Writer Beware (How much should you spend on learning your craft?)

Hi there, Sugar here.  So I have a secret. Before I sold DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD to St. Martin’s Press I never spent a dime on learning how to write. Oh I joined the RWA and my local chapter. I went to the monthly meetings, I read  a lot of the writers I admired. I found good critique partners and beta readers. But I never paid for a class, bought a book or shelled out hundreds of dollars on workshops. Am I that good of a writer? Well, I would like to think so, but the truth is, I’m not. I know I can be better. I know that there is always chance for growth. But do I want to pay thousands for a chance to grow. Absolutely not.

I don’t spend a ton of time surfing Twitter but when I do, it seems that somebody is always trying to sell writers something. Classes, books, retreats, all day workshops. They all promise to make your characters stronger, your dialogue wittier, your sex scenes filled with more… Umph. But with all that stuff out there how do you know what’s worthy of spending your hard earned cash on.

So I put together a little list of things you should think about before you shell out your money.

  1. Look carefully at who is giving the workshop/ writing the book/ selling the product. Do they have any credibility?  If they are teaching about craft, have they ever sold a book to a major publisher? Have they taught before? Have you heard good things about them?
  2. For self pubbers. If they are claiming that they are successful and can teach you how to be, can they prove it? Are they willing to share numbers? Secrets?
  3. Can you get what they are selling else where for free? There are a lot of blogs out, A LOT, for writers by writers where you can get good info for free. Read them.
  4. Can you use your friends?  Just before I was about to submit my manuscript I thought about paying to have a professional critique it, but then I saw the prices. They ranged anywhere from $300-$800. Way too rich for my blood. Plus it’s only one person’s opinion. What one person might love another might hate. So use your friends when you can. They are readers too.
  5. Have you checked out writer’s forums like Absolute Water Cooler or Query Tracker. You can learn much from reading the posts on there. 

Sure there are classes and books out there that are well worth it. But the best way to get better at writing is to get your butt in the chair and write. The more you write the better you get. I promise. It works. I’m proof.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think about before spending your money on craft? And if I was going to spend some money, what books/ workshops/classes would you recommend?”

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20 thoughts on “Writer Beware (How much should you spend on learning your craft?)”

  1. Ooops! Too late…I could have used this a few years back. It’s great advice, Sugar.

    I have spent a considerable amount of money on learning the craft of writing. If you include the conferences I’ve attended, my day job is essentially supporting my writing habit, LOL. Conferences are worth it for me in terms of the networking opportunities alone and there are usually fabulous workshops on both craft and the business end of writing that have been invaluable to me. I’ve also taken a ton of online workshops, but I do pick and choose based on what I need to strengthen in my writing and who is teaching the course. I don’t mind shelling out the $15-25 for an online workshop a few times a year, and I’ve learned so much and met so many great people through those forums, that for me, yes it’s worth it. I guess the bottom line is that you should have an education budget and spend what you can afford, but writer beware and get it for free if you can. There are endless opportunities to improve your writing, but as you said, practice, practice, practice, is the sure bet!

    1. I like conferences. I think they are very good for networking, and just plain old fun. I’m looking forward to attending more.

  2. Here’s my take on it, Sugar. Writers start out at all different levels. Some can put words on the page with an innate understanding of how they go together to make a story. Others need to work a little harder to get the base of knowledge needed to put the words together. Neither way is right or wrong–writers just come at the craft from different places. I’ve only taken a couple of courses, and I’ve read/skimmed maybe a dozen books on craft. In the process I picked up a few tips here and there so the time was worth it. And I will be taking an online class on writing suspense starting in a couple of weeks. As far as what courses you should take, I’d say identify what you think your personal weaknesses are (one of mine is that whole GMC thing) and make that where you spend your money. The various RWA chapters offer courses cheap so it should be easy enough to give one a try and not be out too much if you decide it’s not working for you. There are some very expensive courses I’d like to take if money were no object: Margie Lawson and Donald Maass are ones I’ve heard raves about. But at this point in my career I think money is better spent on building my infrastructure (decent website, getting a professional author photo taken, getting to places where I can network with other authors) and maybe hiring some professional publicity help when I get closer to my far-off publication date. Just my two cents!

    1. I definitely think your money should go to building your brand. That’s where my money is going and I don’t regret a single penny of it.

  3. Great points! When I was starting out, there were far fewer resources available online, so (imo) RWA meetings and conferences were more … well, maybe not necessary, but they were among the few and best resources available to a new writer trying to get her feet under her.

    I was very lucky that at my first local chapter meeting, I struck up a conversation with the person next to me, and at some point she said, ‘Suz Brockmann is teaching a class on romance writing over the next few months. You should totally come with me!’ I managed not to say ‘Who?’ (yes, I was that new at things, though in my defense she was just poised to launch her SEAL books) and instead said ‘sounds great!’.

    I wound up with some great pointers that I still refer back to today (thank you, Suz!!), and the lady who invited me along is one of my closest friends fifteen years later, and a fab author with Ellora’s Cave (Dalton Diaz).

  4. I have to laugh at myself because, unlike you wise folks, I’ve spent the money!

    I’ve written 3 manuscripts to date. I wrote the first on a whim (the so-called bucket list), loved it…and then all the rejections and contest feedback came back and ‘reality’ set in. I’d invested so much time, and been ‘bit’ by the writing bug, so it was worth it to me to spend more time and money on an editor to learn how to fix the mistakes. While I’ve probably spent too much, I will say that my second and third manuscripts have fared better in contests, and I just got an offer from a small press to publish the second manuscript. Was it worth it? That depends on your definition of progress and success. To me, the answer is yes, because it helped me get better at the craft.

    I just spent $$$ on the Writer’s Digest conference in NYC. The classes/lectures were great, I met some interesting people, and got to meet rock star agent Kristin Nelson (ROCK star). Again, worth it? To me, yes.

    But, I do agree with you, Sugar, that it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money in order to learn more about the craft/industry. Now that I know more, I see that there are literally hundreds of blogs and websites offering free help/advice (or very reasonably priced help). I probably could have spent less money and ended up in the same place had I realized that fact sooner. My only concern is that the volume of material out there is overwhelming and it is difficult to know which advice to ‘trust’!

    I will say the $16 I spent on Donald Maass’s book Writing 21st Century Fiction was WELL worth it. Great book.

    Thanks for the post! I’m going to start pinching my pennies more from now on!

    1. I’ve read your stuff. Whatever money you spent was worth it in my opinion your Write Stuff entry was great!

      1. Thanks for the compliment. But as you and many others here have said, it seems practice is probably the most important thing one can do to improve. That, and write what you love… 😉

  5. I take about four classes, seminars or go to conferences a year. I do learn in these classes, but more important they keep me motivated. I also have found that I’ve met some wonderful writers, and marketing people. I love the networking and being in a group with like minded people.

  6. My plan of attack was not to spend any money until I made some money from writing. I’ve three books published but haven’t made enough money to spend any.
    There is a lot of great free advice on the web – but it is quite time consuming to shift through it all.

    1. Sifting through all the stuff on the web can be time consuming. I just pick a few writing blogs to check regularly other than that I just keep writing.

  7. I don’t mind whatever I have spent. Most of the information is either free or at a low cost, but I had so much learning to do, it was like going to college and majoring in creative writing. And there is a cost to that. I feel filled and am still going. Great post, as usual Sugar. Thanks.

    1. There’s a difference between just wanting to learn to write for the joy of learning and spending money on the off chance that one day you might be published. I think education is wonderful and it’s usually worth the cost.

  8. Books are probably the easiest and least expensive way to learn about craft. I found a great one at my library which is frequently recommended by writers (James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure). I strongly believe that to take writing to the next level, you have to invest in the craft. This doesn’t mean signing up for a $1000 workshop or conference, although there are enough reputable sources at varying prices, that I think many writers can benefit from. Still, one $8 book really helped me at the start.

  9. Jack M. Bickham’s Scene & Structure is worth a borrow from the library or the $10. There’s a lot of misinformation that goes around, too. So, we have to be aware of that.

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