What is your instinct to that opening question? I imagine it’s something that people will feel quite strongly about. Of course, you can be an excellent writer, naturally gifted, with a talent that will ensure your success. Of course you can. So let me rephrase it. Can it be helpful to spend money to become a better writer? In my experience, yes, it can.
Now, there are huge problems with this, let’s not pretend that there aren’t. Writers who can afford to attend courses, events or workshops are undoubtedly going to be at some higher advantage than those who can’t. There will be a part 2 to this post, hopefully within a couple of weeks. Initially I thought I could tag on a few ‘here are some free workshops’ links but after a call out on twitter I’ve ended up with nearly 50 people or places offering free or discounted support for writers. This deserves a bit of time and research to create a resource for people so please bear with me (it’s the pinned tweet on my profile though if you head over there).
I am only a writer today because of some inheritance money I received a few years ago. I ended up with about £1500 after some mortgage, some bills, some savings etc. I had an opportunity and decided to retrain as a qualified proofreader. I was also interested in documentary film at the time (my husband is an editor – http://www.jonzeyeditor.com) so I signed up for some SFEP courses and a screenwriting course. But then I rediscovered fiction.
I know it’s tricky to talk about money but I’m going to be as transparent as I can in this post. I’m going to tell you some of the things I spent that money on, how they helped me, and what I wrote following them. Nothing in this post cost more than £200.
Cost: Under £10 (part of a local arts festival)
What was it: a flash fiction workshop with David Gaffney https://bit.ly/2FEhpwk
What did I learn?: this was one of the very first courses that I attended. I still had it in my head that flash fiction had to have a twist in the tale, that it was a lighthearted, almost throwaway form. How wrong was I? We did look at a twist ending flash, but we also looked at numerous unusual and innovative stories, including Plaits by Tania Hershman, which I instantly adored. https://bit.ly/2r2hHCX Following that, I decided to try and cram a whole lifetime in a flash.
What did I write?: Butterly Kisses which was then published in Spelk. https://bit.ly/2OXmFdL
Cost: £20 for half an hour
What was it: a mentoring session with Jude Higgins https://bit.ly/2TDwp0b
What did I learn?: I spoke to Jude when I was on the verge of quitting writing. I was reading such amazing writing, I thought I could never compete. Jude was friendly, understanding, but also challenging. She made me realise that I needed to stop comparing myself to other writers and enjoy writing in my own voice. After speaking to Jude, I also read a Bath flash interview with Helen Rye and set myself a challenge to write a simple but effective piece of flash fiction (I’d say this is still my signature style).https://bit.ly/2Bt7ntD
What did I write?: It’s Complicated which was then published in The Airgonaut. https://bit.ly/2R9Se5W
Cost: Under £50
What was it: Write Like A Grrrl course https://bit.ly/1C31FWK
What did I learn?: I did the one day course (which included a mentoring or critique session with Jane Claire Bradley) but have kept in touch with the group ever since through the exclusive Facebook group, through the newsletter and the spoken word nights. I learned about self care as a writer, about balancing mental health with creative needs, alongside tasks for reigniting or rejuvenating stories. I have very recently had a one on one mentoring session with Jane and highly recommend her services.
What did I write?: Dissolve which was then published in Toasted Cheese. https://bit.ly/2PQwpMm
Cost: under £200
What was it: Comma Press Short Story Course with Lara Williams https://bit.ly/2lBopxh
What did I learn?: I’m tempted to say – everything. I was introduced to stories and writers I’d never heard of. I’d never used second person before this course. I hadn’t heard of magical realism or fabulism. I hadn’t had my work throughly interrogated by other writers before or had the chance to read a variety of pieces. The first story I wrote on the course (after session one) is a million miles away from the final story I wrote. I can never overemphasise the impact this course had on my writing.
What did I write?: Girls Who Get Taken which was then published by FormerCactus https://bit.ly/2AjzauQ
Cost: under £200
What was it: Kathy Fish Fast Flash https://bit.ly/2znd3nU
What did I learn?: how to rip out my heart and guts and pour them into my stories, then take myself back out again. There’s a reason this course is a sell out, there’s a reason you see ‘this started life in a Fast Flash workshop’ in so many competition celebrations. Kathy has a way of phrasing things ‘just so’ so that her writing advice feels fresh. I cried every day on this course but I produced some of my best work. Not much of it has been published yet as I’m also heeding Kathy’s advice to take time with pieces.
What did I write?: I didn’t write it on the course, but To My Three Year Old, Naked in the Bath was definitely influenced by Fast Flash. Published in Ellipsis Zine (and nominated for Pushcart Prize) https://bit.ly/2DQYVXT
There have been other brilliant things I have spent money on including a critique from Tania Hershman, workshops with The Real Story, a ticket to the Northern Short Story Festival – all highly recommended, but I think these best reflect the progression in my writing career. I also *technically* didn’t spend money on it (aside from the £5 entry fee!) but my prize for winning the Mairtín Crawford Award was mentoring from Paul McVeigh and I would highly recommend anything he is leading – particularly his first page workshop.
Please let me know your thoughts – have you spent much money on your writing? Do you even think it’s necessary? Comment here or tweet me @jonzeywriter