Starting your writing career: A few insider tips for internships

OK, college students, I’ll try not to sound like your mother, but the fact is I have a son in his twenties, so I may not be able to help myself. I want you to launch your writing career in the best way possible and I believe that at least one internship is the way to go. As a manager and editor at the local newspaper I have hired dozens of interns over the years and have turned away three times that many. So here are few ideas to help you avoid that application black hole that may translate into another summer babysitting and mowing lawns.


The résumé — your first writing assignment

This is your chance to sell yourself to a potential employer. If you have no authentic work experience, you can highlight other qualities that show your enthusiasm and suitability for the position. Perhaps you have kept a journal since you were 10? Taught Twitter to your family? Organized and edited all of the emails from your volunteer group? Scored an A+ on a sociology paper?

Don’t overlook your social media experience. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest needs are often filled with eager interns. Without paid writing experience, you probably won’t land a job penning features, but you might be just right as an editorial assistant. Many a career has been launched answering phones and reader mail. With this experience, you will be perfectly positioned to step up for the next internship. Yes, you should pursue another internship. I’ve known aspiring writers who graduated with four or more internships and those guys are your competition for entry level jobs.

In addition to your one-page paper resume, you will want to provide links to your writing samples. Many people create a professional online portfolio. Keep it separate from your personal site. And remember, hiring managers know how to search for you on Google and Facebook.


What to do now that your resume is ready?

When should you start looking for an internship? Right away! I urge you to start applying for internships in your freshman year at college. There are plenty of internship resources on college campuses. Do not turn up your nose at a non-paying/credit-only job. The experience will more than pay for itself when you move to the front of the line on the “real” job interview.

Now, for one of my pet peeves. Answer your phone and check your voicemail regularly! Few employers will make the effort to keep calling you. If you’re difficult to reach, another candidate can easily fill your spot. When I offer you the internship, make sure that you understand the time commitment and other expectations. You may need to work nights, weekends, holidays, or be on call. Welcome to the real world! Employers know you are a student and will negotiate a schedule. But they are not so understanding when you tell them on Wednesday that you are planning a four-day weekend. (Or if you call from the airport instead of showing up for your shift. Yes, this actually happened.)


Now what?

Here are some good questions to ask at the beginning of your internship:
  • What is appropriate dress code?
  • How will I know if I am meeting your expectations? How will I know if I’m not?
  • Will I be able to write for publication? Can I write more than what is assigned to me?
  • Can you point out some common mistakes that I should avoid?
  • How else can I help you?


One last note

You may not consider your internship very glamorous, but remember, all forward movement is good for your portfolio. Even if you have been assigned to compile the June gardening calendar or fact check a list of birthing center phone numbers, treat the job professionally. Build trust, show credibility and you may get to write that feature profile after all.

Extra Credit

Always look for opportunities to contribute beyond your assignment. Once that gardening calendar is finished (on deadline and without errors), ask the boss if you can file a story from the Eco-Friendly Tomato Borer Eradication workshop. If no one else is  clamoring for a specific assignment, it’s just another opportunity for you.

After you submit your assignment, listen to what your editor says about the piece. She may love it in its entirety, want to use half of it, ask for a rewrite or tell you it won’t be published. You can learn from all of these situations. For the worst case scenario, ask: What I can do better next time? Then follow through. Don’t give up. Good writers never stop learning. Being critiqued will improve your writing, and that is what this process is all about. Finally, keep asking questions. Attend networking events, talk to writers, editors, photographers and anyone else who will talk back. Make the most of your access to professionals.


Resources: Where to look for an internship?

Internship Fairs
InternInAustin Internship Fair, Sunday, April 29, 2:30 – 5 p.m. Free for students. As many as 150 Austin employers are expected.
This event is co-hosted by the City of Austin, the office of the mayor and campus2careers.
Registration required.

Your school can help
The University of Texas Communications Career Services office, for example, publishes an extensive list of internships at HireStandards.

Just ask
Pick up the phone and call. A good place to identify media companies that hire interns is this list compiled by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Google it
You can find a half dozen employment search engines, including and A search for “Austin” and “internship” will help you get started.

There’s a lot of controversy over the free internship. Did you ever work for free? Tell us what you think.

Sandra Kleinsasser, PWA May guest blog editor, loves bringing order from chaos as an editor and organizer. She managed content and people as Executive News Editor at the Austin American-Statesman through many periods of rapid change, pounding deadlines and breaking news. She is now available as a communications consultant and problem solver. Learn more about her at or email [email protected]

All PWA blog posts in April 2012 are edited by guest editor Cameron Lindsay.

Be a Professional: Break the rules

I’m not going to lie: Writing about how to be perceived as “professional” is a topic that makes me cringe — not because it’s unimportant, but because the advice you’ll hear on the subject is pedestrian at best.

We’ve all heard it before:

  •  Don’t blog drunk
  • Don’t post your dirty laundry on your blog
  • Don’t drop the F-bomb
  • Use spell-check
  • Identify your audience
  • Write for your audience
  • Get ‘em to buy what you’re selling

You know this. I know this. So why are the biggest writers — the ones we most admire — always the ones that break all the rules?

I just watched “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” and it occurred to me that a lot of that film was about a guy who admits quite candidly to being a former junkie. Think about that for a second. Normally if you tell a potential employer that you used to do hard drugs and have spent some time in prison, they won’t even have you in for an interview (or so I’m told). Yet the New York Times blew off the conventional wisdom and hired this guy to write for them.

He’s not the only one who’s gotten ahead by breaking the rules, but he’s a good current-day example. Obviously his writing is top-notch, or else the paper of record wouldn’t have hired him. Beyond that, does he behave like a “professional?” I guess it depends on your profession and your view of polite society and its restrictions. In the film, he tells off the chuckleheads at “Vice” magazine, which I admired. And his response to the question “Are you scared [about the Times potentially disappearing]?” is featured in the trailer. His reply? “I was a single parent on welfare. This is nothing.”

Gurus and business types will tell you to smooth your rough edges, and to be friendly and personable as to avoid offending anyone. However, for a writer this is death. If you have no rough edges, if you are unfailingly polite, if you have never ruffled any feathers, then you haven’t lived — and you certainly can’t write for the public.

I’m not suggesting that we should all start writing the kind of trash you’d find on “reality” TV, but the fact of the matter is that advice aimed at those wanting to be taken seriously and treated like professionals is for people who have chosen to toe the line. Writers do not, cannot, and should not toe any line but their own.

Maybe this advice will make you a pariah, maybe it will get you blacklisted, and it will certainly piss someone off. You must choose: Are you going to be a great writer, or are you going to be a hack?

Having opinions is dangerous. Expressing them in print is more dangerous. Good writers know this and do it anyway. They have courage where others do not — and anyone who tries to tell you differently is selling something.

Laura Roberts is the author of Rebels of the 512, the best novel you’ll ever read about pirates, ninjas and evil politicians in Austin, Texas. You can find her book online at Amazon and Smashwords, or read more of her work at

All PWA blog posts in April 2012 are edited by guest editor Cameron Lindsay.

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Using networking to find your writing niche

When I first emerged from that cave called graduate school, I had no idea what networking meant. In fact, I had very little knowledge about how to build a career or business, budget and invest money, or do pretty much anything that generated a measurable contribution to the economy.

Huzzah for liberal arts!

The mostly difficult aspect of pitching myself was that I was interested in many different types of writing and wanted to stay open to new experiences, which meant I often ended up meandering through my five-page resume, hoping something would stick.

“Are you interested in my MFA, or shall we begin with the section entitled Creative Arts for the Restless Soul?”

After few returned emails, I somehow found a nice balance and managed to build both a business and a writing career. Here are my top five tips for using networking to find your writing niche.

Rule #1: Know who you are and what you do…

But be flexible. The problem with the “what do you do” question is that it’s asking for a job title. But many different-sounding jobs share skillsets, and many similar-sounding jobs are as different as can be.

Before you start networking for writing jobs, think about what types of writing or editing you do best, why you excel in these areas, and the ways in which these strengths can be stretched to fit other types of writing.

You may think, for instance, financial writing is “blech,” but if you know you excel at making complex, technical jargon accessible, you will see more opportunity when you meet that financial editor than if you’ve already decided, “I’m a travel writer.”

This will help you…

Rule #2: Make a strong impression

The goal of networking is to have people walk away from the interaction thinking, “I may have a project for her soon” or “I know someone she should talk to.” It’s the job of your opening description to pave the way toward a larger conversation — one in which you can both discuss your experiences, specialties and interests. Once that door is open, you’ll find plenty of other opportunities to bring in one or several of your other thousand interests and find a new unexpected role. The more you do to think out your professional writing philosophy ahead of time, the more passion and expertise you will convey and the more likely your name will rise to the top of someone’s mind down the road.

Rule #3: Network intelligently, widely and on many platforms

You never know where you’re going to find a useful connection, let alone what that person will look like or do. If you’re really starting out, experiment with as many different online and in-person networking venues as possible. It only takes one good connection to get your foot in the door somewhere awesome. Professional Writers of Austin (PWA) is a fantastic networking resource, as are WriteByNight and for more informal connections to other writers. Get Tweeting, too, by following publications you’d like to write for. Attend readings and always be ready with a business card.

But don’t just stick to organizations or events related strictly to writing. Everyone is looking for content writers these days, so reach out to people or organizations whose interests or mentality sync with your own.

Rule #4: Cut out all time wasters

You’ll be able to determine pretty quickly whether or not any given networking community has anything to offer you, so don’t be shy about dropping out of ones that aren’t quite a fit. While networking is an essential part of maintaining any business, guarding one’s precious time is as well. When you get to the point where you’re saying, “Well, maybe that woman who owns a carpet cleaning business will one day put up a website that will require droll descriptions of eco-friendly carpet shampoos?” it’s time to cut your losses.

Rule #5: Follow up, follow up, follow up

Once you’ve made a good connection, you must never let it die. Send direct emails to people you’d really like to work with, and connect with anybody else you find interesting on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s called stalking in some worlds, but what successful freelance writer ever made it big without some creepy behavior here and there?

The more you network and say “yes,” the sooner you’ll be able to start narrowing down your interests and pitching yourself in a much more targeted way. So say yes, work hard, and find your niche!

Networking is something we can always improve upon. Do you have any tried-and-true networking tips? Let us know below!

Leah Kaminsky is a short story and freelance writer. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington in 2009. She has placed three times in Glimmer Train top 25 lists and was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices, 2008. Her work has appeared on or in Blackheart Magazine, The Rumpus, Pindeldyboz, The Yellow Ham, In the Snake Magazine and Structo. She posts short-shorts and comics semi-regularly on her website. She is in the midst of launching Just Start Applications, a business, college and graduate school consultancy, located in Texas and Virginia and operating mostly online, and finishing a middle grade book about wacky characters doing wacky things.

This post, as well as the remaining posts of April 2012, is edited by guest blog editor Cameron Lindsay.

The April Fool’s Day hoax: A tradition for sinister scribes

It is believed that April Fool’sDay can be traced back to at least the late 1300s.  In Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” a tricky fox pranks a cocky rooster in a story set on March thirty days and two (“set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.”) — or April first. While proof of an April Fool’s connection to the 14th century writer is speculative at best, there’s no argument that the first of April has become the official day for elaborate tricks and subterfuge. In recent years, journalists, publicists, novelists and editors have produced some of the most memorable April Fool’s Day hoaxes. In an effort to keep the fun alive, PWA has compiled a list of these unforgettable ruses delivered and executed by brilliantly mischievous writers.


A newly found archipelago called San Serriffe that’s shaped like a semi-colon, a hoax. Who woulda’ thunk?

If you read a seven-page feature article in one of the country’s most reliable newspapers about a newly discovered set of islands, would you have any reason to question the validity of the report? In 1977, many British citizens were not skeptical at all when department head of special projects, Philip Davies, produced a multipage package, replete with advertisements, about a tiny archipelago called San Seriffe. It was reportedly located near the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. The top landmass, referred to as Upper Caise and the bottom, known as Lower Caise, were shaped like a semi-colon. The island’s swampy interior was known as Woj of Type and the national bird was the Kwot. Advertisers in on the joke included major corporations like Kodak, Texaco and popular beer manufacturer Guinness. The Guardian’s switchboard was flooded with calls in response to the story. One individual who worked at the Guardian at the time described the feedback as “bedlam.” Evidence that that the wool was successfully pulled over the eyes of U.K. citizens came when a group of do-gooders actually formed the San Serriffe Liberation Front in effort to hold the Guardian responsible for its pro-government position.


Monk-Trained Baseball Prodigy

In 1985, Paris Review founder and editorial director, George Plimpton, wrote a profile on the fastest, on-point rookie pitcher in baseball that had recently been added to the Mets’ roster. Sidd Finch had no formal athletic training, but rather, learned all he needed to know about the position at a Tibetan monastery under the tutelage of the ”great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.” Baseball fans, specifically those whose allegiance were with the Mets, inundated the magazine with questions about the player. Evidence of the prank was there for especially observant readers, however. The first letter of the article’s sub-head spelled out Happy April Fools’ Day, A Fib: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga — and his future in baseball.”


Nixon’s Re-election Campaign Slogan Catches Radio Listeners Off Guard

A well-worded campaign slogan may not win an election, but it can certainly help show a nominee the door (i.e. Barry Goldwater’s pompous, “In your heart you know he’s right” mantra from 1964 and Christine O’Donnell’s couldn’t-be- further-from-reality declaration “I’m you.”) So when folks tuned into NPR on April 1, 1992 and heard Richard Nixon proclaim, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again,” to say that constituents were not ready to give the politician a second chance is putting it mildly. The hoax, featured on the straight-laced program, “Talk of the Nation,” was pulled off by host John Hockenberry and comedian Rich Little, whose imitation of the disgraced president never came into question. Following the faux announcement hoards of angry listeners called in to the station to cast their dissenting vote.


Do you recall ever being taken in by an April Fool’s Day prank on your favorite radio program, blog or newspaper? Or have you ever perpetrated your own successful prank? Tell us about it!

Riki Markowitz founded PWA in January 2011 and launched it as an independent organization in September 2011. While a city girl at heart, Riki lives in rural Austin with PWA’s official mascot, Marcel Proust—a black toy poodle. Riki is also proud to have designed her own online portfolio without help.



All PWA blog posts in April 2012 are edited by guest editor Cameron Lindsay.

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L Style G Style: transforming communities, attitudes

In 2004 Alisa Weldon had an idea for a unique magazine which would speak to Austin’s gay and lesbian community. The idea came to fruition in 2007 with the first issue of L Style G Style.

The goal was to profile leaders in the community who happen to be gay or lesbian and ultimately change perceptions, removing stereotypes fanned by the media.

I wanted those who are gay or lesbian to be able to bridge the gap of communication between families and friends,” says Weldon who designed the magazine to be displayed proudly in any home. The result was a dual sided, flip magazine, one side representing gay lifestyle, the other lesbian lifestyle, filled with 17 editorial categories meant to educate and enlighten.

Profiles with interest

Profiles are the backbone of the magazine. According to Weldon, the most engaging stories are unexpected—the recent profile on Nathan Michaud, for example, a well-respected teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School who also happens to be gay.

“The school not only allowed us to do this story, but allowed us to be public with it which was a really big deal because it removed the stereotype of a what it is to be a gay male teacher,” says Weldon. “Years ago a story like this would’ve turned heads.” Today, it simply inspired.

The story was so powerful, a local counseling group for gay and lesbian high-schoolers who want to come out was created.

“It’s stories like that that really, on some level, change lives rather than just inform that make all the difference in the world,” Weldon says.

How to write for L Style G Style

“Beyond reviewing a writer’s work, one of the things I’m dead set on is that you have to be intensely passionate about your subject,” says Weldon.

L Style G Style has only 21 contributing writers so newbies should come to the table with deeper ideas for the magazine’s current categories which include politics, finance, wellness, love and more. It helps if you’re gay or lesbian, but you don’t have to be.

The best writers, Weldon says, are those with the ability to identify with an interviewee and put them at ease.

“Always lead with who the person is, what emotions can we capture from them, what makes them unique. The focus isn’t, “Hi, I’m gay and here are the things I’ve done.” It’s, “Here’s who I am and here’s what I’ve done in my life, this is what I do today, this is what my path has been along the way and oh, by the way, I happen to be gay or lesbian.

Austin and beyond

Soon writers outside of Austin will get a chance to write for L Style G Style. In the next five years, Weldon plans for the magazine to be distributed in six or seven other cities. Each magazine will be unique to the city’s culture and lifestyle.

No matter what the future brings, L Style G Style will continue to showcase gay and lesbian members of the community as everyday heroes.


Aaron Kubacak has a BS in Communication /Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. His poetry has appeared in the pages of The Stray Branch Literary Magazine and Mystic Signals. His book of poetry, News From The Mountaintop, is available here.
All PWA blog posts in March 2012 are edited by guest editor and PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg.

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Making the choice to self-publish

I love to write essays. Funny ones, to be more specific, at least they are in my (and sometimes my husband’s) opinion. I am a writer and I want to be published. I mean, what writer really doesn’t?

I‘m sure there are a handful of literary bad asses out there who smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, never shave, constantly sip on overpriced whisky and spend weeks at a time clanking away on a vintage typewriter in a dark cabin somewhere. These types of writers may not care if the world sees their stories, but just enjoy the bliss/complete torture that is the creative process.

That is not my style. I feel that a major part of writing is sharing your work with the others –the more the better. It makes me so dorkily happy to hear someone laugh at something I wrote, or when I get an email saying how much someone enjoyed my latest blog post. To me, getting feedback from readers is almost as fun as the writing process itself.

However, if you’ve been keeping up with what’s going on in the publishing industry, you have likely noticed that it is changing faster than Lady GaGa’s wig collection. From e-publishing to print on demand, there are seemingly endless options for getting your work out there, completely independent of a publishing house. But having a lot of options doesn’t make the choice any easier, rather more complex. There is no one right answer for everyone. So how do we choose?

Of course I would love it if a major publishing house called me tomorrow, gave me a three book deal and overnighted me a big fat check, but it is not going to happen.

Please note that I am in no way discrediting traditional publishing. It would be silly to do so. Working with a rockstar editor or seeing your book on a Barnes and Noble shelf would be amazing. And the concept of a book tour – don’t even get me started. I would probably die of excitement before I ever made it to my first destination. Being traditionally published is awesome and it is something I will continue to aspire to, but I am ready to carve out my own path.

If you are a nonfiction writer, you will hear again and again that nobody will take you seriously unless you have a platform. This could mean a massive blog following, an inspirational public speaking career, or an extremely credentialed resume. Sigh. Although I have been blogging for a while, I get super scatterbrained about it and keep changing my theme, domain, direction, vision, posting frequency – basically, everything. Give me a break , okay? I’m in my early 20s and have a few more years before I’m really expected to have my life figured out.

As for a speaking platform, unless there is a huge market of people that want to hear from a frizzy -haired dual cat owner that works in PR and enjoys writing and eating cheese, I don’t think it is in my professional forecast anytime soon. And that extremely credentialed resume? Relax, dude, I’m working on it.

What this boils down to is that my platform is going to be pretty pathetic for a while. So while I work at building that up, and improving my writing of course, I feel I have two options:

1. Spend the next few years sending out query letter after query letter to agents, hoping that one of them will just happen to stumble across my stories in the slush pile and fall in love them.

2. Take matters into my own hands: make an awesome e-book, do all I can to market and let the readers speak for themselves. Hopefully, I will make a few people happy and maybe even a couple dollars in the process. Most importantly, with one book off my mind, I have the freedom to work on the next one which, to a literary nerd like me, sounds pretty amazing.

Clearly, I’ve decided to go with option two and feel pretty dang good about it.

What do you think? Is (smart, non-tacky and professionally executed) self-publishing a good way to start your writing career, or should we continue to fight through the rejection letter trenches? I would love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for my book online soon, and if you see me in an Austin coffee shop cranking out my next one, don’t bother me. I am working.

Katie Schnack is a literary publicist at Shelton Interactive, an aspiring author and published writer. Her work has been featured in Austin Lifestyle Magazine, Redbook Magazine, BE Magazine, and See more of her work at and send her a tweet at @katieschnack..

All PWA blog posts in March 2012 are edited by guest editor and PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg.

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Writing Groups, part 2: How to find a writing group

Editor’s note: Before diving into this juicy piece, check out what guest contributor Meghan Daniels had to say in Writing Groups, part 1: What a writing group can do for you.

In my quest to get back in touch with my inner writer I turned to Google. It led me to the Austin Writers Meetup Group on a little website you may have heard of called I highly recommend it for searching writing groups in your area. If you don’t want to sign up for a website just yet, old fashioned networking is another way to find a group. If you attend local readings or other events catered to the literary crowd, introduce yourself to some new people and ask for recommendations. If you attend a writing class or workshop, ask your fellow students if they know of any existing groups or are interested in starting a new one.

Once I found a group I was interested in I signed up for my first meeting. It would be a discussion-based meeting where members could bring short excerpts to be read and critiqued by the group. I wanted to be brave and share a piece, but I was nervous about what to expect so I cheated and brought a previously workshopped piece. I left with some thoughtful responses and felt immediately jazzed about writing again.

Alas, life soon got in the way. At that time there was only one meeting per month and it was on Saturday afternoons so I found I had a hard time going on a consistent basis. After talking to the group’s organizer about my frustrations, I became an assistant organizer and added some weeknight meetings. Almost four years later—wow, I hadn’t realized it had been that long!—I am now the organizer and we meet at least four times a month.

One of the founding principles I’ve tried to maintain is an honest but respectful environment for writers of all levels to get feedback on their works-in-progress. I want writers going home with feedback that will actually prove useful to them as they move forward with the piece. It might not all be high praise, but I hope it will be balanced and fair. What advice you choose to take and what advice you choose to ignore will always ultimately be up to you, but the group should help you get a better idea of what’s working well and what needs improvement.

One of our members, Jan, had this to say: “I’m so excited I can hardly type. The piece the group worked on with me, ‘Old Friends,’ just got accepted by Lady Ink and will be published in December. I’m thrilled. Thank you.” And I must say I am a little bit thrilled too.

Of course, we’d love to see you at the Austin Writers Meetup Group but I do want to point out that there are a number of other writing groups on worth checking out too. I tell my members there is no rule against belonging to multiple groups. Some other groups my members have attended are Weird Austin Writers and a newish group called Ladies in Writing. From what I’ve been told, the format for both is similar to mine. Finally, a group that I personally attended and found very useful is Sit Down, Shut Up & Write. As you may have guessed from the name, this is a group for those of you who need help committing words to the page.

What about you, PWAers? What writing groups do you know of and/or belong to?

Meghan Daniels has a BA in both English and Psychology from Boston College. By day she masquerades as a cubicle drone in the exciting world of Finance at a B2B Sales Company using neither of her fancy degrees. By night she tries to find time to actually write in between organizing the Austin Writers Meetup Group and attending meetings. She fully intends to start a blog of her own someday soon.

All PWA blog posts in March 2012 are edited by guest editor and PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg.

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Introducing the Austin Roundtable

When most people think of a writer they immediately picture a novelist. However, if you ask full-time writers what they actually do to pay the rent, these days the answer is more likely to be web content, email newsletters, magazine articles or blogging. Real writers crank out copious amounts of nonfiction. If you read anything from Cracked to  The Bloggess you know nonfiction doesn’t equal dry, boring reports.

That’s why PWA is starting our very own creative nonfiction writer’s group: The Austin Roundtable. There are plenty of groups out there for novelists, short story writers, poets and screenwriters. The Austin Roundtable is for the rest of us.

We’re where you go when you need feedback for your nonfiction book, magazine article, website content, or that awesome new blog post. We’ll even critique resumes and cover letters for our fellow nonfiction writers in search of nonfiction writing gigs.

These days, there’s a lot of pressure for witty, eyeball-grabbing nonfiction content. If you’re craving a like-minded group of people for networking and critique, the Austin Roundtable is for you.

You can either bring along printed copies for instant critique or network with your fellow nonfiction writers during the meeting and arrange to exchange critiques off-site. Since Austin is a sprawling city, we offer two meetings a month in different locations. For those people who live up north (where the maps read, “There Be Dragons”) we meet on the 4th Thursday of every month at the Riata Bar and Grill. They have a pool table, cheap drinks and basic bar food, plus plenty of tables for us to take over for networking and in-person critiques. Those of you in the hipper downtown area can join us the 2nd Saturday of every month at WriteByNight, host of Austin’s best writing-related events.

Join the Austin Roundtable–the writer’s group for the rest of us.

2nd Saturday at WriteByNight 2 p.m.
4th Thursday at Riata Grill 7 p.m.

RSVP now!

Chris-Rachael Oseland is a full time freelance writer and the author of SteamDrunks: 101 Steampunk Cocktails and Mixed Drinks. In addition to conjuring cocktail recipes, she writes about technology and geek culture for an assortment of publications. She lives in Austin, TX with three computers, two phones, and a robot vacuum cleaner.

All PWA blog posts in March 2012 are edited by guest editor and PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg.

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Rediscovering poetry in Austin

From writing my first poem in 1998, to receiving my BFA Creative Writing in 2010, poetry has been a challenge and a source of comfort for me. In North Carolina, I gathered the resources to run a monthly poetry reading series, to submit to and be published in my university’s creative journal, Atlantis, and to eventually become the Poetry Editor of the same publication.

I kept gathering momentum until I outgrew my small college town. I thought that I could find the same kind of network, the same source of inspiration in Austin. I sold my car and bought a plane ticket, arriving on a very warm December 31, 2010.

At first, I felt that the possibilities were endless. This town, with its world-renowned live music scene and prestigious film and arts community, was full of promise for me. But I spent weeks staring at a blank page, then months making excuses, and before I knew it a year had gone by with nothing to show for it.

I felt defeated, and my writing suffered. My writing stopped. I avoided my work like a scorned lover, betrayed by my own lack of motivation. Rereading old poems and letters was like seeing that lover with another woman, someone who looked and sounded a lot like me but still had that irresistible youthful glow, that insatiable drive to create art.

Every December, I take time to assess where I was the previous year and where I am in the present. At the end of 2010, I was writing like a madwoman. I’d graduated the previous summer and moved into a beach house for the duration of my time in North Carolina. It was quiet, my own version of Walden Pond that served as both refuge and muse. I had spent years writing, revising my thesis and living poetry every day. I considered myself a confessional poet, which could get tricky in a small town where everyone knew each other’s business. If I stood in front of a crowd and read a poem about crashing a party, the hostess was more than likely in the audience. While I tried not to let this hinder my writing, I saw my relocation to Austin as a chance to find a larger, more anonymous audience. “This is my chance,” I thought, “to be and say anything I want.”

At the end of 2011, I had a wonderful life in Austin but I hadn’t written a single poem. The obscurity that I thought would grant me more freedom to write had diminished my ambition. I had attended a few readings, shopped around a little for creative writing jobs on Craigslist, but somewhere along the way I forgot how to sit down and write a poem. I forgot what it felt like to write because I needed to, because it felt good, because I had some problem that could only be worked through with line breaks, meter and intention. Sometimes this city can be so pleasant, so warm and welcoming, that you forget to struggle, to create.

Finding WriteByNight and Professional Writers of Austin has reminded me what it feels like to be a part of a community of writers. Even writing this blog post, though it’s the first I’ve ever worked on, has revived the part of me that loves the vast possibilities of any combination of words. A year might not seem that long to some poets, or it might seem like an eternity, but for me it’s enough time to realize that a life without writing is no life for me.

These days, I’m trying to remind myself that no matter how important any community is, no matter what kind of pressure I put on myself, I write poetry because it’s what I love to do.

It’s not the beginning of a new year anymore, but I’ve resolved to start writing again. Not because I feel guilty about not writing, even though I do. Not because I eventually want to go to graduate school, even though that is also a very real factor. I want to write to remember, to catalog that time that I started over, when I left everything I’d ever known and showed up in Texas with two suitcases and a handful of half-full journals. I want to finish that first draft of a poem and feel the gears shift into place, and start turning.

Erin Rose Coffin earned her BFA from The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She lives, works and writes in Austin.

All PWA blog posts in March 2012 are edited by guest editor and PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg.

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Writing Groups, part 1: What a writing group can do for you

After moving twice within two years, first to California and then to Texas, I realized I lost my creative soul somewhere along the way. I cared about writing, but it just didn’t consume my thoughts like it used to. For me, writing is how I process thoughts and emotions. Without this outlet I quickly realized something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Getting back in touch with my inner writer became an immediate priority. With a full time job and bills to worry about I knew I needed help getting back on track. I needed deadlines, I needed … a writing class! Or so I thought. Finding a class that fit into my schedule and budget was nearly impossible though. So I looked into writing groups.

I found one online that looked promising and signed up for my first meeting. I was looking for encouragement, constructive feedback and community. I longed to be among other writers hoping that they would motivate me to find my creativity again. I wanted to talk about writing with peers, to see if they understood how it feels to suddenly be struck by a need to get your thoughts down on paper now, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, for fear of losing them forever. I wanted to read other people’s work and be inspired to create my own.

If you are starting to think you could use a writing group of you very own, remember it’s important to find the right one, so don’t be afraid to try out multiple groups. One sign that you’ve found the right group is that you leave feeling energized and ready to keep going. This does not mean that you’ll hear only glowing praise, but rather that you receive thoughtful and constructive feedback. If you’re only receiving accolades it might mean you are a stellar writer but more likely than not, it means you have found a group of cheerleaders.

Cheerleader groups are great for an ego boost but are rarely useful for your actual writing. Let’s be honest, almost no one writes amazing first drafts. (In fact, Anne Lamott has a chapter entitled “Shitty First Drafts” in her book Bird by Bird Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which I highly recommend.) So, if you bring in a first draft of a piece and your group only tells you how fantastic it is, does that really help you improve it? Now what if they told you your dialogue was great, very natural, but that you need to add more description of the speakers so the reader can get a clearer picture of who they are? That would give you something to work with, wouldn’t it? Some direction for your revisions. This is what writing groups should really be about: They should be able to help you distinguish what works well from what needs work.

I was lucky enough in my group to also make friends. We started spending time together outside of meetings doing things like attending plays, singing karaoke or just hanging out at someone’s house for a potluck. These things did not necessarily involve writing, but the important thing was that I had found like-minded creative people to connect with on a deeper level. Not all of them attend meetings on a regular basis, but we still stay in touch and I can always count on them for a willing ear when I need someone to listen to me ramble on about my writing projects. Whether you spend time together outside of meetings or not is up to you, but you should feel some sense of community within the group you choose.

Now, are you ready to go out and find your own group? Yes? Great. In that case, stay tuned for my next post on how to go about it.

Meghan Daniels has a BA in both English and Psychology from Boston College. By day she masquerades as a cubicle drone in the exciting world of Finance at a B2B Sales Company using neither of her fancy degrees. By night she tries to find time to actually write in between organizing the Austin Writers Meetup Group and attending meetings. She fully intends to start a blog of her own someday soon.

All PWA blog posts in March 2012 are edited by guest editor and PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg.