You know I’m not usually one for these “Number of Things” articles, but this is something I repeat so often—because I really believe it—that I figured it was an appropriate follow-up to the Elements of Fiction series.
You’ll find plenty of advice about how to improve your writing craft. Read widely, write a lot…that sort of thing. All true, of course.
But this list is about how you can develop your writing career.
1. Attend conferences
I don’t just say this because the Florida Christian Writers Conference starts in a few days. I say it because, in my experience, conferences have led to all the best developments in my career. In fact, this is probably true regardless of what career you’re pursuing.
A lot goes on at conferences. You’ll attend workshops that will help develop your craft. So that’s like a two-for-one. But you’ll also develop relationships with others in the business—agents, editors, other writers—who can help you on your journey.
Through people I met at conferences, I’ve made some of the greatest strides in my career, not only as a writer but as an editor.
For a list of writers conferences, see the Shaw Guides website, which lists a wide variety of them.
2. Join a writers group
Writers are a special breed, and normal people don’t get us. We need to be around other writers partly to be reassured that we’re not entirely crazy (only a little), and to get useful feedback on our writing.
All the praises of your family and co-workers won’t mean as much to you as one keen insight from a smart critique partner. I belong to a couple of critique groups. The first one, Word Weavers, I found through — you see this coming, right? — a conference. I met another local writer and she invited me. My other critique group I found through American Christian Fiction Writers.
To find a writers group near you, do a web search for “writers group” or “writers association” in your city, if you live in a mid- to large-size city, or your state if not. You can also try looking for groups by genre.
3. Get a professional opinion
Critique partners are awesome, and if you’re very fortunate, you’ll be able to find some who are professionals, and you’ll be able to get that professional opinion essentially free. A professional can see things in your manuscript others can’t and can offer advice that’s likely to be more beneficial.
I really do take my own medicine here: No one can edit their own work, so I asked an editor friend to review the first scene of my fantasy novel. Lots of people had told me it needed to be stronger, but I couldn’t see how to do it myself. She quickly responded with a classic piece of advice: “You do have a great opening; it’s just now where you think it is.” Argh! I made one of the classic blunders…getting involved in a land war in Asia. No, that wasn’t it. I started the story too late. Too much conversation between the characters before getting to the point. I couldn’t see it. My critique partners didn’t see it. A professional opinion was needed to identify the real problem and the right place to start the story.
Often you can also get a professional review of at least part of your manuscript for a nominal fee at a conference. If you go this route, vet the professional you’re getting the opinion from. You want someone who’s an experienced writer, editor, or agent and preferably someone who works in your genre. The only time I got a professional critique that was not worth the fee, the reviewer was an academic, not a novelist. I have a great deal of respect for teachers, but the requirements of academia differ from those of the market.
Hands-on workshops are another great way to get a professional opinion at a reasonable price. Again, these are often offered as part of a conference.
One of the best things I ever did for my career was hiring a writing coach. It not only helped me get my fantasy novel into saleable condition, it opened my eyes to a possible new career. That was quite a few years ago, and now I try to do for others what my writing coach did for me. And it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the person who referred me to my writing coach was an instructor I met at a writers conference.
A professional opinion can let you know whether you’re ready to pursue a career, or whether you should focus on craft. If the former is the case, a professional can also refer you to the resources you’ll need to take the next career step.
In writing, career and craft are closely linked, so all of these practices will improve your craft as you pursue your career.