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Professional Development for Writers: 10 Simple Ideas

February 1, 2010

Taken from my 365 Day Photo Challenge

I consider that as a writer, I’m self-employed. As such I shoulder the burden of finding and financing my professional development. It is also up to me to make it a priority and invest the time.

While I don’t set KPI’s or enter into other sorts of vacuous corporate gargon, I do create something of a ‘business plan’ for myself at the start of my creative year.  Ioutline the projects I want to be part of (as best as I can know at the start of the year), the places I want to submit my work, targets for the number of pieces published, people I want to work with, events I want to go to and what I’m going to do to improve my skills both as a writer and story teller.

The wonderful aspect of being a creative type is there are numbers of interesting and unique ways to invest in and nurture yourself as a writer. Here are some ideas for professional development.

Do a Course

If you belong to a professional organisation (I belong to the Queensland Writers’ Centre) they often run courses throughout the year. In the past I’ve done a short story development and critiquing course (over six months), various one day workshops on short fiction writing and a wonderful workshop on world building.

There are other types of courses available – either on line or which you can purchase in book form and work through. My favourite book-based course to date has been Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I work through at the start of each year – a chance to get my head set straight. If purchasing an online course, make sure you check it out thoroughly and if possible speak to someone who has already done it before you make a hefty monetary investment.

Writer’s Festivals

They’re fun, they’re informative, they get you out and about with other writers and they give you the opportunity to meet and hear new and old authors talk about the craft of writing. My favourite is Byron Bay, but this year I’m setting my sights also on spending more time at The Brisbane Writer’s Festival and flying to Melbourne to be part of the Emerging Writers Festival. The important thing to note about festivals is there are often fantastic courses and workshops in conjunction with the official programme.

Writing Exercises

A number of published writers I know spend some time during at the start of their day doing writing exercises. This is something I’m looking at doing this year. Two Christmas’s ago I got The 3am Ephiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises which has 201 short exercises. I’ve recently acquired The Fiction Writers Workshop, with 100 exercises and lots of info in it, as well as Kate Grenville’s The Writing Book which focuses on contemporary Australian writing amid the exercises.

Get to Know Other Writers

Professional associations such as QWC have semi-social events, such as book launches, industry talks and fun stuff during NaNo, as well as maintaining a magazine, e-newsletter, blog, and soon to be open forum. These types of associations are always a good launch point into your local writing scene.

If you can’t get out – there are any numbers of ways to meet and connect with writers on line. Annie has complied a list of some of the better writing forums, and there are also weekly writing exercises, such as our [Fiction] Friday and Jon Strother’s Twitter meme #fridayflash which bring writers together.

I was recently told that successful networking isn’t about getting to know those further up the food chain – it is about getting to know those on the same level as you. I was initially taken aback by this (and many will probably disagree with me now that I agree) but I think in many ways this is spot on when you look at the number of projects coming through the ranks such as Chinese Whisperings, 2009 Best of Friday Flash and The 12 Days – all created by emerging writers.

The other thing about befriending writers – unlike friends and family,they ‘get you’. It is one thing I hear time and time again, how lonely it can be to following the path of a writer when family and friends either don’t take you and your writing seriously, or understand the emotional aspects and impacts of writing.

Join a Writer’s Group

The single most important and constructive step I took when I decided to get serious about my writing was join a writer’s group. I was lucky. I had a friend who invited me along to jion her group. The encouragement, critique and camaraderie is something which is really important to me. We’ve celebrated publications, commiserated rejections and pushed each other to write better. I won’t lie – it is hard to sit there and have your work canned, but I never take it personally. It has motiavated me to keep producing work – there is nothing like a looming meeting to have you scramble to find something to take. My work can only but improve as I read and critique the work of others.

For those who may not be able to link up and find writers in their local area to meet up for coffee, cake and critique – find or create for yourself an online writing group. thanks to Skype there is the possibility to meet up, regardless of where you are in the world, and talk in real time about your work and others.

A Mentor

There are (expensive) mentoring programs out there for writers, which may suit some but not others. We’ve all heard the teacher will appear when the student is ready – and in some ways I agree. One friend in my writers group has more or less become a mentor. She’s a few steps further ahead of the game than me. She is also well connected in the local writing scene in Brisbane and is also ‘up’ on what is around in terms of competions and prizes.

I have always felt she’s trusted in me and my abilities (when I couldn’t see them), pushed me and nurtured me (when I needed healthy doses of both. I didn’t immediately recognise she had become a mentor to me, but in the past six months I know that is what she is. I never forget to say thank you for being blessed with her presence.

Be open to someone coming into your life with wisdom and compassion, if you think that’s what you might need to take your writing to the next level. If a mentor isn’t your thing consider a buddy who will keep you honest and writing.

Read in Your Genre/Form

I’ve always railed against this idea, believing you should read widely, both for enjoyment and to further your craft. This year I’ve decided, after almost three years of writing short fiction, to start reading it. The dusty anthologies are being pulled out and I’m taking time once I’ve dropped my son to school to have a cuppa, read a short story and reflect. Today was my first day of doing it and it managed to kick me out of a deep funk and inspire me to tackle the day.

My goal is to read a minimum of 365 short stories by the end of the year. Given wonderful weekly events such as Flash Friday I’m likely, perhaps to read up to 500 or more. Here’s counting…

Just Read

Reading is the best, easiest and cheapest, in many ways, professional development you will get. Reading anything is better than no reading at all.

Consider reading outside your favourite authors and genres. Pring off one of the many Best of list, such as the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and committ to reading one, two or all of them. Write a list of all the books you’ve been meaning to read and source them. Join a book club. If you have an eReader considering downloading some of the 30,000 free books from Project Guttenburg.

Basically, make reading a priority, along side writing. If you’re slack (like I used to be) create a target. I have a goal of two books a month (one for enjoyment, one for extension) or a minimum of 600 pages if I’m tackling larger works. Turn the TV/internet/Play Station off and feed your creative soul with literature.

Enjoy Other Creative Pursuits

Writing was always my creative outlet. Now as I spend increasinglylarger chunks of my day writing and editing, I find I need to do other things to feed my creative soul – to keep the well topped up. What I’ve noticed about writers, and other creative types, is they’re not just good in one artistic area. They seem to excel in a number of areas.

Both Annie and Paul have returned to their other true love in the past few months – sketching and painting. Other writing friends love photography, cooking, building, sewing and music. Consider what other artistic pursuits you enjoy – and take time to make them part of your every-day life again.


Every word, every sentence, every paragraph and story is development in itself. Like reading, any sort of writing better than no writing at all. Free yourself by giving yourself permission to write badly, if that will help.

For extension, try a new genre. Experiment with different POV. Write in varying lengths. Find your boundaries and then give them a shove. Look for signs for directions you might have been missing, or didn’t want to pursue. Let others read your work, comment and critique. It is essential – tough love which helps us grow and evolve.

And listen, really listen, to what people say about your work. I have been getting for a while that I portray teenagers and children with authenticity. For a year I’ve been ignoring these comments. This year I’m taking it on… and going to use a teenager’s perspective to explore a dark story which has been brewing for a year. Not only that, but I’m serious about completing a novel.

Most of all, try and write every day. Stake out time – even if it is just ten minutes. Write one sentence. I still honestly believe momentum begets momentum – or at the very least, silences the voices in your head for a short time.

When you’ve decided how you are going to invest in yourself this year – write a list. Make it visible. Share it.


Now’s your opportunity. Taking each area – what is one way you can invest in yourself. Make your declaration on your blog, post a link here in the comments section and we’ll check in later on in the year to see how we’re all travelling.

Jodi Cleghorn is making the most of the final 13 days of this creative year. Today she put a match to all the old drafts, mark ups etc from the past two years and watched them burn in a mini backyard bonfire. It was surprisingly cathartic. Check out Jodi’s blog Writing in Black and White.
  1. February 1, 2010 7:28 am


    Great post here. When a writer decides to take it serious, it can be overwhelming on what to do, when to do it, and why. Everything you have suggested makes sense and I have followed that process myself. . .

    I think the biggest question someone asks a writer is “where do you get your ideas from?”. . . my response? By writing. Writing Friday Flash each week keeps my open, expanded, and looking for ideas. Starting (and finishing) the 12 Days antho showed me how much time and effort goes into a book and it allowed me to many awesome people (such as yourself!).

    Great first post for me to read on a Monday!


  2. February 1, 2010 7:53 am

    “And listen, really listen, to what people say about your work.”

    Hmmm! Now it seems as if someone wrote something to me about my writing just yesterday…. I guess I’ll have to start listening. Thanks.

  3. February 1, 2010 8:43 am

    Great post. Lots of good ideas there. I’m new to all this, so all helpful tips. Thx.

  4. February 1, 2010 10:53 am

    Great post. I’m new to writing and the information on this site really helps me to better understand the life of a writer. It’s difficult to write not knowing whether or not you’re any good at it. Friends and family can be a double edged sword when it comes to feeddback. First, you don’t know if they are being truthful. Second, you don’t know if they know “good” work when they see it. That is why I appreciate sites like this, the feedback you give, and the opportunity to participate in Fiction Friday’s. I hope as I continue to write I will get more feedback from those of you who has been doing this much longer than I. I’s also starting a critique class and writing class at the local college this week. I’m excited about that!

  5. February 1, 2010 11:39 pm

    I highly recommend the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I got so much out of it last year and it began a journey of getting to know all the emerging writers around Melbourne.

  6. February 3, 2010 10:38 am

    Great suggestions, Jodi. And I appreciate how many of them do not depend on being in a large city. I lived for four years in a town with a few thousand people and felt distant from other writers until I discovered the fantastic writers group they had, and also all the other things I could do to stay connected.

    I don’t think I’ll make a list because that’s just not how my brain organizes itself, but it’s another great idea. Staying responsible to yourself for your own goals is the only way to make sure you don’t disappoint the most important person.

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