A colleague asked me to talk to a friend of a friend who was considering this writing life. We wound up having an email exchange. I unearthed it this morning while clearing out some old files. If you’re thinking about writing for a living and don’t know where to begin, this may help a little:
I am not a job counselor, only a working writer. Take my thoughts for what they’re worth to you.
Are you drawn to commercial or literary writing? Although a part-time poet, I earn a living as a commercial writer, so I cannot really help you if you’re seeking a literary writing career. If you are, I would recommend you begin reading as much as you can of other successful writers. The second piece of advice: buy Writer’s Market (and peruse tools like the Duotrope or Submittable websites) to learn about the outlets in which you’d like to be published, and start submitting your work. (This is just about where I am right now.)
If you’re seeking a commercial writing career, you can choose from many broad areas – journalism, feature writing, advertising, digital content, marketing, technical, scientific… Do you have a sense of what kinds of material you’d like to write?
One way to approach this is to decide who you’d like to help with your writing. Would you like to help technology firms grow their businesses? Would you like to help bird sanctuaries garner more publicity to attract more donors? Or, would you like to help readers understand more about a specific part of the world around them? Your answer will help guide you.
If you’re unsure of a direction, you may want to consider applying for a position as a proofreader or copyeditor at an ad agency, publishing house, news outlet, or large business. That will provide you with the experience of sampling a lot of quality work – from monographs to webpages.
The Internet is rife with terrible writing. Digital outlets (websites, blogs, and publications) clamor for content. They need content to survive, to increase their search rankings. Some publish anything – and pay very little for it. Some are pickier and still don’t pay well. You might consider contributing to HubSpot, The Huffington Post, or other online content generators.
If you want to begin today, start a blog. You’ll need a portfolio at some point, and self-publishing can really flesh out a thin resume – especially if you write well. Write about what you love, and be aware that potential employers (contract or otherwise) will be reading. A successful blog can earn money either through advertisers or with a fundraising link.
I hope these ideas are helpful.
Photo: D Napurano Horizon close to home