By Lisbeth Coiman
Taking the first steps into writing demands an immediate assessment of your finances. The cost of regularly submitting work for publication, attending conferences, or workshops, subscribing to publications, supplies, and other unforeseen expenses consume the usually limited resources of an unprepared emergent writer. Even those who live on writing have to approach their job with a thrifty mentality. Organization and careful planning are the fundamentals principles of writing on a budget.
1. Track every penny
I start my year with an expense tracker on an excel sheet. If your income this year barely makes it above poverty level, be thrifty and watch every penny. If you decide to report your writing as a business, it is mandatory that both income and expenses be carefully recorded for tax purposes. A spreadsheet is easy to prepare and must include mileage, supplies, gasoline, submissions, memberships, subscriptions, and can even cover charge to attend poetry readings. For a complete list of tax deductible items for writers see. Here is another.
2. Set specific goals
It is still early in the year to jot down your goals on a vision board. I’m aiming at 100 rejections and to complete a collection of short stories I started years ago. Those are two specific goals that require a sustained flow of submissions on one hand, and on the other learning what it takes to write a well crafted work of speculative fiction. Submissions and workshops are two major expenses in the budget of any writer, and they must be approached carefully and with common sense.
3. Make a shopping list
Much like in grocery shopping, write a list of what you need and stick to it. Don’t shop hungry. Decide early on how much you want to spend on submissions, and chose only those calls you can afford. There are plenty of $3 submissions for emergent writers. Collaborate with other writers and share subscriptions to magazines and journals to minimize cost.
4. Attend local conferences and workshops
Where attending large writing conferences offer great opportunities for networking, wait until you have a substantial body of work in your hand, and until you have a few writer friends who want to trek the conference lobby with you. In the meantime, use your limited budget to attend local workshops with writers you know and whose work you admire.
5. Find your tribe
A word of caution on workshops, conferences, and writing retreats, especially those involving trips to fascinating destinations: a last minute cancelation can leave you cold with a non-refundable airplane ticket in your hands. In writing as in any other business, predators prey on the less experienced and most vulnerable. It is true that a writer needs contacts and connections, but do not work for free for anybody promising just that. Instead, find your tribe and become active member of a community. Be ready to give, and accept humbly what’s offered to you.
6. Spare the cute; splurge on pleasure.
As for the coffee mug with the badass slogan, the irresistible soft leather journal, and the latest t-shirt, just put it in your wish list, and use the money instead in the indulgence of your choice, be it chocolate, manicure, or movie tickets. You’ll need some self-love when the rejection letters start arriving.
Lisbeth Coiman is an emergent, bilingual writer wandering the immigration path from Venezuela to Canada to the US. She has performed any available job from maid to college administrator. Her work has been published in Hip Mama, the Literary Kitchen, YAY LA, Nailed Magazine, Entropy, and RabidOak. She was also feature in the Listen to Your Mother Show in 2015. In her self-published memoir, I Asked the Blue Heron (Nov 2017), Coiman celebrates female friendship while exploring issues of child abuse, mental disorder, and her own journey as an immigrant.
She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches and speaks for NAMI about living with a mental disorder. She dances salsa to beat depression.