Bird Face Wendy

Things relevant to reading, writing, publishing or marketing teen fiction.

The Volunteer Writer

Few of my writing friends have a degree in creative writing. Or journalism. Or even English. For those who do, I congratulate you. You recognized early your love for words and your wish to assemble them on paper (or a computer screen).

For the rest of us who always enjoyed reading but more recently discovered we’d also like to write, there’s hope–and help.

Instead of a classroom, we have the whole world in which to gain writing experience and learn by doing so. But we needn’t travel far from home. Countless organizations and periodicals, in our local areas and online, need authors to fill the holes in their publications but can’t afford to pay much. Or anything at all.

I understand that volunteering to write for no pay may seem unthinkable, especially after a hard day’s work at your regular job. And committing to writing weekly or monthly for the public–however small a segment–is more frightening than penning creative passages in your journal when you get the urge. But if you are able to write about one of your hobbies or areas of expertise, then you’re halfway there. No research, see?

Consider pitching an idea for a feature item or column in a local magazine or newspaper, a civic or religious organization’s newsletter, an opinion blog or website–even your own employer’s publication. If you need them, there are resources that explain how to pitch an idea or write a query, some online at no cost. Sometimes the briefest of emails can get someone’s attention. After all, you’re offering something free.

That’s not to say that you should give anyone anything less than your best work. You have a reputation and a platform to build for that book you want to write. And your customers deserve quality. But there are deadlines that may prevent you from running an article by your critique group (if you have one, and I hope you do).

So before you begin, head over to the library or your favorite online bookseller and look for some of those self-help books for writers that almost everyone uses but not many admit to. Honestly, the size of the book is no indication of the amount of help it contains. A little gem, especially if you’re brand new to writing, is 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost. Another is The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King will help you now and with your future novel. I wish more nonfiction book authors would read them too. Then I’d read more nonfiction. But I digress. Back to some recommended books. Try The Art of Column Writing by Suzette Martinez Standring if you wish to write–you guessed it–a column. And I like Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley if you want to write for young adults, whether fiction or not.

Before you know it, you’ll snare an assignment that pays.

Learn by doing. Help others. Make a difference in your life and theirs. Volunteer–to write!

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