Continuing Professional Development occurs across most industries and it applies to writing too.
Learning how to write
Nobody but nobody writes the perfect story, article, poem, play, or what have you at the first go. By trial and error, learning from other writers (by following their blogs, reading things like Writing Magazine, going to creative writing classes and/or good writing conferences, online or otherwise), you pick up from all of these what has worked and what has not. You learn how to format your submissions to the requirements of a publisher. You can learn from your rejections too, especially if you’re lucky enough to get feedback.
Over time, you get better at working out how to improve what you do and which markets are likely to be interested. Still no guarantees of course. There isn’t in any industry but over time acceptances start coming in and you can build on those.
So learning to improve how you write is one form of CPD for a writer and I would say it is the most important one. (Oh and learning how to handle rejection is important too. You come to realise these things are never personal, every writer gets them or the dreaded “no-hear”, and it is case of picking up your PC/pen and moving on with the next piece of work).
Working Out What Suits You
What do I mean by this? Well, it is a given that nobody accepts handwritten manuscripts and haven’t done for years so it is a question of laptops/PCs etc. It is also a question of whether you’ll use a Windows based system or go for an Apple and things like that.
Then there comes the question of software. I now use Scrivener for all of my writing (along with Evernote, especially back in those heady days when I could go out and about by train and write via my smartphone).
Part of the reason I switched from Word to Scrivener was the recommendation of other writers, taking full advantage of the 30 day trial Scrivener give you (and not 30 consecutive days either, which was great), and getting fed up with Word crashing on me.
Ironically I do still use Word but I “export” my Scrivener files to it for when I want to print a document out or want to email a story to someone. It is still easier to send them a .docx file rather than a .scrivx file. Not everyone has Scrivener!
But for my projects, and especially the long term one I’m working on now, Scrivener is a joy to use and I can do more with it than I found I could do with Word. This is proving to be increasingly useful. Someone described Scrivener as having an electronic binder with all your notes in one place. It’s a good description and it is far easier to move things around in this format.
And then there’s social media which deserves a heading to itself, I think…
Social Media – It is Meant to be Social, honest!
It pays all writers, at whatever stage of their career they are at, to make other writing buddies. The support and encouragement from other people who know and appreciate the joys and challenges of inventing stories or writing articles is important. Every writer faces periods where nothing but rejections seem to hit your inbox or a particular writing task is proving unexpectedly difficult. So where to meet potential writing buddies?
The obvious places are at creative writing events such as Swanwick or Winchester. Then there are the creative writing classes and societies like the Hampshire Writers’ Society. Only one snag… due to You Know What these are all online…
So that’s another reason to engage with some form of social media to ensure you do not miss being able to join in with these things.
Plus there are lots of writing groups on Facebook. I am a member of some of them. I deliberately don’t belong to too many as I like to visit (and comment on posts) as regularly as possible. As with any kind of relationship, it is a give and take. What all the groups on Facebook will have in common are certain rules which generally are:-
1. Be nice.
Shouldn’t really have to say that one but sadly it is needed.
2. Don’t just put up a post asking for people to buy your book and never turn up again.
The reason for that is social media really is meant to be social. The groups online want you to join in with conversations and contribute interesting material which will help/entertain others. In turn you will come across interesting material which will help/entertain you. It is all about give and take here.
When it comes to seeking publication or being published, one thing publishers will look for is whether you have any social media platform. What they are looking for here is evidence you are part of the overall writing community, you have an audience you can reach out to (and therefore are potential buyers for your books), and they can also get a sense of how you write and come across when reading the posts you put up on Facebook etc.
It makes sense to focus on the social media outlets you feel most comfortable with as you are more likely to stick at it. Publishers also look for author consistency. A writer who posts and joins in with posts regularly has far more of a platform than someone who posts once in a blue moon and doesn’t join in.
Continuing Professional Development has a role to play with this side of things too. I’ve found engaging with social media has helped me with marketing (and publishers love that!), but just as importantly, you learn to engage with people you may or may not ever meet. And that’s useful experience.
I’ve learned to get better at judging which kind of posts I write for my Facebook author and book pages are more likely to attract responses (likes and the like!). I sometimes put a free flash fiction story up on my book page as an advert for what I do and as a means of hopefully drawing people into my Facebook pages. But it has taken me time to work out what I can do with my Facebook presence and how to make the best of that.
And I am sure I will continue to learn new tips and hints and keep on improving.
Oh and I learned for my recent cyberlaunch too, not just from past experience and that was useful, but from what is available now to writers. When I had my launch for From Light to Dark and Back Again back in 2017, Zoom was just a wonderful word to get out in Scrabble and Facebook had not launched their Facebook Live service (live streaming basically). So for Tripping the Flash Fantastic I had more options available to me but I did need to be aware of how else I could have held the launch. And I wouldn’t rule out having a Facebook Live event at some point.
Not an obvious thing to come into the life of a writer, perhaps, but it does. Whether you are published traditionally or self publish or do both, every writer has to advertise their wares. You need to get people to come to you but they need to know you exist and have something of value to offer first. So you learn to prepare marketing materials for when you do have a book out.
I recently went to an online (that word again!) seminar about a graphics design company aimed at authors called Book Brush. It was an eye-opener and what I have learned from it already is going to help enormously with my marketing. I also plan to be using some of the things I create from this for my CFT posts too. See below for one example.
So far I’ve learned to create 3D images of my book, create some great looking adverts, and start designing images I hope to use in other forms of writing. This is also going to help me with book videos and even story videos for my Youtube channel. A short piece called The Best Laid Plans was recently created on Book Brush and I’ve played with animation here. See the video here. Be sure to watch to the end though.
And I know with time and practice I can get better at this. You have to be willing to put in the time and commitment and effort. Mind you, isn’t that true of life as a whole?
Continuing Professional Development may need to be renamed as Continuing Personal Development and that is definitely open to us all. It’s good for us too. If you seek to improve on what you do, you (a) won’t get stuck in a rut or (b) rest on your laurels. Striving stretches us creatively. Who knows what you might find you can do?
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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