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The Cost of Writing

February 6, 2013

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A friend of mine recently sent me this message on Facebook: “I am really starting to resent Writer’s Digest.”

I asked, “Why?” But I suspected I already knew.

The response, as predicted, was, “I signed up for their newsletters and every day I get another advertisement for a different webinar, each costing around $200.”

That’s exactly what annoys me about them, too. It’s all about really expensive webinars and book packages and workshops and classes. It feels like a “get rich quick” scam, but instead of “get rich quick” it’s “write a book quick” or “get published quick.” Maybe that crap appeals to some people. For me, it’s just a scam to get your money.

Yes, that’s super petty.

But it’s not just Writer’s Digest (and I’m not saying they don’t have good content). And the issue isn’t really the morality behind the company or others like it. It’s about the fact that all of these writing webinars are really expensive.

It seems kind of contradictory. I mean, the writer generally falls into the category of “the starving artist”. Yet we’re expected to drop five hundred dollars for a writing retreat or a convention or a webinar.

I’m not saying I don’t understand why. Of course I do. The teachers have to dedicate a lot of time to that and there are resources that go into it. But it bugs me all the same because I can’t afford it. Super webinar on nailing your mystery novel? Sure, I’d be interested! Oh, seven hundred dollars? Never mind.

And it’s not just that. Freelance editors. Writing retreats. Writing software. Workshops. It would be very easy to invest a lot of money in getting one book published…and then make no money on it. Because that’s the probably one thing you’re likely to hear most as an aspiring writer: you’ll never make money writing.

This is not a rant that it’s wrong to charge money for these things. Of course it’s not.

The real question is, is it worth it? I have spent money for writing classes and the like, and I’ve enjoyed them. But I may never make that money back as a novelist. In fact, it’s very likely that I never will. So is there something I’ve gained despite the money I’ve spent? I’d like to think so. But I can’t help kicking myself. I guess the part of me that loves writing wants to hoard information and learn as much as I can about the craft, but the skeptical part of me can’t help but think, “That’s just ridiculous.”

Of course, there are ways around this. Writing software like OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Storybook, yWriter, or even Notepad or Wordpad. Writing in notebooks and on notepads. Reading blogs and joining free groups to polish your craft. Buying “How to” books for $3 each at the used book store. There are a ton of free resources out there. You don’t have to spend a lot money to write. Or any. I’d be a moron to say you do. But if I had a dollar for every time I looked at an expensive writing event and thought, “Man, I wish I could do that,” I could probably afford at least one those events.

So, what’s the deal? Are we expected to buy into this stuff? Is some executive somewhere laughing at us for spending so much money when so many of us are doomed to failure? Probably not, but it’s hard not to think so.

Here are the questions I try to ask myself before investing money in a resource (especially being on a tight budget):

1. Will what I learn from this fundamentally change my life?

The last writing class I took totally changed how I view villains and put plot together, so I’d say that was worth it.

2. Is this a lesson best taught in person?

In other words, can I learn just as much from buying a book or reading a blog post? Sometimes even if there’s a book on the topic, the chance that I’ll ever get around to it is low.

3. Is this a one time opportunity?

If you don’t do this now, will you ever be able to again? I just dumped a lot of money on a convention that would normally be out of my budget, but a few con vets have offered to show me around. I wouldn’t get that super star treatment normally, and I hope that it will help give me a foothold (if a tiny one—maybe a toehold) in the industry.

4. What do I actually hope to get out of this?

I realized part of the way through my class on writing science fiction and fantasy that what I was really hoping to learn was how to write short stories. And the class turned out to be invaluable for that. But had I fully realized that going in, I might have taken a different approach. Granted, it would have been the wrong approach, because that class turned out to be needed in other ways.

5. Can I honestly afford to do this?

This is about sitting down, looking at your bank statement, and considering what cutbacks you’ll have to make. No matter if #1 through #4 are true, if #5 isn’t, it’s a no-go. That convention I mentioned above? Yeah, I ended up having to borrow money from my parents to make that happen. Yes, I’m 26. Yes, I am shamed. I’ll let you know if it was worth it.

6. What is the fun factor?

This may seem like an unimportant point, but it’s totally not. If two things would be valuable, you can only afford one, and one is fun and the other is not, which would you choose? Remember, as much as writing is work, it’s your hobby because you love it. And if you’re not loving it, you’re doing it wrong. The amount of weight this point bears is subjective, but for me, it’s critical. If I can’t honestly say there’s a good chance I’ll thoroughly enjoy what I’m getting into, I’ll find another way to get that information.

7. Is this the best bang for my buck?

If there’s an expensive class being offered called “Nail Your Romance Novel!” and a reputable website has a high-rated free webinar on exactly that, you’ll feel pretty foolish paying for the class. Before deciding to invest in something, do some research. Don’t just jump at the chance because this webinar’s $50 off a normal price of $600. I know, I know, sales get me, too. Just stop and think before putting in your Paypal information. Another way to look at this one is “How can I do this better?” If you can’t come up with a better, cheaper solution that is actually realistic for you given your motivation and time needs, then investing in the event may be a good idea.

8. Is this a good idea for networking?

Honestly, class A and class B might cost the same and contain the same information, but if class A is taught by Joe Shmoe Writer, and class B is taught by Super Famous Writer, class B may be your better choice. Like any industry, it’s all about networking. Through your teacher, you could gain access to a lot of resources that may eventually end up being the difference between a book deal and…well, no book deal. This requires you to be somewhat proactive though. If you’re the wallflower at the back of the class, don’t expect Super Famous Writer to remember you a week after class gets out, much less eight months later when you’re looking for advice. (This is coming from someone who tends to be the wallflower. Don’t be me.)

Basically, just be smart about it. Remember that some of these fantastic deals that get emailed to you may not be such fantastic deals. Sit and think before enrolling. And this doesn’t just apply to webinars and conventions. That new software you’re thinking of buying? That typewriter you’d love to drop $800 on because you like the sound of the keys better than a normal keyboard? That editor who you’d love to hire but is way out of your price range? Invest wisely.

To get you started, here are some resources:

Software

LibreOfficeA free office suite similar to OpenOffice but, rumor has it, better maintained. Don’t quote me on that. I still use OpenOffice.
OpenOffice
A free office suite.
Storybook
Free novel writing software.
yWriter—Free novel writing software.
Evernote—
Google Drive—

Books

Used Books—I prefer to buy most of my books used, but it’s not always feasible to go to a used book store. So I buy a ton of books used online at Amazon. Usually the book is like, one cent, and then I’m just paying four bucks shipping.
Library—
I have a great library just down the street, and I keep forgetting it’s there. I can request books online and have them held for me. Don’t forget your local library.
Borrowed Kindle Books—
Don’t forget, if you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow a Kindle book each month. You can also loan Kindle books to friends.
How to Write a Great Story—Free Kindle ebook.
How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent—Free Kindle ebook.
Smashwords Book Marketing Guide: How to Market Any Book for Free—Free Kindle ebook.

Blogs

StoryFixGood blog with a free newsletter.
Writer Unboxed—Good blog with a focus on fiction writing. Also a free newsletter.
WordPlay—More helpful advice. Lots of free resources.

Classes

Creative Writing—”Delve into the world of creative writing and hone your skills and knowledge on the craft with Creative Writing: A Master Class eCourse.” Apparently, there may be some trouble accessing the textbook if you don’t have an iPad.
Start Witing Fiction—”This unit looks at how characters might be drawn and how setting is established. It works on the different levels of characterization, from flat to round, and how character and place interact. It also works on the effect of genre and how genre can be used.”
Writing What You Know—A course on descriptive writing and observation.
Introduction to Novel Writing—”The full Novel Writing unit offers MA Professional Writing students the opportunity to develop a sound creative writing structural foundation on which they can build a novel.”
Writing for Children—A course on writing children’s books.
Intensive Grammar Workshop—A course on improving grammar.
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy—”Whether you’re trying to write for the first time, or have been at it for a while, you’ll probably find some useful tips here. The course is intended mainly for younger (high school and middle school) writers, but it covers fundamentals you can build on no matter what your age.”

Other

Podcasts on Writing
Pikes Peak Writers—Free online writing community. “Join us to improve your craft, learn about the business of writing, connect with other writers, share successes and failures, and grow as a writer.”
Writer’s Digest—Free digital newsletter (though they do offer a lot of paid resources as well.)

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From → General Advice

5 Comments
  1. Thanks for all the wonderful links! I have been very frustrated with the expensive offerings of WD. I understand that they are a business but I would think they could offer web innards and workshops in a range of prices instead of just $$$.

  2. Yay for links!! I can’t wait to check all these out. And it’s extremely funny that you posted this when you did. I recently saw someone asking on how they could get money from friends and family for this ‘writers retreat’… in FIJI! I looked it up, and of course it looks amazing! It’s essentially a vacation, that was centered around ‘expanding yourself’ as an artist. > < I let this person know that their friends and family shouldn't have to pay for her vacation and that there's plenty of places locally that she could go to learn the same things.
    And this proves my point!!

    • I’ve seen people use Kickstarter for something similar, to fund a writing retreat or a new piece of equipment for their writing. It strikes me as really cheesy. It’s like begging. I could use a new car, but I’m not going to Kickstarter to beg for donations for one! And since it’s for my commute to work AND how I get to various places I go for writing acquiring books, I could theoretically argue that it’s necessary for my creative process. Right? Right? It’s the same thing. There’s a difference between what you want and what you need, even if it’s relevant to your hobby (or career!). Of course, being a hypocrite, I recently had to borrow money from my parents to fund a convention trip that I didn’t anticipate being so expensive, but that was a mistake on my part—I didn’t do all of the research I should have beforehand, and I am totally ashamed that I had to ask for help. It just made me more determined to never let that happen again.

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  1. The True Cost of Writing « Catching Fireflies

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