Should You Pay for Writing Advice?

Let’s talk about something taboo: spending money.

I recently subscribed to Scarlett Thomas’ Patreon newsletter. For $10 a month, she sends out a weekly writing task. It’s a lengthy, wondrous, and compelling email that has made me think about writing in new ways.

Now, I’ve never done something like that before. And at some point in my life, spending $10 a month would have made a serious dent in my bank account. And at an earlier point in my career, I would have resisted the idea of putting any money at all toward my writing.

After all, it’s just pen and paper, right? Why should that cost me anything?

The thing is, most people aren’t willing to give away advice for free.

On the other hand, if you pay for a writing workshop or class, not only are you helping another writer make a living, you’re also establishing a reciprocal relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a former teacher lend me a hand—whether through writing a recommendation letter or offering to look at my work again at a later date.

I understand that writing can sometimes look really expensive. Buying a single book for full price costs more than my monthly gym membership. I get that, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t budget (it might make me unpopular to admit that I used to pirate books, but I frankly don’t judge anybody who still does.)

I grew up in a budgeting family with a mother who never went anywhere without her coupon clippings, so I understand when people are suspicious of putting money toward anything that doesn’t guarantee results. But you don’t need to break the bank to get closer to your writing goals. Purchase last season’s copy of your favorite literary mag. Sign up for a single day workshop. Borrow a craft book from the library and scan the pages so that you always can refer to them later. I’ve done all of these things at some point.

But if you’re a beginning writer with a limited income, how can you really find out what opportunities are worth spending money on?

My suggestion would be to do your research. Make sure you know about all opportunities (Literistic, Entropy, and Submittable’s newsletter are great resources). Be realistic. How much are you really willing to put toward your writing right now? And how might the program or class you want to take get you closer to your goal? And then, of course, what’s your budget like? Is there a way you can set aside five or ten dollars each week to go toward your writing?

You don’t always need a prestigious fellowship to cut costs. On Cyber Monday, I received dozens of emails from literary workshops advertising reduced prices.

The relationship between making art and making money is complex. But don’t be fooled into romanticizing art as something that exists outside the confines of capitalism. Publishing is an industry. Strolling into a bookstore and paying full price for a newly released hardcover is a pastime that only people with expendable income can participate in.

Support artists, yes, always, of course. But don’t be feel bad if you can’t do that.

There’s a cost to everything, even being an author. You can’t let that get you down. Instead, make it work for you. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor was to budget. I knew it was solid advice, because years before that, I learned the same thing from my mom. Buy what you need. Save for what’s worth it. Don’t be ashamed of looking for freebies. And carry your coupon book.

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Stephanie Jimenez

Stephanie Jimenez is a former Fulbright recipient and Prep for Prep alumna. She is based in Queens, New York, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, O! the Oprah Magazine, Entropy, and more. Her debut novel, THEY COULD HAVE NAMED HER ANYTHING, will be published in the summer of 2019 (Little A). Follow her @estefsays.