June 13th, 2016

Writing Craft for Lone Wolves and Authors on a Budget

by Piper Bayard

Sshh! I have a secret. I’ve never said it out loud, but I’m going to share it with you – because you need to know.

I’m an author with two books out. Both books made the top ten of one bestseller list or another. I also post at over 60 websites nationwide that reach four million Twitter followers, give or take a few. Some people would say I’m doing okay. Some of those people will never look at me the same way after they know this about me . . .

*deep breath*

I have never taken a creative writing class, I have never read a book on creative writing, and I neither have nor want a critique group.


Are you still with me?

Here’s another secret. I’m not the only one.

Some of us writers shut down when we have too many voices in our heads, and we have to be very picky about who we allow into our creative process. Some of us must fight off the compulsion to write with perfection, and we know that if we ever stray into the Tide Pool of Over-Analysis, we will never find our way back to the Ocean of Get it Done and Move On. Some of us give too much weight to the opinions of others when we should be listening only to select professionals and ourselves. And some of us become addicted to the weekly strokes of a loving critique group that has never published a novel between them, choosing the short-term ego gratification over the desolate wasteland of years of trampled self-esteem in exchange for crumbs of opportunity. Some of us need to run as lone wolves if we are to run at all.


Piper Bayard

Canstock captured this actual photo of a Lone Wolf Writer in the wild.


But here’s another, more practical reason some of us writers avoid writing classes and books . . . THEY ARE FLAMING EXPENSIVE!

Let’s face it – we’re writers. That means we are probably working some other day job, or someone in our lives loves us enough to feed us while we play with our imaginary friends. Most of us aren’t rich (yet), but even we lone wolves need to nurture our craft.

Here’s good news! We can do that and become excellent authors without paying through the nose. This is how . . .


Do it now. Some writers want to wait until they “know how” to write. That’s like waiting until we know how to walk before we stand up and move. Every art, every career, has an apprenticeship. For writers, that’s our first million words, so the earlier we start, the better.

“But I suck! I need to learn what I’m doing.”

Of course, you do. We all do. Even if our final product doesn’t suck anymore, at some point in every WIP every writer, even NYT bestsellers, looks at the page and says, “This sucks!” But the act of writing is an indispensible component of learning to write well. Maureen Johnson says it best.




Yes, blog, especially if your novels have not yet been published. Blogging is like lifting at the gym to build writing muscles, and it has multiple benefits, particularly for newer writers.

  • Blogging counts toward the million-word apprenticeship.
  • It fosters good work habits by requiring us to meet weekly deadlines for polished product.
  • It teaches us to organize and condense our thoughts and eliminate excess words.
  • It gives us a mostly safe space to get the worst of our sucking out of the way. (See above.)
  • It fosters a professional writer attitude because we ARE writing, and we have a product to show for ourselves. When people ask if we are published, we can give them a business card with a website and articles they can read. When we take ourselves more seriously, so does the rest of the world.

Locate online writing jedis and follow their advice.

Writers are generous people, and there are some brilliant writers and editors who are gracious with their knowledge and experience. Find a FEW of them who resonate with you, and read their posts regularly. Don’t read too many, or you’ll get caught up reading all day instead of writing. (See above.)

A good way to locate writing instruction that resonates with you is to check out the Writer’s Digest 100 Best Websites for Writers. These are a few of my personal favorites that have helped me the most over the years:

I also highly recommend following Hiro Hattori mystery author and publishing attorney Susan Spann’s #PubLaw series every Wednesday at noon Pacific on Twitter.

Befriend authors on social media.

All writers need friends. All writers have questions. Friends help us with questions. Those of us writers who do not take writing classes or read craft books need more friends and may have more questions.

Keep in mind that, while writers are generous, they are busy. A good rule to follow is that almost everyone, even the busiest, most famous author, is good for ONE question. Solid friends are good for two questions. Only people who love us or who are taking our money are good for three or more questions. If we remember that when we start asking questions, we won’t impose, and friends will be happy to help us.

  • Twitter and Facebook are great places to make friends. Look up authors whose work you admire. Follow them. Talk to them. They usually like to make friends, too.
  • Read the comments at the writing posts you’re following. If you like a comment, reply to it. Look up the person on Twitter and Facebook and follow them.
  • Join writers groups in Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter, #MyWANA is a great place to chat with other writers. Also, many local writers organizations have groups on Facebook.

Remember, we have to BE friends to MAKE friends. When we give what we have to give, which on Twitter and Facebook means likes, retweets, and shares, people appreciate our support, and most of the time, they will reciprocate – and they will answer our questions.

Go to a conference.

Wait . . . What? You just said writing classes are too expensive, and now you want me to pay for a conference? Don’t blame me. Nothing worth having is free. Except love and sunshine and walks in the rain, yada, yada. You know what I mean.

The good news is that one conference each year is plenty.

Good writers conferences are the best deals in the publishing world. Many are reasonably priced, and they provide opportunities for irreplaceable face time with fellow authors, agents, and editors, as well as short classes on everything from character development, to plotting, to forensics. They inspire and encourage us to keep going once we’re back in our writing caves, and they help us make lifelong author friends.


Jenny Hansen, Donna Newton, Piper Bayard, Ingrid Schaffenberg, Kristen Lamb -- Lifelong friends from DFWCon 2012.

Jenny Hansen, Donna Newton, Piper Bayard, Ingrid Schaffenberg, Kristen Lamb —
Lifelong friends from DFWCon 2012.


Research and ask friends which conferences they recommend for your budget, your location, and your genre. Some conferences keep agents and editors isolated from attendees. Others, like the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in Denver, intersperse editors and agents with attendees throughout the conference. I highly recommend the latter model. These conferences tend to be less elitist and more welcoming to newcomers. Save pennies, choose wisely, and make the most of the abundant opportunities for growth and connections.

Online conferences also provide some interaction with other authors and some short instruction, but for the lone wolf writers, the annual gathering in person is indispensible.

Edit and beta read.

Once we have a grip on novel structure and character development, one of the best things we can do to further our own craft is to edit and beta read for our author friends. It’s always easier to spot issues in someone else’s manuscript than it is to spot them in our own, and it’s always easier to spot our own manuscript issues once we’ve seen them in someone else’s. It’s also a great way we can give back to our friends. (See above.)

Read. Read, read, read.

Whether a lone wolf or not, reading is the best way to study writing. Read books you like and think about why you like them. Read books you hate and think about why you hate them. Identify your own writing challenges, and study authors who have mastered them. While reading great writing can be depressing when we are still in the suck stages of our own process, if we do it enough, it will rub off on us.

So now my deep, dark secret is out. But baring our hearts is necessary to connect, and connecting is the most essential part of the journey, even for the lone wolves.

Are you a lone wolf writer, or do you take formal classes and participate in critique groups? What are your budget-friendly tips for nurturing a writing career?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Piper

Bayard and HolmesPiper Bayard is an author, a recovering attorney, and the managing editor of the Social In Worldwide network. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE. You can find Piper at BayardandHolmes.com.

54 comments to Writing Craft for Lone Wolves and Authors on a Budget

  • Wow, outing yourself on WITS – a surprise for a Monday! No judging here – writing is so hard that I think everyone should do whatever works, to get them to ‘the end’.

    I know you’re going to validate a bunch of lone wolves today, Piper. Thanks for taking the chance, and helping others.

  • Thank you, Piper. You gave me the nugget I needed today. I have too many voices in my head, many are the opinions of others. I need to trust myself and dare to query.

  • Lone wolves and authors on a budget ,,, what a topic and how it resonated with me, Thank you, Piper.

  • As a fellow lone wolf, I totally agree with you about crit groups. Feedback is essential though and I dream of someday finding the Mr or Ms Right Critique Partner who has time and who “gets” my writing. I have found a couple of writing books I love (Swain being one of them) but I’ve thrown lots more against the wall!

    • It’s a real blessing to find the right beta readers and friends who will listen to our plots spin and give good feedback. I trace all of mine back to conferences. All the best to you for finding those resonating voices.

  • This post is almost like ESP! I recently read a book by a fellow author at the same publishing house, and in the Acknowledgements she thanks her beta readers – other authors. And I thought, “wait, I thought once you get pub’ed, you rely on your agent and your editor. Totally. You don’t use beta readers. Huh???” Yeah, my thought was just like that.

    Because… Lone Wolf here. I’ve never been to a writing class, conference, etc. I don’t use beta readers or CP’s. This post (video was hilarious too, btw) totally resonated with me. Great post and it’s really good to know there are more LW’s out there than we probably realize.

    • I’ll be honest. I wasn’t positive I wasn’t the only one until I saw all of these wonderful comments. 🙂 . . . As for the agents and editors, I have never had an agent, but I have had editors and publishers. I would never send them anything that I hadn’t had thoroughly vetted by beta readers and a proofreader.

  • Solid, priceless advice! I’m so time-crunched these days that all of the really useful, eye-opening things I’ve learned lately is from the very writing blogs you listed… And at this point, even if I weren’t time-crunched, I’d probably continue staying up to date through blogs rather than classes and craft books. Thanks for both the validation that I’m not alone in my approach, plus a few more great ideas.

  • From the isolation of my cave. I peak my head out after months of absence to visit my friends at WITS. Good to be back. Better to start with this post. Thanks, Piper 🙂

  • I need a lone wolf period! I have tried taking every class, reading every book, joining every crit group, attending loads of conferences–and my craft benefited from all that exposure. Unfortunately, I find that I’m such a golden retriever that I’ll twist my work to fit a dozen perspectives, leaving my with slobbery and shapeless chew toy. With my current WIP, I’m staying out of the dog park until I’m done.

  • Wonderful, validating (for me) post. And, the Maureen Johnson vlog was also inspiring. I can see that blogging is in my not-to-distant future.

  • I’m not alone when I have WITS and other wonderful blogs to help me. My two novels are in the midst of revisions. When I wonder if I’m delusional I come here and seek out my writing friends on Twitter for encouragement. I always get it. So every day, I am writing. Thank you.

  • Thank you, Piper! Just thank you. It’s nothing new to me, just validation of something in my gut I’ve been feeling all along.

    I will say this though… a small group of beta readers, to me, is a sort of critique group. It’s more selective, but it’s still a critiquing group of sorts. And I wouldn’t trade my “select four” people for the world…

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I get so tired of the people who say you must do this, read this book, buy this book, take this online class, etc… I know so many published writers, even bestsellers, who haven’t.


  • Holly Robinson

    Piper, this is terrific advice. The best thing a writer can do is banish the word “should” from her vocabulary. Thank you for reminding us of that.

  • Hillary

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m in a fairly remote location, and just don’t have friends or family willing to devote much time to reading my material. I’m so glad to know others have succeeded without a critique group as well!

  • Wow – I’m a bit grouped-out at the moment, so reading this post gave me ‘permission’ to be a bit more of a lone-wolf writer. My oh my. And yes, I will likely have a group of other published authors read my writing for feed-back – while I write more stories, and more stories… Thank you.

  • Thank you so much for this post! Somedays, I become so bogged down in emails or blogs, I get nothing accomplished. And, retaining all of the information from the “How-to” books – well, leaves my brain in a twist! This so just what I needed. Thank you so much.
    @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

  • Much wisdom from experience generously shared and gratefully received.

    Not having published yet considering one work a post-beta-read edit away from submitting to a literary agent, I’m gathering resources from within my head to unleash my modest work upon the world, alas while remaining within the confines of my mental health prison.

    A part of me would dearly love the shoulder-rubbing sociability of a conference, but my social anxiety disorder demons condemn me to the house and its isolation. How I may still metamorphose from writer to author I have yet to determine if such seeming mandatory sociability is indeed a prerequisite for success, but then I recently read of J.D. Salinger’s battle for privacy and see my situation is far from unique.

    As with all things of value, patience, perseverence and perspicacity are key, so I will continue regardless, appreciative of all pearls of wisdom so selflessly provided.

  • Suzann Grogan

    This post is another reason why WITS is the one blog I read consistently! Many, many thanks for your courage in revealing your Lone Wolf status. It definitely helps the rest of us still lurking in the shadowy word-woods, watching the distant campfires of writing classes from afar. And wondering if we should be there … but we can’t … but would it help …?

    Since I am a lone wolf on a budget, all of this resonated hugely with me and eased the demons-of-insecurity-inspired fears that I’m doing it all wrong. One thing I’ve done right: I do have one (so far) long-term beta-reader, a friend who helps with gut feelings about plot and flow. While she can’t always answer what she found ‘off’ with an area/passage/whatever, (she’s a self-professed reader, not a writer) at least she can point me at the problem. It’s up to me to circle it and find any weaknesses.

    This also answered my ongoing mental argument about attending a writer’s conference, since I think my inner lone wolf can handle a couple days in civilization. Now I’ll just have to save up my lunch money, so my pocketbook can cope.

    But ongoing classes? Live, scheduled, critique groups? A multitude of instructions and opinions and money drains? Sorry, that dark shadow at your periphery is me, padding off into the woods and back to my quiet den. To write, always to write….

  • angeliquedaviesdutoit

    This is music to my ears and comforting to have my gut instinct confirmed. Thank you!

  • So glad I could be helpful. I hope you make it to a conference. Let me know how it goes for you. 🙂

  • Great post, Piper. I follow all but two of those blogs I think, and a couple others. Some I got from the list website you sited, others I found through social media. Thanks for sharing your Lone Wolf thoughts.

  • Wendy McLeod macknight

    Love this post, Piper! I tend to mostly be a lone wolf, too, and am very picky of who I share my work with before I send it to my agent. Some critiques are more soul destroying than helpful, and sometimes they are the blind leading the blind!

  • […] Julie Eshbaugh gives us 5 steps to becoming a writer, and Piper Bayard discusses how to learn writing craft for lone wolves and writers on a budget. […]

  • Susan Spann is wonderful! She’s been really helpful to me in the past. I do go to a writing group but there’s no pressure to share work, and I usually prefer the bit at the end when we just generally chat about writing and publishing. But I can see the downsides, because some attendees clearly have an agenda – either they want to show off their own ‘knowledge’ or they’re too keen to be nice and they don’t offer anything helpful. I have three trusted beta readers and an editor that I prefer, rather than letting strangers have a look at what I’ve done. But then I did buy writing books, and I read blogs, so I like to try and offer advice to writers who are just starting out based on what I’ve learned. There are so many books aimed at people who have been writing a while and want to improve, and even more at those who want to publish, but not as many at those who want to try and don’t know where to start. They need virtual hugs 🙂

  • Piper, I did not become published until I became a critique group dropout. Some of us are our own best critics, to rephrase the saying. I do have a select few trusted beta readers.

  • […] Writing Craft for Lone Wolves and Authors on a Budget […]

  • I’m way late to the party here, Piper, but let me agree and agree and agree! In the beginning, some 60 books ago, I read the creative writing books. And kept going back to what worked for me until the light went on and I stopped reading them. As for critique groups, never had or wanted one. I’ve always said that all the stories have been told in one form or another, so the only original thing you really have to offer is how you tell them, IOW your voice. And the more people you run it through, the more diluted that voice becomes.

    And thanks yet again for your help with social media, back in the day. 😉

  • […] If you’re still not sure if you are a Lone Wolf Writer, click here. […]

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