How to Cultivate a Career As a Professional Writer
People tend to think it’s cool when I tell them I’m a professional writer. It can be, but just like any other job it has compelling moments as well as those that are stressful, laborious and difficult. I’ve been a writer for nearly 15 years, and this is my insider’s view of this quietly uproarious occupation.
These days I get the chance to write interesting articles, but I have also written my share of pretty dry reports, instruction manuals, letters and brochures. Scoring compelling assignments is often a writer’s payoff after honing his or her craft by practicing on much less engaging pieces.
Over the years, though, I’ve learned that this job brings out the best in my abilities no matter what the project. For example, I’m not naturally skilled in math, but if I have to generate a financial report, and I need to include facts, figures or statistical data, I can conjure up my most detail-oriented self.
I love to write, and I’m glad I get to do it professionally. My favorite thing about it is that no matter what the topic-even if it may seem dull or difficult when I start the project-the fact that I get to write about it makes the subject interesting. I get to be alone with a topic I might not think about otherwise. I have the opportunity to learn about it, find an interesting angle on it and then articulate a position on it. It’s a fascinating way to explore the world.
If you are thinking of cultivating a career as a writer, here are a couple of tips to contemplate:
Talent alone won’t make you successful
Don’t overvalue your talent. It can’t stand alone. This sounds brutal. I know. But talented writers are everywhere.
A writer’s job is to deliver ideas to an audience in a concise and engaging way. To accomplish this, you have to communicate clearly. Learn the craft. Know how the tools work. Study and practice as much as you can.
I don’t know a single editor who has the time or patience to chisel meaning out of undisciplined prose. Trust me. They hate that.
Do your homework
Become a student of the written word. Seek out your favorite thinkers and writers. Read everything you can. Take literature, philosophy, writing and grammar classes. Be humble and work hard.
Get a variety writing jobs
Find jobs that give you the chance to practice, even if you don’t love the subject matter. It benefits you to try doing different types of projects and assuming a variety of voices. Nothing makes you a better writer than practice. It doesn’t matter what you are writing about, only that you are building up your thinking, reading, writing and editing muscles.
Cultivating relationships with others in the field will yield opportunities in an extremely competitive arena. Getting an introduction from a contact can set you apart from the competition. Just remember, networks are Karma-fueled, so make sure to repay your network.
Grow a thick skin
Sometimes editors will love what you write; other times, it just won’t be what they want. Get used to taking negative feedback about your work. Don’t take it personally.
When you are writing professionally, you have to love your work enough to be engaged. At the same time, you have to put your ego in its place and recognize that it’s just work, and starting over is never so bad as long as you’re getting paid.