A friend recently approached me and asked me how someone “becomes a professional writer.” It struck me as an odd question, because the individual asking me already was a professional writer, by my definition—he is, in fact, paid to write all day.
That meant I needed to step back and try to figure out what he was actually asking for my help with. I think what he wanted to know was how to build a writing career outside of the workplace. I stumbled through a few stories of my own experiences and offered some advice, but the question’s been nagging at me, so I’m turning it into a blog post.
Things to expect:
I’m starting with this because it’s more important than actually how to go about becoming a writer. If you’re going to do it, you should know what you’re getting yourself into.
- Rejection — You may think you have thick skin, but if you’re trying to be published, know that your self esteem is going to take a beating. Publications will say no. Or they’ll just say nothing at all. And it will happen over and over again. And you’ll still have to keep trying.
- Criticism — Both constructive and otherwise. Writing is a skill needs honing, and feedback will not always be positive. I’ve had a number of stories I’ve been very proud of, only to hand them off to my writing group and be told the whole concept doesn’t work. It happens, and it will happen to you.
- People discouraging you — I probably shouldn’t turn this into a gender thing, but it sure seems like one: I have had so many men mansplain to me that “writing is not going to be an easy career!” These are people who have no idea how hard I’ve worked, how much research I’ve done, or what my credentials are—and often with far less experience than me. The moment I mention writing, I get shot down immediately. I don’t know if this happens to other people, but it’s happened enough to me that I feel I should mention it.
- Conflicting advice — There are no rules for writing, only suggestions, and people have very different opinions on the subject. There’s also a lot of, “Always follow this advice! Except in this case. Oh, and this one. Oh, you know what? That advice just doesn’t fit here, either.” You’ll have to figure out what works best for you.
- Time commitment — Writing isn’t just something you’re automatically perfect at. It takes a lot of work and practice to develop your skill, and that time commitment never goes away. You have to spend a lot of time creating new material, revising it, finding someone to critique it, revising it again, submitting it for publication, all while planning for or working on the next piece.
Things to do:
This will obviously not be a comprehensive list, but it’s a place to start.
- Read books on writing
- Plot structure
- Character development
- Take writing classes
- Attend writing conventions
- Attend writing panels
- Participate in workshops
- Network with other attendees
- Join or form a writing group
- Find good beta readers
- Join online writing communities
- Join writing associations
- Follow writing blogs
- Submit short stories to publications
- Put together a website where you can list your publications
- Make a writing schedule that works for you and stick to it
- Critique other writers’ stories (to get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t)
- Read and review books and short stories
If you have anything to add, or disagree with anything I’ve stated, feel free to let me know in the comments.