary Johnson and Claire Wingfield.
COACHING: a one-to-one session-based series of meetings with someone who is an accredited coach, to help you set goals. Coaches do not look at or comment on your work. Coaches work with “the writer” not on “the writing”. If the life-work balance is something that you’re struggling with, coaching might make all the difference to you. Coaching is an inexpensive option and one that Hope & Anchor can provide.