You dream of being a writer, but how do you even begin to do that? Well, chances are, you’re already a writer.
You write, don’t you?
See? You’re a writer.
But if your definition of a ‘writer’ earns a decent living with those skills, you’re aiming for a professional writing career—freelance or not. I know freelance has become the new American dream but there are many different kinds of occupational writers.
There are also plenty of staff positions out there, many of which you can do from home—in your yoga pants/boxer briefs. Remote work isn’t necessarily freelance.
You might also find yourself writing for local publications or businesses. Editing, creating recipes, or writing and scheduling social media marketing. Or selling e-books or founding a profitable blog. Getting excited? For a round-up of 28 writing specialties, click here. For a more in-depth discussion on writing career specialties, download the free e-book, 50+ Writing Markets and Resources.
The point is that ‘being’ a writer means something different to each and every writer there is, but as far as professional writing advice? Here’s the best I’ve got:
Most Of The Fear Will Subside, The Exhilaration Will Not
First of all, in the beginning of your freelance career, you’ll most likely experience fear and trepidation at the very thought of contacting job prospects and sending queries or pitches. You’ll agonize over each and every email, taking days to work up courage before shooting them off.
Send those emails anyway—even if they take a few drafts and an act of bravery. Eventually most of this marketing will feel like another day at the computer, even if at first it’s terrifying.
Now I’m not saying I don’t get a thrill when I send an article pitch or check my email (consistently for days) after applying for a juicy position. And I still doubt my ability to write—every time—but the overwhelming fear eventually lessened. Chances are yours will, too. Doing it daily makes it a bit old hat, eventually.
Tenacity And Perseverance Make Professional Writers
Keep at it, even though you’ll be turned down. All writers have to fight rejection for their start. It’s an occupational hazard. Accept your no-thanks-yous and your not-at-this-times, but keep writing and marketing your services. Even once you’re paying the bills full-time, you’ll still apply for jobs and won’t land them. Pitches, too.
It can be hard not to take it personally and get discouraged, but stopping doesn’t make you a professional writer, now does it? And that right there is the difference between those who have made a living writing, and those who have not.
Need Work? Do This!
Market and write and market and write and then market and write some more. If you really want to write full time, like as your only job, put aside some savings or get together some money, get to the point where you’re turning down work—or could easily land enough work to meet your income goals—and then make the jump.
I personally called in until Wal-Mart fired me after three years of employment—I was incredibly unhappy—and walked out with my two-week check, my vacation pay, 401k, and stocks—it was very Tim Ferriss-y—but it was enough to cover my expenses long enough for me to replace that income by writing online. Granted, I had clips and experience writing for two locally printed newspapers, but there’s no reason you can’t start without them. We all start somewhere. See the above point on tenacity.
In the meantime, market and write. Work on your skills and keep applying. Keep brainstorming and email pitches. Outline non-fiction ideas. Read. Study the words and hidden equations in the formats of others’ work.
Don’t Put All Your Income In One Basket
Diversify your client roster so that, if you lose a client, it isn’t your one and only. Having savings tucked away can buy you time if your workload suddenly drops and it can also alleviate the sheer terror of being self-employed, if you’re anxious about your financial security, like I am.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to add that I’m breaking this rule right now. One site I was writing for is undergoing a restructure, so we’re on hold. Another I’d planned on replacing. But I’m making more than enough to pay my bills, have enough savings that I’d have plenty of time to find more work should the worst happen, and this has been a steady client for well over a year. If something goes wrong, I’m covered.
Unless you have a similar plan, I suggest you don’t leave yourself vulnerable to financial crisis. Keep a couple different eggs in your basket.
Admit (To Yourself) If You’re Rusty
The hardest advice to give to new writers is to practice writing. Just write. This is because there are so many writers out there who don’t spend their time writing, yet wonder why their pitches are declined. Pitches can’t be the only thing you write.
Remember what makes a writer? A writer writes.
Chances are you’re just rusty and it doesn’t matter if you admit that to me or anyone else. No judgement here. What matters is that you admit it to yourself so you can fix it. If your craft needs honing, fine. There’s a remedy for that: Write! Give yourself assignments. Try different formats. Read. Ask readers (they can be friends) and writers (join or start a group) for feedback on your work. Then, again, see the section on tenacity.
Make A Plan
Building a writing career isn’t impossible. We can even break it into manageable steps: Earn your first clips. Use them to create a portfolio. Build yourself an impressive website to link to in your emails to new clients. Calculate how much you’re making an hour—then set income goals for each week, each month, and a year. How much do you need to make? Could you make that if you were writing full time? Put some money away—it’s like buying yourself time.
Then go for it!
Once it gets easier and easier to land work, it’s just having the courage to jump. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but it’s sure as hell worth it.