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Resources and Opportunities for Writers

Updated on November 19, 2010

I've been making up poems and stories since before I could write. My family was always very supportive and encouraging -- until I wanted to make that my career. Don't get me wrong. It's not that they thought I should stop writing when I reached adulthood. It's just that they didn't think I should do it for a living.

Writing is something that all thinking people do, I was given to understand. It's just not a profession. Truly noble writers keep their writing as a side-line, while doing something more useful as a way to be contributing members of society. Chekhov was a doctor. My grandfather wrote poetry, but he worked two jobs to support his family. At his death, my grandfather was the rector of the University of Tel Aviv. My father wrote poetry, but he was a physicist and an engineer. Nobody was saying I couldn't write. But I had to have a profession, too. I had to be realistic. And so I went off to law school, expecting to support all my dreams from my professional income as a lawyer.

As a teenager, I imagined my grown up self doing everything on my list simultaneously. I saw myself raising a child and a chimpanzee all alone, while writing best-selling novels, and all in my spare time from a thriving law practice. I sometimes wonder which would have been more realistic? Following the sage advice of my elders, or taking a really big risk by doing exactly what I wanted when I was young and had the time to spare.

In the end, I did do what I wanted, but it took much longer than I had ever imagined, and I couldn't do everything all at once. One can achieve all one's dreams consecutively, by stubborn perseverence. What isn't possible is to expect to have one's real work in life as a side-line. If you choose a profession that isn't your true calling, you are just making it harder for yourself.

Along the way, I discovered that for some people, writing is a profession. There are even clearly marked career trajectories for young people who want to write. There are MFA programs. There are residency programs that allow writers with an ongoing project to concentrate on their writing. There are contests and awards. There are even jobs for writers.

Most of these opportunities are no longer open to me. I am a full time primatologist and have a twenty-four hour a day commitment to Project Bow. When I have helpers, I can be more flexible with my time use. When I don't have volunteers, I sometimes can't even leave the house to go to the store.

I love what I do, and I am really lucky to be able to do it. But I keep lots of magazines on hand to while away my time with Bow. Sometimes I read them out loud to him. Sometimes I let him flip through the pages, when he's feeling less destructive.

One of the magazines is called Poets & Writers, and it is chock full of opportunities for writers. Since I can't take advantage of most of these myself, let me pass them along to you. Who knows! One of these could completely change your life.

About MFA Programs

At first, I hesitated to include MFA programs here, because I have mixed feelings about them. However, for a young person starting out, it is well worth it to consider applying. It all depends on your attitude and what you really hope to accomplish.

Let me list some of my concerns about MFA programs first, before we talk about the benefits:

1) Nobody can teach you how to become a writer. You either are a writer or you're not. If you go into an MFA program with the idea that all you have to do is complete the program, and then you'll be a bona fide writer, you'll be seriously disappointed.

2) If you are a writer, but you allow a teacher or program to dictate to you how to write, then you might actually leave the program with less talent than when you came in.

3) The people teaching in an MFA program are not the ones who made it to the top of their profession. Best-selling writers write. Writers with moderate success teach.

4) It's not worth it to pay tuition for your MFA, as it does not confer any earning power when you are done.

Having said that, here are some of the possible benefits:

1) Being in an MFA program allows you to meet and exchange ideas with many other writers, some of them students and some teachers. Don't underestimate the abilities of fellow students to make valuable contributions to your education.

2) You don't have to turn in your real writing for a grade. You could just think of the material you do turn in as a writing exercise, and keep the purity of focus of true inspiration for those items you are writing on your own.

3) Some of those moderately successful writers teaching in MFA programs may actually be better than today's best-selling authors. Success does not necessarily mean higher quality. Watch out for unsung heroes.

4) You can apply for all the programs, knowing full well that you will not enroll in any program that does not offer you a full tuition waiver and a stipend that will cover your expenses for the entire duration of the program. Such stipends are available for each program, and if they don't offer you one, it means they don't truly believe in your potential.

5) While an MFA in and of itself confers no earning power, in combination with other achievements, it can give you an edge. Sometimes there are residencies specifically designed for people who have an MFA but have not yet published their first book. Once you do publish, having an MFA together with your publication credits will give you an advantage when applying for college teaching positions.

RESIDENCIES

Below you will find listed some opportunities that involve a stipend, but not necessarily enrolling at an institution of higher learning.

About Residencies

Many of these programs are just residencies that allow writers to stay somewhere free of charge while they are writing. These are not real jobs, and you can't expect to live this way forever. However, if you are a young person just starting out, are unattached, debt free, and without prior commitments, these present wonderful opportunities. The best part of it is not, in fact, finding a place to live. The best part of it is that you get to interact with other writers and artists, and the connections you make there will last you a lifetime.

The current issue of Poets & Writers features an eye opening interview with Molly Friedrich, a high powered literary agent who has Sue Grafton and Frank McCourt as her clients. She tells all about her rise to the top in her profession, and how even when she was supposed to be just an assistant to an agent, she was really good at getting promising new writers to sign with her. Did she get them from the slushpile? Heavens to betsy, no! She always managed to hear about them through word of mouth. Usually someone who knew someone who was someone would recommend them. Then, convinced by the recommendation of another person, Friedrich would go after them like gangbusters.

How about writers' conferences? Did she sign up new writers at conferences? Well, no. Not ever. But attending writers' conferences is not a complete waste of time, according to Friedrich.The way it usually works is like this: the cousin of a friend of someone who went to the writer's conference usually ends up being a valuable contact.

The bottom line is that no matter how well you write, what really matters is who you know. The residencies are an invaluable resource to aspiring writers, because in order to be a writer, you have to know writers. So if you are unattached and really serious about a writing career, a residency is a very good deal.

Some of these opportunities are targeted at a particular geographic region, nationality, religion, writing style or genre, age, sex or economic status. However, if you haven't found anything that is right for you here today, keep checking. I will be updating this page periodically. You never know when something that is tailor-made for you might show up.

Jobs For Writers

So what about jobs for writers? There comes a time in life when we are no longer young, and we worry about things like health care, maternity leave, and even retirement. Many young people are deterred from pursuing writing in their twenties, because they are told that it's irresponsible to waste their youth and not to learn a profession that will provide them with a safety net in case of illness, accident, or just plain... growing up.

The argument goes something like this: "But supposing you put in all this effort into writing, but it never becomes a career? What will you do then?" Well, one answer is: "Teach."

Jobs for writing instructors are not that hard to find, and if you went for that MFA or English Ph.D. as part of your plan to become a writer, you might even have the credentials to teach at the college level. The salaries are not astronomical, but they are nothing to sneeze at.

Conclusion

Nobody is guaranteed success at anything. Some of our dreams may never come true. They certainly won't come true if we don't try. If you want to be a writer, declare that as your goal and pursue it unrelentingly. Use all the resources at your disposal. The friends you make along the way, if nothing else, are worth it. Byron and Shelley knew each other. Carlyle and Wordsworth knew each other. Hawthorne and Melville knew each other. The fellowship of other writers is a wonderful resource, and one that you deprive yourself of if you write alone, in your spare time, after a full day at an unrelated job.

(c) 2008 Aya Katz

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    • profile image

      Marc 

      5 years ago

      marni finder - I am aywals too late for fantastic workshops that I find out about after the fact . Do you know if any other Scott Robert World Tour: Chicago One-Day Workshop' will be up and coming in the future? I don't mind driving farther away if it isn't in Chicago. I live in the Chicago suburbs and I am practicing at my passion for photography every day. I like almost anyone into photography wants to IMPROVE. I am hoping to find the perfect workshop or mentoring situation to help push me to another level. Do you ever mentor, Mandie? I love the work that you do at your Red Gecko Studio. Just thought I'd ask . Thanks, Marni Finder (if you take a gander on facebook at my name marni finder' you can see some of the work that I have been shooting . and you can see that I need someone to guide me . )

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      9 years ago

      I love your hubs. Chock fun of useful information.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      10 years ago from The Ozarks

      Elijah, thanks for the input!

    • Elijah S profile image

      Elijah S 

      10 years ago from Europe

      Thanks for the honesty and the perspective.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      10 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Julie. You're absolutely right. Writing is something we do because we love it. However, most writers also want others to read what they write, because it's not just a question of self-expression. It is also about communicating with the world at large and engaging in a dialogue with other writers, past and present.

      By providing the links to these opportunities, I hope that I am helping budding new writers find a way to get acknowledgment of the value of their work, so that others will want to read what they write.

    • Julie A. Johnson profile image

      Julie A. Johnson 

      10 years ago from Duluth, MN

      Aya, Writing is an art, and to make it a career is especially difficult if you have a family; unless you work as a copywriter, a journalist or an editor. True writers write because they love to write--they find a way, even if it is not their career. I love the story of your grandfather, and I think there are many people like him -- they write for the love of wriiting, and it is not their career or profession. Keep writing! Julie

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