If you are reading this blog, chances are you are considering a study abroad program to improve your writing. But why? What are the benefits of study abroad programs? What does travel offer that is essential to the development of healthy writing life? Whether you’re a fiction writer or a poet, travel has the power improve your craft while providing inspiration that might be lacking in your day-to-day experiences.
The following essay is from a book the PSP program director Richard Katrovas is working on: Chained to a Tree: A Memoir in Essays about Poets and the Fools Who Love Them. About the essay he says: “The project is still fluid; that is, I’m still fiddling, fixing, still moving words, phrases, paragraphs around. My concern in the book is not so much American Poetry as American poets, people I’ve known through the years, some famous (in a poetry kind of way), some not. My larger concern is creative writing as a cottage industry within high education, though my deeper concern is the mysterious world of poets and writers, how they constitute an often ignoble tribe pursuing noble, if quixotic, ends. I’m discovering, in the twilight of my odd life and modest career, that the run of luck that has gotten me to this point has been nothing short of miraculous, and my consequent blessings manifold.” We share this recently-written piece in the spirit of the Prague Summer Program as an organization centered on the honesty and vulnerability of sharing work in progress.
When you are getting ready to practice your craft, you need to know how to set aside adequate time for transitioning into and out of the experience. Whether you are exploring creative writing to enrich your artistic skills, academic writing to help you through school, or professional writing you have to take on as part of your career, all writing processes require this transition time. They also require time for planning, for editing, and for a variety of other tasks.
One of the many things we try to do here at the PSP is to provide our students and our readers with updates about events and contests that might interest them. That’s why we’re posting today about the Curt Johnson Prose Award, sponsored by december magazine. You might know of them as the first publication to print work by Raymond Carver, and they have a rich history of promoting new writing talent in the years since, too.
When you budget for a study abroad experience, you get more than just the opportunity to engage with a culture you have never experienced directly. You also gain the opportunity to study literature in its original context, to see the places and feel the historic impact of both the stories and the events they portray. If you are a fiction writer looking for experience abroad that will help you connect more deeply to the places you have lived and the stories that come from them, then you need the experience that comes from knowing the place you will go, not just the course material.
It’s that time of year again, which means that you are just weeks away from the deadline for applications to most of the best creative writing summer programs out there. If you are considering going abroad this season instead of finding local writing workshops and events, then you might want to consider each of these major points when choosing your program to make sure you get the best experience possible out of your summer abroad.
It’s clear that the last decade has brought about a revolution in the way society is structured that was due in no small part to the advent of widespread, advanced communication technologies. The boom in the STEM industries that led up to it was a clear indicator of the way social resources were going to be invested to yield tremendous returns, and when they paid off, they did so with abundance. This has led to the development of computer technology so sophisticated that it is able to interact with users and to communicate choices they have, adjusting its programming to accommodate.
This change has led to the automation of diagnostics, creating a surplus of talent in the STEM fields in some cases, and where it has not done so, there are indicators that further technological advancement will likely push things in that direction. In a technological world there will always be the need for engineers and designers, but as the technology becomes more and more capable of assessing its own status and designing improvements, the number of humans who will need to take interventionist roles will decrease.
Luckily, there are already clear signs in the job marked that creative industries are ramping up to create new demand. Workers capable of harnessing communication technology to craft messaging for clients are going to be able to take full advantage of the new tech without worrying about having their career opportunities curtailed by it. As a result, graphic designers, writers, and other creative roles are seeing a boom in employment, and as communication technology becomes more ubiquitous, there is every reason to think the demand for content will continue to grow with it.
If you want to be able to fund all of your creative endeavors without having to be chained to the responsibilities of a day job, there are ways to make sure your career takes off in a direction that allows you to write full time. The key is being committed to writing, not doing anything else for money. That means being willing to do the writing that is available to avoid having to do anything else, even if that means writing advertising copy for local small businesses because that is what is available. When you are committed and ready to do that, there are a few ways to break into writing for pay.
The first and most well-known route is to go to school for journalism or to find a place willing to hire based on your portfolio. That way, you will be able to make a good appeal for the job based on your merits. Journalism will also have the benefit of disciplining your writing, because you will learn several genres and methods for discerning the rules of new genres of writing fact-oriented nonfiction as you work.
Another route to take is to develop your skills as a technical writer. Technical writers often work for a single company in-house, but if you find an employer who understands the way writers operate most efficiently, you can probably talk about working from a remote location. That will allow you to make your own hours so you have the opportunity to attend study abroad programs and take advantage of other opportunities.
Last but not least, the world of online content is booming, and for those who are disciplined and willing to write in volume, there are careers to be made. The best part about online content is that the work is always available and the pay is per piece completed, so you can work as much or as little as needed, allowing you to fund your writing with your writing.
When you get that opportunity, it gets much easier to take the time you need to focus on your next creative project.
One of the toughest parts about being a career creative writer is finding the opportunities you need to be able to make money without having to work in other industries. Many fill in the gaps with writing in other industries, but the fact is that there are various paying opportunities for creative writers out there if you know where to look, and without having to invest the up-front money it will take to go into publishing for yourself.
The first place you should be checking is Craigslist. While it’s true that there are books out there full of places taking submissions, those established outlets also get inundated with manuscripts from writers looking to get their next break. Frankly, they can usually afford to go with writers who have worked their way up to that level of publication, and they don’t always pay better than the startup places you will find outside the literary mainstream.
If you want to be successful writing creative work for money, you also have to be willing to work in volume like other full-time writers do. That means putting in the hours it will take to make sure you meet your income goals, even if you have to write at volume to do it. That might also mean learning to write to a prompt and sending in work according to the genres that are currently popular. None of this prevents you from focusing most of your efforts on a novel that really covers what you most want to write about, but it does mean that you need to learn to depart from it to build up the name recognition that will bring you the opportunity to publish that longer piece.
Once you get a few paying gigs through Craigslist, start keeping a database of the outlets that pay promptly and in full, and resubmit there because the editors will be friendly. As you find more and more success online, remember to search out aggregator sites that pull from various Craigslists around the country, as well as other sources. It’s also worth getting yourself onto Twitter, because the literary fandom there is pretty big and you will be able to connect to various outlets and ‘zines that collect submission guidelines to find more opportunities.
Time and again, creative writing students cite the difficulty inherent in carving out times for practice and development as one of the chief reasons for their frustration with their progress. It’s such a common problem for those working on developing their craft to a professional level that Writers’ Digest has multiple articles (1, 2) on the topic. No matter what the take on the subject, writers often get the same advice: make sure you set aside time, make sure you practice every day, make sure you read other writers whose work you admire, to understand what it is that you are reaching for. And, often, the advice comes with the added note that it takes a lot of textual exposure and practice before you begin to lock in to the style and structure that you need to propel yourself to the next level.
It’s just a pity things don’t always work that way.
The Myth of Practice Time
Most of the advice about making time to write is built around the comparison between writing and athletic or musical talents, and that is exactly why the advice is trouble. In a lot of ways, writing is like those other skill sets–it is technique based, it requires both muscle memory and active critical thinking in a real-time state, and the performance of it can be broken down and discussed in ways that help educate the practitioner so that they make better choices at other times. Where writing is different from those other skills is in the cost and the balance of life activities to practice effort.
By and large, musicians and athletes do not live in environments that require them to use their talents day in and day out in the service of goals other than the development of that talent. An athlete might also work a labor-oriented job that is physically taxing, but it tends not to work the exact same muscles and techniques that they need when they step into practice later, and if it does, it does not work them with the intensity of exercise. The same goes for musicians when it comes to developing their timing and dexterity.
Creative writers, on the other hand, live in a world where they are immersed in the use of their skills at every turn. From workplace communication to training and instruction to scheduling, email, social media, and keeping tabs on current events in the world, reading and writing are immersive cultural activities that can not be separated from life, and if a writer is to capture the essence of life, they can not be.
Realistically, this means that carving out a dedicated practice time can leave writers feeling frustrated and spent, because they may have the goal of reaching 350 words in a short session and calling it a day, just to get the practice, only to find themselves in a situation where their kids, work, family, and household management has put them in the position of writing 2000 or even 5000 words in a day, so that last 350 is just not there.
Making Practice in Real Time
The solution is skills transference. The secret to practicing your creative writing is finding the opportunity to practice it as an aspect of life, to make those tropes, descriptions, and structures into guideposts that not only help increase the effectiveness of communication in those other genres, but that also allow the writer to acknowledge and to nurture those skills as the opportunities for practice present themselves. By living in an ever-engaged state where literary practices more generally become specific opportunities to hone an audience-appropriate set of artistic traits, creative writers not only carve out room for craft development, they move themselves toward having a more robust creative stamina that is capable of engaging in a higher workload as it develops.