BEGINNING WRITER’S TOOL BOX: PART 4 – EDUCATION AND TRAINING WHEN YOU CAN’T AFFORD CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAMS AND CONFERENCES

“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”  Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, Hugh MacLeod 



Creative writing programs – certificate, degree / residency or low-residency – available through colleges and universities are the first to come to mind, but I know these are not feasible for everyone. They’re expensive, as are conferences. You have to be able to carve time out from your day job and family responsibilities. Sometimes transportation is a challenge. You might be homebound due to illness or disability. If these are some of the barriers you face, there are lots of resources to explore. Not all require you to get your hot little body to a classroom. Some won’t cost you a dime.  Some are moderately priced.

AUTODIDACTISM (SELF-EDUCATION) is education without the guidance of teachers or coaches.  If your circumstances are such that this is the route you must go, don’t turn your nose up at it or feel in any way inferior.  Don’t be tempted to think it’s not credible. You’re not going to do surgery on anyone. You are going to tell stories and write poems. Your best teachers are the other writers you read and study. Your best practice is writing every day. This is not to discourage people from aspiring to and obtaining higher education or to put that route down. It’s just an acknowledgment that some may not have the temperament and others may not have the resources.

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for ten years.” Ray Bradbury.

Some self-taught writers and poets :

  • Maya Angelou, poet, writer, entertainer, activist.
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine writer, essayist, and poet.
  • Truman Capote,novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor.
  • Camilo José Cela, Nobel Prize for Literature
  • John Clare, poet.
  • Joseph Conrad, novelist.
  • Julio Cortázar, a novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist.
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, scholar and poet of New Spain (Mexico).
  • Machado de Assis, considered a great Brazilian writer.
  • Mukul Deva, a well-known Indian writer, keynote speaker and coach.
  • Harlan Ellison, multi-award-winning speculative fiction author and screenwriter. Ellison attended Ohio State University for about a year-and-a-half. He was expelled for hitting a professor who criticized his writing.
  • William Faulkner, Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist writer, lecturer, and thinker at the turn of the 20th century
  • Hermann Hesse, Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Maxim Gorky, writer.
  • Knut Hamsun, Nobel Prize for Literature
  • Henry Miller, famous for breaking with existing literary forms.
  • Jack London,a novelist, journalist, and social activist; a pioneer in the world of commercial magazine fiction, London was one of the first writers to earn a fortune from writing
  • Howard Phillips Lovecraft, primogenitor of modern horror fiction.
  • Nazir Naji, a Pakistani writing in Urdu, rose from poverty to progressive news columnist, intellectual, and a speech writer to former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
  • Sir Terry Pratchett, a writer of science fiction, fantasy and children’s books. He is quoted as saying “I didn’t go to university. Didn’t even finish A-levels. But I have sympathy for those who did.”
  • José Saramago, Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize for Literature. A Bengali who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
  • Mark Twain, writer and humorist.
  • August Wilson, a playwright, attended school through ninth grade and then continued his studies at the local library.
  • George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize for Literature, left school in his teens. It is said he compared schools to prison.
  • Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Louis L’Amour, known for his novels of the American West.
  • Alan Moore, graphic novelist, V for Vendetta and Watchmen.
  • Wally Wood, comic book writer.

RELATED:

ADULT EDUCATION:  The cost for adult education is nominal or free. These tend to focus on remedial education (which some readers might feel they need) and work training. The roster of classes just might include art, poetry, memoir writing, and short-story writing. I encourage you to think outside the proverbial box as well. Many many years ago I took a bookkeeping class to help with the tax records and the business side of my writing. Computer classes might also be a worthy consideration if you feel you need to kick your skills up a notch. I know of only one publication that accepts hand-written poems by snail mail.  Fewer and fewer accept submissions via the postal service. Most now want submissions by email or through a submission processing system like Submittable.

The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network provides seven keys to adult education.

  • Adults cannot be made to learn. They will only learn when they are internally motivated to do so.
  • Adults will only learn what they feel they need to learn. In other words, they are practical.
  • Adults learn by doing. Active participation is especially important to adult learners in comparison to children.
  • Adult learning is problem-based and these problems must be realistic. Adult learners like finding solutions to problems.
  • Adult learning is affected by the experience each adult brings.
  • Adults learn best informally. Adults learn what they feel they need to know whereas children learn from a curriculum.
  • Children want guidance. Adults want information that will help them improve their situation or that of their children.

Canadian Literacy and Learning Network. Principles of Adult Learning Archived 2014-02-17 at the Wayback Machine.. Jossey-Bass, 2013

COMMUNITY COLLEGE: In the US these colleges offer programs that are two years (generally associates degrees) or short-term education leading to certificates.  There’s nothing that says you have to walk the degree or certificate path. You can create your own program focusing on literature, writing, communications, and technology classes that directly meet your personal needs and goals as a writer. For added convenience, some classes are available online.

“A community college is  … a term  [that] can have different meanings in different countries: most community colleges have an “open enrollment” with a high school (also known as senior secondary school) completion, but usually refers to an educational institution that provides workforce education and college transfer academic programs.” MORE Wikipedia

LIBRARIES and INSTRUCTIONAL BOOKS:  For the frugal there’s always the library, the best budget-wise book option. Many libraries have kind volunteers available to pick-up and deliver books to the homebound. Your local library may host book-clubs, writing clubs, and classes. The local library is a good place to start.

Type in “How-to Write” in the Amazon search feature and see how many books come up.  Writer’s Digest and The Writer (to name just two publishers) have more books on writing than you would ever need. They address the subject every which way: poetry, novels, character development, plotting, revising, query letters, crafting the short story, ghostwriting, freelancing, and on and on.

LOCAL POETS AND WRITERS: Find established poets and writers living near you – it will take a bit of research and networking – and see if they teach classes or if they host weekend workshops. You may find listings in writer’s trade magazines. Often classes will be once a month or once a week and held at the writer’s home. This helps to keep costs low and therefore registration fees are low and perhaps affordable for you. Value added is that if the coach/instructor is impressed with your work, they are sometimes willing to use their connections to help you get published. Another value added is that you will make friends with other poets and writers.

DISTANCE LEARNING (REMOTE CLASSES)/POETRY SCHOOLS: I suspect there’s a lot of this around the world thanks to current technology. You’ll have to do some digging. Do an online search and  network with other writers and you might find some good small schools in your area or region. As an example, the Poetry School in the UK sounds genius, “largest provider of poetry education, providing inspiring education and ways to connect with other supportive poets.”  Poetry School offers downloadable courses for remote learning. Second Light Network offers remote workshops too.

YOUTUBE: This is a truly rich resource that includes writing classes, literature courses, poetry readings, and discussions with panels of poets and writers, which you can access for free and at whim. Often the “classes” are presentations made at those conferences you couldn’t get to or couldn’t afford. Literature courses are posted by such prestigious institutions as Yale University.  Poetry readings come from a broad range of outlets that include, for example, Emery College and the Dodge Poetry Festival. Do a search by poet, school, or a more specific interest like ecopoetics.  Here’s a sample:

I hope this helps you find the instruction you need or want. Good luck!


Often information is just thatinformation– and not necessarily recommendation. I haven’t worked with all the publications or other organizations featured in my regular Sunday Announcements or other announcements shared on this site. Awards and contests are often (generally) a means to generate income, publicity and marketing mailing lists for the host organizations, some of which are more reputable than others. I never attend events anymore. Caveat Emptor: Please be sure to verify information for yourself before submitting work, buying products, paying fees or attending events et al.


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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

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8 Comments on “BEGINNING WRITER’S TOOL BOX: PART 4 – EDUCATION AND TRAINING WHEN YOU CAN’T AFFORD CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAMS AND CONFERENCES

  1. Your series has inspired me to learn. The sometimes simple act of putting words together and the delight in that, isn’t enough. I agree it was, is, extrmely useful. Thanks for including the Canadian resource. 🌼

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Respected Jamie Ji, In this series this is the best information, support and inspiring article with extremely beneficial links.Thank you, your work is highly appreciated and recommended.

    Liked by 1 person

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