Sometimes It Pays to Volunteer

I seem to have spent the last week working for free. I was teaching at the Catholic Writers Conference online,  something I have done several times before. Every time the organizers put out a call for people to teach workshops and lead chats, I think, sure, that will be fun. As the date approaches, I suddenly wake up and think, oh my God, why did I say I’d do this. It’s going to take so much time, and I’m not getting paid. (sound familiar to anyone?)

This year, I led two workshops, “Poetry Party” and “Power Blogging (their titles). For the poetry course, each day I presented a different poetry form with examples, offered a prompt and invited participants to write and post their poems for comments and critiques. Over the week, I learned more about the various poetry forms, and I wrote seven new poems. This is good!

As for the blogging class, I had wanted to teach this for a long time. I had an outline, but I had not written the lessons. Now, thanks to this volunteer gig, I have been forced put the whole course together. It was hard work, but I can use it for paid teaching opportunities. (See my list of classes at

I can also add the workshops and this conference to my resume. So it was not a waste of time. I wrote every day, I made connections with other writers, and I also had the opportunity to participate in all the other classes for free.

The moral of the story is that it’s okay to work for free sometimes for benefits that go beyond money. Just don’t stop writing.

Many conferences are coming up. You can find listings of them at Writer’s Digest or Poets & Writers or Google “writers conferences.” If you want to attend but can’t afford it, think about volunteering to teach, help set things up, make copies, pick up guest speakers at the airport, or whatever they need. It will get you in the door.

Now go write.

Three tips: Writing classes, ‘Quiet’ book, body parts

Click this:

I try not to promote myself too much here, but I have to let you know that I have four online classes for writers starting new sessions on Aug. 1. In each class, students receive weekly email lessons and assignments which are due the following week. I offer extensive critiques of student work and responses to questions any time throughout the course. My students, both online and in person, have gone on to publish extensively, and I welcome the chance to help you do the same.

I have two new classes, Create and Maintain a Successful Blog and Writing and Selling Freelance Articles. Returning are two of my favorites, How to Write and Sell a Column and Reviews and Opinion Pieces. For an overview of all four classes and to sign up, visit

On the Classes page, you will also find information about my editing and critique services. I would love to help you with your writing.

Read this:

I just finished reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain has done extensive research on personality types and the differences between outgoing folks who like to be surrounded by people and quiet folks who prefer to spend their time alone. Although this is not specifically a book for writers, it does offer fascinating insights into how people are wired, and it might give you something to think about as you write about real or imaginary characters.

Try this:

(borrowed from poet Barbara Drake’s workshop)

Pick a body part and come up with as many different metaphors for it as you can in 15 minutes. For example, I used my elbow in our workshop the other night and called it a hinge, a right angle, a bend in the road, etc. If one or more of these inspire a poem or something else, shut off the timer and keep writing.

Now go write