We're all feeling the financial crunch, but what's an unpublished writer to do when there are so many things you need to buy to develop your craft? I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101.
A Writing Career on a Budget
Money-Saving Tips for Novelists
Here are tips for developing writing skills, improving craft, and taking advantage of resources inexpensively.
An unpublished novelist is stuck in a catch-22. He can’t make money until he sells a novel, but he can’t sell a novel until he develops his craft, which usually requires money.
Here are some tips for developing your writing craft while limited by a budget.
Take Advantage of Free Stuff
These days, there are tons of writing articles online that teach the basics of writing. Google is your best friend.
There are many websites that have lists of links to free articles. One of my favorites is Resources for Romance Writers. While many of the articles do pertain to romance, much of the information is applicable to any genre—issues like point of view, grammar, characterization, story structure, and dialogue.
And don’t forget your library. Most libraries have an inter-library loan system where you can “order” a book from a different library branch if your local library doesn’t have it.
Get Recommendations Before Buying Books
Be judicious about which writing books you buy. You want to make sure you spend your hard-earned money on the ones that are right for you.
If you can, borrow the book from the library and read it first to determine if it’s a resource you want to own rather than just read once and return.
Check out author websites—they will usually have a list of writing books that they recommend. A book mentioned by several different authors is usually a good choice.
Read online reviews so that you understand each book’s strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, take reviews with a grain of salt—anyone can write a review.
Join a Writers Organization
Writers usually love giving advice and helping others, and joining an online or in person writing group is a great way to develop writing craft.
There are writers’ organizations for different genres like the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Often writers’ organizations will also have online critique groups. A writer will often find that their writing improves just from the exercise of critiquing a manuscript not their own.
Writers’ organizations will also often have online courses that are very inexpensive ($15-$30 for a 4-6 week course) and tailored to specific topics.
Only Hire a Freelance Editor When Your Craft Is Stellar
Many writers make the mistake of sending their writing to a freelance editor before they’ve learned the writing craft on their own. The freelance editor flags issues that the writer could have learned from a book and fixed him/herself. It’s a waste of money.
Make sure your writing is its absolute best before paying for a freelance editor. Take advantage of articles, books, online classes, and critique groups first. Write a second novel.
Write More Novels
Writers learn to refine their craft just from the process of writing a second novel or a third. Writers who limit themselves to just their first novel are cheating themselves of the many things they could learn just by writing another story.
Don’t focus all your energy on a single manuscript. Writing another manuscript will give you new experience in crafting different types of characters, thinking up new types of conflict, refining your story structure skills, and polishing your dialogue techniques.
Realize that there is only one Stephen King, but there are thousands of published novelists who will not make even 1% of his income.
Fiction writing is not for the faint of heart, and writers shouldn’t be setting their financial expectations too high.
Basically, don’t quit your day job quite yet.