Honing Your Craft on a Budget

One thing that’s always bothered me is that when various organizations and websites promote how to become a better writer without spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on a Master’s degree, they still tend to promote something that is well outside the reach of the typical broke creative.

I don’t know about you, but $500 on a writing conference or a community college class isn’t really any more accessible to me than $10,000 on a year of grad school, and if I want to drop $150 on a online writing class, I’m going to have do some serious saving. So how does the broke creative, probably working a minimum wage job (or three) improve their craft without destroying their already shoe-string budget?

A lot of places just say “Just write and keep writing! You’ll improve like that!” which is true, to an extent, but sometimes the only way to grow is to have outside influence pointing you in the right direction. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing something is off but not knowing what.Here are some ideas, ranging from free to less than $50, with the emphasis being on things less than $10.

Free (assuming easy access to internet and/or the library)*

  • Library – and don’t discount a university library! A lot of them are open to the public, even if you can’t check out books, you might be able to find more reference books there on specific topics, especially if they have a strong creative writing program. Alternatively, you can browse in a book store, a lot of places have spots to sit and read. Just be gentle with the book and if you don’t remember exactly where you got it from, leave it on a table or give it to an associate to re-shelve.
  • Local writing groups – take a look at local meet-ups on Craigslist or on bulletin boards in local shops (try both coffee shops and bookstores) or just ask around
  • NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month can be a great way to connect with other writers and to get advice from the forums, in addition to helping you find time to write and churning out lots of writing on the regular
  • Coursera – so many of the classes offered by Coursera are through major institutions and have an “Audit” feature, which gives you access to all the materials. Further, some of the classes you audit for free will allow you to submit your work and get feedback from your fellow participants.
  • Beta readers – do you have writer friends? See if you can exchange stories and provide feedback! Even the newest, greenest writer can have a fresh perspective on something
  • Writing Studios – so in my town there’s a small place that hosts writing workshops that cost big bucks. However, they also have open studio hours where you can go and relax and enjoy the company of other writers and it’s a fucking godsend. I’ve gone a couple times, to write, to study etc. and I’ve loved every minute of it. (Some of them had a fee associated with them, so YMMV.)

Cheap (typically less than $10)

  • Interlibrary Loans – varies – many libraries have the ability to borrow books from other libraries in their network. Some charge for this, some don’t, but I’ve found the cost is usually less than $5 a book, which can be a great way of tracking down a rare book you’re looking for. Relatedly…
  • Library Book Sales – varies – a lot of libraries sell older books they no longer want in their collection or are slightly damaged to raise funds for new books, and the common factor is that they’re all very cheap.
  • Used book stores – varies – In my experience, the books tend to be older, and some of them are upwards of $20 even used, but you can get deep discounts on writing books this way, and often sell them back once you’re done to recoup some of the cost. Also, don’t ignore larger thrift stores like Goodwill and Value Village – I’ve picked up some books that were like new for less than $5 each.
  • Kindle e-books – varies, vast majority under $5 – keep in mind that you can read a Kindle book for free on any sort of smart phone or computer, you don’t have to have an expensive device to read it. There are over 35,000 books just on writing in the Kindle store – and a huge number of these are $0.99 or less. I was literally on page 200 (of 400) sorted by price, low to high, and it was still showing me books priced for $0.99 – page 350 was still under $3. Are all of these going to be good or helpful? Nope – but you’ll find the same thing happens with traditionally published writing help books.
  • Kindle Unlimited – $9.99 a month – it’s like Netflix for books. For $9.99/month, you can have access to any book in the Kindle Unlimited Library – and have up to 10 books checked out (on your device) at once. The selection of writing books isn’t anything to sneeze at, so it’s worth checking out. Keep in mind you don’t get to keep any of the books after you cancel the service, but it might be a worthy investment. The plus side of this is that it’ll also give you access to other books in the genre you’re writing for, letting you read a variety of authors and books on the cheap, which will, by extension, help your own writing.
  • Sliding scale workshops – varies – okay, so this might only be a “thing” here, but I know there are one day workshops available where I live in the Pacific Northwest that are as cheap as $10. You may also find that some local groups have a minor fee associated with joining. I’d strongly recommend seeing if you can check out a group first before investing any $ into it if you can – no use in shelling out your hard-earned cash only to discover that you don’t mesh with the group.

Saved for this (typically less than $50)

  • New Books – but be choosy! Maybe you stumbled upon something in Kindle Unlimited you’d love to get your hands on a hard copy of something. This can absolutely be worth the $s, just be choosy.
  • Writers Digest Shop – take a look at the bundles they offer and what kinds of things appeal to you. I like the looks of many of these, even if I’ve not tried any myself.
  • Magazine subscriptions – I’m currently subscribed to Poets & Writers. I chose by buying one-off magazine issues from several different magazines before deciding who to subscribe to. Even if you don’t buy them, taking a look at them in the bookstore can help you narrow down the list because there are so many.

This is just a small sample of the ways you can afford to make a concerted effort to improve your writing in measurable ways. Best of luck on your writing adventures!

*There will be a separate post just focusing on useful websites for honing your craft. There are tons out there!

Originally posted to Tumblr.

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