One problem that receives almost no attention in the writing community is how many writers lack career direction. Sure, most of us know what our end goal is: become a rich, successful writer. Or more realistically, build a decent following and make enough money from writing that it becomes our full-time job. Getting to that point, though, is where most struggle and might even give up.
See, it’s easy to dream about going on a Hunter S. Thompson drug fueled writing pilgrimage through the desert while getting paid to do so. But getting those opportunities in the first place takes work. After all, Hunter S. Thompson didn’t start his writing career getting to do awesome, reckless shit. No, he had to work his way up to that point, like everyone else.
Hemingway started as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. H.P. Lovecraft wrote angry letters to short story magazines. And even the great Stephen King went through the endless, submit stories and get rejected hundreds of times route, before making it as a writer. What I’m trying to get across here is, we all must start small and work our way up to our writing dreams. Which is why you need to learn how to go about starting in the first place, lest you end up spinning your wheels without making any real progress.
In this article, I’m going to share with you all some ideas on how to start your writing career properly. Because these days, just sitting down and writing isn’t enough. And whether you want to be a fiction novelist, journalist, poet, or pursue any other type of writing career, you must build an audience and a respectable portfolio to make it as a serious writer. So without anymore rambling on my part, here are five ways to start your writing career like a professional.
5. Start Doing Freelance Work
While it’s true many famous writers started out as journalists or working for newspapers, that’s simply not feasible for all of us. In the old days a writer wasn’t required to have a degree in journalism to get these kinds of jobs. All you had to do was prove that you could write well and had the bravado to tackle tough stories. Unfortunately, that’s not the case these days.
Luckily, there are way more avenues open for finding work as a writer compared to the old days. While back then you were relegated to working in the newspaper industry or sending your writing to crotchety editors at major publishing houses to get noticed, now there are countless freelance jobs out there.
Finding freelance work isn’t that hard and it’s a great way to build up your writing credits while making a little money on the side. You also have the chance of building a following across a broader range of readers if you end up writing for various publications, which isn’t as hard to achieve as you might think.
The hardest part of freelance writing is knowing where to start. That’s why I recommend things like Writers Work, which is a great tool for new writers as it list all writing jobs in one place, and teaches you the whole freelance process (how to pitch, query work, set up payments, do taxes, etc.). Writers Work is a great app because the cost isn’t outrageous, and it has cool things like a built in word processor (handy for creating articles right from the app) and a place to build your writing portfolio.
Freelance work is the hardest option on this list for new writers, but it’s also the best way to get your name out there while making some money to help fund your future writing goals.
4. Submit To Fiction Magazines
As I mentioned before, Stephen King went down this road when he first started out. Nowadays, it’s much easier to find good literary/fiction/nonfiction magazines to submit your work to. Though, that amount of ease—usually a quick submission via an online submission form (hardly any snail mail submissions required)—comes with a downside: everybody and their grandmother can submit. Which makes for longer wait times in regards to hearing back about the status of your submissions, as well as making it less likely that the magazines will give your work a serious read due to the overwhelming amount of submissions they receive.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are plenty of smaller magazines and online publications out there accepting work (such as Drunken Pen Writing!). Of course, not all of these smaller publications pay. But when you’re first starting as a writer, it’s good to get your name out there and build some writing credits. It’s always good to have published work to show agents and publishers down the road, too.
3. Start A Blog
Starting a blog (or website) isn’t just a good idea, it’s damn near mandatory in the writing world. First, it gives you a place you can share your work. No waiting to hear back on the status of a submission. No generic rejection emails. All you have to do is write something and hit publish. It’s easier than pissing off Beyonce fans.
Second, it lets you build an audience more organically. Couple your blog with social media and you can build a quality following in no time. People love finding new writers, and the more professional your blog looks, the more interested they’ll become in you.
Finally, you can track your progress as a writer much easier. Since you’ll be publishing your own work, you can go back anytime you want and compare your earlier pieces to your current ones. This is a great way to learn what your readers like, what you like, and what doesn’t work for you. Just remember, while a blog can be fun and personal (almost like a diary), you still want to make it as professional looking as possible while posting work consistently. This gives you work you can show publishers (if applicable) and lets them know you’re a bankable writer (if you have enough interactive followers).
2. Self Publish
Self publishing is a great way to share your exact creative vision with the world. There are no pesky editors changing your work or publishers stifling your creativity. Also, it gives you the freedom to put out passion projects and work that would never get accepted by a major publishing house. But be warned, self publishing comes with its own pitfalls.
The two main problems with self publishing are costs and quality of work related to costs. To put out professional looking work, you’ll need to hire professionals to help you. No matter what, you must have an editor go over your stuff. Even if it’s just a basic grammar and spelling pass. Don’t rely on beta readers to find all of your mistakes.
Hiring an editor, even if you’re only having them do the bare minimum, is expensive. We’re talking anywhere from 400 to 3,000 US dollars (depending on what you have them do). And unless you’re really good at things like putting together book covers and marketing, you’ll have to pay for those services as well. Add in the actual book publishing costs, and you’re looking at a decent chunk of change for something that might yield absolutely zero monetary return.
Don’t let that discourage you, though. Self publishing is easier than ever, and the printing costs are fairly inexpensive these days. But I strongly recommend not self publishing unless you’re willing to put out the best possible work you can. Nothing turns a reader off an author like basic typos and grammar errors.
1. Join A Writing Group
This last entry is the easiest one on this list to accomplish. All you have to do is join a writing group! And before you start thinking about how there are no writers in your area to group up with, you’re on the internet!
Social media has made it easier than ever to find like-minded writers and readers. All you have to do is be a little social and willing to talk to people. If you can do that, you can create your own writing group.
The advantages of forming a writing group are pretty sweet. You have people who can give you constructive feedback on your work so you can grow and get better as a writer. If each writer in the group has their own platform and following (no matter how big or small), you can share each other’s work with a far greater reach than you would individually. And most importantly, these connections keep you from quitting!
That’s right. When you’re in a writing group, you are more likely to complete work because you want to have something to share with the group. This also makes you more comfortable with sharing your work with other people and builds your confidence as a writer (something we all desperately need when starting out).
Well, there’s not much more I can add to this without stretching it out to multiple pages. And who the hell wants to read more writing advice when you can actually sit down and write? But I will leave you with this final bit of advice. No matter how low or unsuccessful you feel, we all must take our own paths, and things will get better. What works for another writer might not work for you, but just because you fail at something doesn’t mean you won’t catch a break eventually. You just have to keep working. The audience will come.
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