Have you ever dreamed of writing for a living? Getting paid to communicate and tell stories through fiction, marketing, criticism, journalism and more?
It can absolutely be done, and you can be the one to do it! In Part I of this article, I’ll talk about how to start on your path today, and how to hone your writing craft. There’s a lot of hard work and ambition involved, so let’s get started.
The basic element of your craft
What do all successful writers have in common? Whether we’re talking about a New York Times journalist, Agatha Christie, or a 22-year-old who writes for Clickhole, they almost certainly got where they are because they love to read. They are voracious consumers of this craft who have witnessed the power of words, and at some point, decided they wanted in.
Reading sparks a desire in us to tell our own stories. Perhaps more importantly, it helps us become better writers! There may be a few writers in history that knocked it out of the park on their first try, but that’s the exception to the rule. The good ones have spent countless nights staying up too late because they had to see what happened on the next page.
It makes sense, right? If you’re going to make a world-class meal, you’ve got to taste a lot of ingredients before you have the knowledge of how to use them. In other words, being a reader will help equip you with the tools you need to get your own ideas out.
‘OK, how do I start?’
You have to write. That might be an obnoxious answer, but it’s only frustrating because it’s both extremely obvious and extremely daunting. The fact remains: To become a good writer, you have to write. A lot. And writing a lot starts with writing a little. And usually, writing a little starts with being not very good at the process.
The most critical thing that holds people back from realizing their true talents is the fear of sucking. I get it. It does suck to suck at something you want to be good at. It’s hard to hear criticism, even when it’s given with good intentions. You’re putting yourself out there to receive negative feedback from teachers, college professors, peers, editors, friends, family, bosses, and people you never even asked in the first place. But if you can learn to hear criticism with an open mind, and without getting defensive, you will grow as a writer in ways you never imagined.
This sounds discouraging, but it’s not in the long run, I swear. In fact, it’s liberating. If you are brave enough to give yourself true freedom to suck—at first—you’ll be so glad you did. By putting ourselves out there, we grow.
The other big thing that holds us back is pure, unadulterated laziness. People like to imagine that writers have a flash of inspiration without trying, the words pouring out of them like water from a spring. This is very rare. Mostly, it boils down to elbow grease. This is true for any skill (skating, playing guitar, drawing, you name it), and this tendency toward procrastination can be a major detriment. It sounds hard to overcome, but it’s easy. Just write.
The Writing Academy
OK, so “Writing Academy” is just a more exciting name for school. But it truly is an intensive writing academy, since you have to write for each and every class. This is especially true for college, where you might be asked to produce a 20-page paper in 10-point font (you’ll be fine, I promise). Even things you hate writing about will teach you how to write well. If you decide to go to college, you can choose a school and a major that lets you load your schedule with the subjects you love to write about.
It doesn’t have to stop there either. Some of the most rewarding and creative writing happens when we’ve picked up our notebook, or plopped in front of our keyboard, because we want to, not because we have to.
In that situation, the best part is that there are no rules. No deadlines, no word counts, no limits on what you can explore. Simply setting aside time to write about what you want each day, even for a few minutes, can be just as important to your craft as any school assignment (but you should do those too!).
In the end, you may discover you don’t really want to write for a living, but instead want for pleasure or self-discovery or pure expression. Whatever you choose, you’ll be a writer.
Now on to Part II, which will talk about the kinds of writing you can do for a living, what they’re like, and how to get noticed!
-photo by Brad Neathery