In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed the search terms “too poor to afford writing workshops” are leading people to this blog. Classes, professionally led workshops, conferences and writing retreats all offer amazing opportunities for writers—if you have the extra funds to pay for them.
So what if you don’t have the money to pay for help with your writing? It may take more time and leg work, but it is possible to build your own workshop. Here are a few ways you can get started:
- Make a list of people you know who are as dedicated to their writing as you are, regardless of their location. Can you imagine sending a few people from your list new work? Would you trust them to give you constructive feedback? If the answer is yes, ask them if they’d be interested in creating a workshop or critique group with you.
- If you’re lucky enough to have local writing pals, gather everyone in one place to decide how you’ll work together. Will you meet in person twice a month? Will you exchange work electronically and keep the meetings to a minimum?
- If your potential workshop group is geographically dispersed, you can set up a free, private group on Google or Yahoo. I’ve managed writing-focused Google groups in the past and found it easy to set up and manage. You can post files (such as the group’s agreed-to rules) and new work for your group with easy, protected access.
- Be sure you and your group agree to ground rules. Define what you mean by constructive feedback. You can set rules that reviewers must provide notes in the margin only or you can decide that complete critiques include ½ page of typewritten, single-spaced notes about what’s working and what could be improved.
Okay, so what if you don’t have a list of fellow writers? Are you sure you don’t? Think about past classmates and even past colleagues who may be your co-workers by day and poets by night. Still no?
If you are starting from scratch, it may take time to find exactly what you want, but it’s not impossible. Where can you get turn?
- Try Meetup.com. This website is a great place to start if you want to connect with local writers. I tried this route when I first landed in Denver. At the time, I found only one group and they were full. When they did have an opening, I wasn’t available to snag it. The lesson learned? If you don’t find what you want, start your own Meetup group.
- Attend free local events. If you attend free readings and no-cost events with writing as the topic, you’re bound to start seeing the same people. You’ll have to be brave and start introducing yourself, but it’s possible you’ll connect with people like you who want to workshop their writing, but can’t afford a class.
- Volunteer. This is especially useful if there’s a writing organization in your area, such as Hugo House in Seattle and Lighthouse Writers in Denver. These organizations usually have interesting, low-cost events and speaker series. If you can’t afford the entry fee, offer your services as a volunteer. It will help you meet fellow writers and learn from the events.
- Go old school. Most local bookstores have community boards where you can post notices for book clubs and other events. This could be an ideal place to find fellow writers who share your financial restraints. When you post your notice, be very specific about what you want for your group: genre, time commitment, skill level, etc.
- Always ask about scholarships. If there is a class, workshop, conference or retreat that you really want to attend, contact the organization to see if they offer scholarships and/or any other financial assistance. You may never know if you don’t ask. And, if the answer is yes, be prepared to write a compelling letter about what you bring to this opportunity and why this specific experience is so important to your growth as a writer. (That helped me get a scholarship for the upcoming Aspen Summer Words Writing Retreat.)
What other ways have you managed to workshop your writing when you couldn’t afford to pay for it? What lessons have you learned from starting critique groups? What ideas would you suggest? Please share in the comments below.