This evening I was asked by one of my online students how to start a TLA (Transformative Language Arts) — Writing for Change or Healing — practice/business. That is a big question and not one easily answered. There are too many factors to consider: location, niche, experience, education, personality, and financial situation, among others. So, instead I will tell my story, as briefly possible.
How to (possibly) start a TLA practice:
- Start a diary at age twelve. Keep writing daily through high school. Stop writing during college except for sappy and maudlin poems after break-ups with each new love of your life and consequently completely lose sight of who you are.
- Read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and start writing “Morning Pages” like your life depends on it. (It kinda does.) Fill binder after binder with complaints and dreams for the next few years. Start calling yourself an Aspiring Writer as you write (embarrassingly pitiful) stories and essays early in the morning.
- Leave your job and the state to become a stay-at-home mother. Get bored real fast and design a journaling workshop and offer it at the local bookstore. Discover the Center for Journal Therapy and start the instructor certification.
- Move again and take part time jobs while finishing the certification and caring for two young kids.
- Finish the certification, get marketing materials (business cards, fliers, website, social media pages) together, and start offering workshops at the local wellness centers, bookstores, coffee shops (including a monthly one for free to get your name out there).
- Contact/join writing groups/centers, networking and social service organizations, colleges and schools, and get your name on a list of alternative practitioners.
- Keep offering workshops despite low turn-out and cancellations. Get posters up wherever you can and blast social media. Do this for … years.
- Keep writing. Finally get the courage to call yourself a Writer. Get published. Start freelancing. Put your “facilitator” in your mini bio at the end of each article.
- Ask, and accept invitations to speak at networking, wellness, and writing events. Collaborate with other facilitators and organizations.
- Discover there is a Masters program in this field in your home state (at Goddard College) and spend the next three years transforming your life in the most amazing way imaginable.
- Open your own writing center and offer weekly workshops. Start getting more name recognition, more speaking engagements, and more writing work.
So, that’s my story in a very small nutshell. But my journey from designing my first workshop to today was a not a short one — at all. My daughter was two when I began and she is about to turn thirteen! And it has been almost seven years since I got certified and I am only just beginning to feel I am “making it.”
Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have helped along the way:
- I live in a small town. I know many people.
- I live in a small, rural state and am one of very few who does this kind of work.
- I said yes to every opportunity until I found my niche (I can adapt my work to many areas and populations).
- I am a freelance columnist. My name is in the paper every week.
- My connections through the Center of Journal Therapy, Goddard College, and the Transformative Language Arts Network have allowed me many opportunities.
Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have hurt along the way:
- I live in a small town. There is not a huge population to draw from.
- I live in a small, rural state. Writing as wellness is not considered a mainstream activity.
- I said yes to every opportunity and took a long time to get focused enough to find my niche and in what/with whom I worked best. My “brand” and “elevator speech” have therefore been unclear — trying to be too many things for too many people.
- (Related to #3) I don’t enjoy marketing myself and may have not always used the most successful methods.
What I believe you don’t have to do that I did:
- Get a MA or other advanced degree in this field. Experience is the best teacher.
What I believe you do need to do:
- Be passionate about this work.
- Do the work yourself. Be introspective and Write. Write. Write.
- Have some training/experience in ethical and successful facilitation practices. Creating safe space for your clients is a priority.
- Familiarize yourself with the theories and modalities of TLA/Writing for Change (through the TLA Certification, for example.)
- Find your niche(s). Find your people. Stay focused. (But be willing/prepared to puzzle-piece your career together with lots of different projects and collaborations).
- Be confident that your work is of value and you should be paid accordingly.
But my number one piece of advice:
Never stop believing you can make this work because if you can’t imagine doing anything else, you will.