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HOW WRITING CLUBS MENTOR
by Donna McCrohan Rosenthal, Public Relations Director
California Writers Club and Chair, CWC-South
You hear stories about discouraged young writers who sought out – or blundered into –beloved Pulitzer- or Peabody-Prize winners and struck up friendships that became lifelong mentoring bonds. If you’ve hit upon that as your personal strategy for literary conquest, good luck. But the odds against it happening stand roughly two billion to one. I pulled that figure out of the air. It’s probably higher.
Bummer. Short of tracking down and dazzling Doris Kearns Goodwin or Stephen Colbert, what’s an aspiring but unpublished talent to do? Quick answer: Go to where creative spirits congregate.
Writers clubs afford these opportunities on a regular basis. Specifically:
1. Many members are established writers and even when not best-selling authors, they have useful advice, experiences and possibly contacts to share.
2. Members who haven’t reached the ranks of stardom might nonetheless provide support, encouragement, friendly critiquing, a role in one of their projects or a collaboration partner.
3. The speakers at meetings, some of them very prominent, answer questions during their talks and generally stay to chat afterwards.
4. Associating with writers who actively journal, research, interview, hammer out drafts and the like inspires you to look beyond the obstacles and pursue writing every day of your life.
5. Consider speakers and members as potential interview subjects. With the right angle, you could profile them and freelance the result to local (or broader) media. Note: Don’t ambush them. Tell them in advance what you intend to do.
6. With few exceptions, writers clubs have their own newsletters, websites and often, magazines and anthologies. Having a byline in one could represent the first step in your career.
7. Many of these publications announce contests and seminars. Enter the competitions; first place can lead to recognition and prize money. Attend the workshops; learn new secrets to personal growth and success.
8. Volunteer for positions such as public relations chair or webmaster to advance club goals while sharpening your skills and enhancing your networking circle.
9. Learn how to generate clips. Then, keep the clips. As a rule, publishers prefer to work with writers who already have visibility, credentials and credibility. They like it if you have a themed blog (as in “Julie and Julia”), and clippings of your articles and links to them show that other publishers considered you fit to publish, that you have some ability to promote yourself, and that you know some of the ropes for getting published so a new editor won’t have to school you from scratch. Plus of course they demonstrate your proficiency as a writer.
10. After a few months of meetings and publications, there is no way to not glean nuggets of sound instruction on finding an agent, submitting an article to a magazine, or compiling a strong book proposal.
11. What you observe at writers club about the craft and business of writing helps you get a foot in the door.