Help me level up as a writer
October 3, 2014 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I am a 32 y/o creative writer (poetry, short fiction, essays) and arts journalist. I have an MFA and I have been very well-published in lit mags and on websites (but no book yet). I have two poetry manuscripts that I’ve circulated, and both have had some near-misses. I am very prolific and always have projects going, and I submit often. However, I feel a lack of professional traction, and I am hoping some of you have ways I can level up.

One thing of note is that I am on SSDI for depression/anxiety. That gives me more time to write, which is great, but I can only very rarely afford to travel, and paying the registration fee for conferences or workshops is out of the question. Another thing that comes with not working is that so many writers also teach and are part of an academic community, and I don’t have that network or infrastructure.

I am not sure exactly what “leveling up” would entail, but I definitely would like some clearer guidance and a greater sense of direction. Since I am so prolific, I often flit between projects and leave certain things on the back burner. I would like a clearer vision of what to prioritize and how best to get it out in the world. I would love to have a writing mentor of some kind. I have approached a few writers over the years and they were all kind but didn’t have the time. I imagine that is the response I would get across the board.

I know I’ve heard of professional writing coaches and such, but using one would probably be cost-prohibitive, plus I get the impression that their focus is more on commercial writing. (Which doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be knowledgeable, of course, but I don’t think of my work as having a lot of commercial appeal.)

I have also thought of writing groups, either online or in my city, but they’ve never panned out. I have also gone to events where a lot of local MFA students would be in attendance, but that community is very insular and I haven’t had luck connecting with anyone there.

If you need to know specifics about what I write or anything, please feel free to ask.
posted by mermaidcafe to Work & Money (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Please note that the market for poetry manuscripts is nearly non-existent. If publishing a book is a goal, you should perhaps reformulate that approach.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:58 PM on October 3, 2014

I can't really tell what your question is here. Still, I'll try to help.

From what you've written, it sounds like you lack focus. Are you writing what you want and in the way you want to? Or are you writing what other people in the way they want you to write it? Why are you writing? What are your goals?

I don't have nearly the credentials you do -- minor in English, dabbled in writing when I was young -- but I've made a career as a writer, which is what I always wanted to do. I get the most personal and professional fulfillment when I write for myself. Oddly enough, I make the most money when I do that too.

I'd argue that most writers are not part of an academic community. There's certainly a vocal subset of writers that operate this way, but from my experience actual writers -- meaning those who write and publish and make money from it -- are hard to pigeon-hole. They tend to be folks who do what they love, and then write about it on the side.

For instance, I know several people who love to travel. They jet around the world doing their thing, and then they write about what happens to them, whether it's mundane or exciting. They make money off of this. Or build reputations. Sometimes both.

So far, my answer is about as clear as your question. Sorry. Let met try again.

If you want to "level up" as a writer, then find something you want to write about. Do that thing. Write about it. For me, that something I was good at turned out to be personal finance. Who knew? I thought I'd grow up to write poetry or science fiction. Nope. I write about saving and investing and how to be happy. It's not remotely close to what I had in mind, but it doesn't matter. Turns out, writing is writing. I've found a niche where people value my writing, and I'm happy to keep doing it.

Travel and/or finance won't be the sources of your inspiration. But something will be. You won't know what that is unless you go out and try a bunch of stuff. Some of it will suck. But some of it will be awesome and inspire you to write. Write. Eventually you'll find a subject that both inspires you and allows you to write what others want to read. That's what you should be writing about.

I'd give you a more specific answer if you asked a more specific question. As it is, you don't even know what you're asking. ("I'm not exactly what 'leveling up' would entail..." --> Then neither do I.)
posted by jdroth at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

p.s. Writing groups and coaches and mentors are all great, but they're not sources of inspiration. They're a way to get feedback on what you've already written. If you're looking to them to provide direction, you're going to be disappointed. You're going to have to provide your own direction, and I think that's the core issue here. Want to level up your writing? Then level up your life.
posted by jdroth at 1:15 PM on October 3, 2014

Collaborate with artists in other genres. Teach a writing course. Be a mentor to younger writers (instead of searching for your own mentor.)
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

That gives me more time to write, which is great, but I can only very rarely afford to travel, and paying the registration fee for conferences or workshops is out of the question.

Do not assume this. Some conferences offer financial aid to attend. Midwest Writers Workshop paid all the costs for me to attend a wonderful three-day intensive session with a blue-chip author and TWO other students.

Follow agent Janet Reid on Twitter and take part in her flash fiction contests. No idea how she has time to do it, but she offers bracing advice for writers on an almost daily basis.
posted by BibiRose at 1:45 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It looks like you already know the answer: networking.

There are some conferences and fellowships that have funding, so if your schedule is flexible, you could try applying to those. Places like Yaddo are free and sometimes help you with the cost of travel.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:04 PM on October 3, 2014

There are masses of effective and professional writers groups on Facebook. I am in some good ones, and I know some poets in there. PM me if you would like some recommendations.
posted by Mistress at 4:05 PM on October 3, 2014

I've been writing for awhile with some success recently. One thing I am still amazed by is the vast world of resources out there. I've recently discovered:

There are online writing conferences. Including free ones.

Twitter pitch sessions.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:29 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you know about Who Pays? It's information that you might otherwise get from networking, that you could also use to help you pick projects.
posted by clavicle at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2014

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