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Jumpstart your writing career while still in school! Part 1

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s hard being a writer while in school. I labored tirelessly in all my classes to get great grades and learn everything I could, reading a lot of analysis and criticism that wasn’t required, so I never had much time to think about writing as a career. I just knew that I wanted to be a writer.

Whether you have more or less time than I did, there are plenty of efficient ways to blitz the world of professional writing.

University Press

Most universities have some sort of magazine or other publication that features student work. At Michigan State, we had The Red Cedar Review and The Offbeat. I really wish that I had been more involved with that.

University presses typically doesn’t expect as much formation preparation from you as they would from a professional writer, and they might even help you learn how things should be done. And they generally have considerable readership. They will build up your CV quite nicely.

If you have more time, it is worth it to get on the staff of these publications. Working as an editor or publisher will start building your knowledge of what people are looking for and how best to exploit the market to get your own work out there. You’ll have to read a great deal of slush, but you’ll have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. And your own writing will improve, guaranteed.

Writers’ Groups and Organizations

It stands to reason that most universities would have various groups for writers. They might be workshops where writers critique their cohorts’ work, organizations where guest speakers come in and talk to writers, networking organizations, or reading groups. Basically, anything associated with writing is something you should be interested in.

If you can find a group that includes people with more experience than students, those older members will be invaluable to you. Students are great for critiquing usually, but often lack life-experience and insider knowledge that would be more helpful to you.

If there are none in your community, start one. Create a website, contact the university to see if they will put up a bulletin or a link on the university website, make flyers and post them in coffee shops and in the English department, and please talk to your professors. They would most likely love to help you spread the word about this. They love to see their students do well, for the most part.

University Radio

Want to reach more people than most small-press magazines do? Get on the radio.

My school had a program that highlighted the local community, and a segment that exposed creative students.

The numbers vary, but you could be reading your story, poem, or essay to hundreds if not a thousand or more people. They might even put the recording on their website.

If your radio station doesn’t have a segment like this, email the people at the station and give them your idea. Get together some other students and request that they start a segment like this. If it fills time and delivers a listenership, they will at least entertain the idea.

And once you’re on the radio, put this on your CV. Editors love to know that your name is out there and might draw people. I consider radio to be publication.

Open Mics and Public Readings

There are plenty of places that host open mic nights where you can just walk up stage and read your work. I know for me, when I was growing up and dreaming about being a writer, I always imaged holding a completed and published book  in my hands and feeling the satisfaction and joy of that.

But now, I just want to reach people.

Open mics are a great way to do that. Some of these people might just enjoy your reading that night, but others might want to network you, and others might be interested in following your career.

There is a lot of satisfaction in it.

Another great way to reach an audience is to get other writers together and organize a public reading.

If you really want to draw in people, you want to find a venue that regularly gets and audience. I know that some people have had luck performing in bars that host bands, others in local theatres and art halls, and many in smaller venues from coffee shops to the student union building.

Getting a university venue is something your professors might help you with, and even use department resources to create flyers and advertisements.

To really convince these venues to host you, you are going to have to show them that you’ll bring people in so they can make money. Bars will love to hear that each reader can bring in 10 students, family, and friends to hear them. Bring in this information when you talk to them either at their business, or if you email them make sure to explain this right away as your propose the idea.

Writing doesn’t mean all that much unless someone is reading or listening.

To be continued….

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