Weekend Wrinkle: When I Was at Writer’s Camp…

Camp WritealotRemember when we were kids and our parents sent us off to summer camp – overnight, day or playground based? Not only was it a way to occupy our time, we usually ended up learning something new. Why can’t we do that as writers? Why shouldn’t we recharge and have some fun while learning new techniques and generating new ideas? Of course, most of us aren’t on vacation for a whole summer (that day job is pretty important), but why can’t we spend the vacation time we do have honing our writing skills? Luckily, there are loads of opportunities out there. Want to go to Greece?  How about Spain? Maybe you prefer the forests of New Hampshire or pastoral upstate New York.  What about Minnesota in the summertime? Maybe you’d like an island setting. Online workshops might be your best option. Do you write young adult, science, fantasy, or romance fiction? Are you a poet? Do you write literary non-fiction? Maybe you’re a technical writer or business writer. The good news is that there are gobs of writing workshops out there with all kinds of settings and offerings. Up for an adventure? Here are some sites to get you started:

Take a little time to investigate for yourself. Maybe you’ll find that perfect summer experience you can look back on for the rest of your writing life.

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Ideas to Help Your Writing Career

Thoughts and stories scribbled surreptitiously in journals and notebooks aren’t enough to satisfy us.

Writing is a craft, and we find ourselves, at various times, apprentices, journeymen, and perhaps even masters (for a second or two). We need to have someone read our writing.

It’s also nice to get paid. In all my dreams of becoming a writer, the idea of “starving” was not part of it.

The problem many writers face – whether they are writing fiction or for business – is that paying gigs require evidence of experience. How does the apprentice writer get that experience? How can writers build a body of work?

Well, the good news is that it is much easier in these days of the Web to do this. Yet we shouldn’t forget the tried and true avenues. Often the two are combined.

Let’s look as some of the things we can do.

Blogs

Blogs are a wonderful way of taking some of what is in our pile of journals and putting it in a public forum. They are the cheapest, most convenient way to get our writing out into the world.

However, the best blogs have an audience and a purpose. Willy-nilly musings that are all over the place (and grammatically incorrect) can actually harm a writer’s reputation.

Writers also need to be consistent. The worst thing to do is to write every day for six months and then post here and there afterward. The writer builds up the audience’s expectation of regularity only to trash it with inconsistency.

A few blogs I follow are A Writer’s Path, Write with Warnimont, and The Red Ink.

Volunteer Work

Nonprofit organizations are always desperate for free expertise. If you love animals and want to write web content, volunteer to write adoption blurbs for your local shelter or rescue. If a local organization wants to build a new playground, offer to help write a grant or two. Help publicize a local group’s activities by writing press releases or compiling a media kit.

Volunteer to write for your place of worship’s bulletin, your car club’s website, your Rotary Club’s newsletter.

For years I edited and wrote for the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum newsletter. I learned a lot about building boats for the Erie Canal and worked with some remarkable people.

Check your local Chamber of Commerce or charitable organizations list. Another source is national organization websites which often include local chapter contact information.

Journals and Contests

Entering work, especially poetry and fiction, to journals and contests is another way for writers to get exposure. Sure, they often don’t pay or require an entry fee, but they are a showcase without the whole publishing morass.

Sign up for E. Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers e-newsletter. It is free and offers priceless information on opportunities for writers.

Writers’ Groups

Writers’ groups provide two vital functions – feedback and contacts. We never really know how good our writing is until someone tells us. If that someone is a fellow writer, it’s even better.

These groups also allow us to interact with others who are out there doing what we want to do.

In addition to actual groups, like those run by the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, there are virtual groups. Just search “virtual writers’ groups” or “online writers’ groups” to find one.

Learning

We don’t need to have an alphabet soup of degrees after our names to be good writers, but don’t ignore the value of continuing to learn the craft.

Writers’ conventions and workshops are great ways to hone our writing skills. Short courses, such as the online courses offered by AWAI, can be very valuable.

There are also free webinars out there we can sign up for. Every little bit helps build the foundation of our writing careers.

Freelance Sites

Freelance job sites, like Elance, are controversial. I have not used one, but some complain that these sites offer very low pay.

A piece of advice I read somewhere was to sign up for such a service and work at it for a specific time – three or six months. After that, the writer has compiled a body of work to show clients when she goes completely freelance.

This seems like great advice, especially for the novice writer.

These are just a few ideas of ways to follow the craft. I’m sure there are many others out there I don’t know that have led to your writing success.