This may or may not come as a surprise but ‘making it’ as a writer isn’t something anybody does on their own. A big part of achieving any level of professional success and creative satisfaction is finding and then building relationships with the people, organisations and venues who will support you to develop creatively, and then help you get your work out into the world.
To be clear, these may be organisations that book writers for gigs or schools workshops, set up writing residencies or community projects, offer mentoring time with more experienced writers, run workshops for emerging writers, or provide the opportunity to see work published.
ONE: DO YOUR HOMEWORK, THEN GET PICKY
Focus your energies on just one or two organisations. Rewarding and effective relationships are born from putting in the time and effort to ensure a tailored approach. Get stuck into some research to find out who puts on the type of work or events that you like, or similar to that which you want to make. Which organisations work with artists you look up to? Who is offering the kind of development workshops that appeal to you? Or sending poets at a similar level to you into schools to run workshops themselves?
TWO: MAKE LIKE A BOY SCOUT; GET PREPARED
Now it’s time to get out there. Go to the shows your target organisation put on, sign up to their networking events. Chat to the people you meet, particularly those who organise or perform. If you’ve chosen the organisation well and you’re interested in their work, this enthusiasm will come across. Before attending find out what else they have coming up and be clear for yourself what you like about them. Keep some of these thoughts in the back pocket of your brain in case the opportunity to share them arises. This way you can show that you understand the organisations aims, just be careful not to list everything you love about them in one conversation. Remember it works both ways. Once you learn a bit more about them, are they still right for you or are you back at step 1?
THREE: MAKING YOUR MOVE
Once you’re clear on the organisation you’re aiming for and why, here is how to prepare an approach on a more formal level.
- Make your introduction personal and remind your contact (just briefly!) where you met and the conversation had.
- Say what it is about the organisation that you like, and how it fits with you. Ensure you’ve read their aims and goals from their mission statement or equivalent. Make clear how you can support them reaching those goals, and you have a much better chance of working together.
- Consider the role of the person you’re contacting. It is the job of organisations to work with writers and the people there do their jobs because they are passionate about this. However remember they are likely overworked and inundated with requests. Is your contact the person you need to talk to, or are you hoping they’ll pass you on to someone else? Be clear what you want.
- Include a gentle teaser about your work, links to where they can find more about you, what you’ve done recently, and what you have coming up.
- Take your time. It’s not about sharing your life story along with your hopes and fears for the work with them upfront. If they like the sound of you from the email or phone call, you’ll have more time and greater level of engagement later.
- Finally, to keep a relationship going it’s worth staying in touch with them between projects, even if just on Twitter and Facebook, although managing to coincide at events in the real world is better. As ever, keep your contact on the right side of stalker so as not to scare them off!
Much of what I’ve laid out is common sense but it’s also really easy to get this stuff wrong. Particularly when you’re ambitious, excited, and even slightly scared about the prospect of progressing as a writer. I could have used these pointers a few years back so I hope they’re now helpful to you. Good luck!