So, you want a writing career…
You have your reasons. You’ve long loved to write, and people have told you you have a way with words.
But how do you know the time is right or whether you have what it takes?
I urge you to immerse yourself in the craft. If you really want to make a career of it, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Full-time writing is not a hobby, a diversion, an avocation. It means discipline. It’s a job.
And it’s not easy.
But, oh, the rewards…
I’m one of the lucky ones, knowing I wanted to be a writer from my early teens and going at it with a passion I’d shown for nothing else.
But even that didn’t guarantee success. It guaranteed only that I would not quit, could not be dissuaded, would never give up regardless.
I became a sports writer before I was old enough to drive, sports editor of a daily newspaper at 19, a magazine editor at 22, a magazine publisher at 28, a book publisher at 31.
On the side I pursued book writing and became an author at 24, a novelist at 29, and decades later I’ve had nearly 200 books published, 21 of those New York Times bestsellers (including The Left Behind Series™), and more than 70 million copies sold.
Several of my novels have been made into movies, and I’ve written the first-person as-told-to autobiographies of countless superstar athletes (Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Orel Hershiser, Nolan Ryan, Meadowlark Lemon, et al).
I tell you all that not to brag but to say I’ve been in the game for decades and have enjoyed a career most people only dream of.
The bottom line? Dreamers talk about writing. Writers write.
You don’t have to be overly prolific to enjoy a writing career. But you do have to produce, and that takes knowledge and training.
I wasn’t born a good writer, and VERY few are.
So if you want a writing career, where do you start?
Among the steps necessary to grow as a writer, you’ll want to:
- Read as many books on the craft as you can get your hands on, starting with with my favorites.
- Spend time writing—maybe even take a journalism class or online writing course.
- Avoid starting with a book. Beginning your writing career with a book is like enrolling in graduate school when you should be in kindergarten. You have a lot to learn first.
You may dreamt of this for years, putting it off because you’re not sure you’re good enough.
Would you believe I didn’t become a full-time writer until after my 90th book was published? Until then, I worked full-time and wrote during my extremely limited free time.
Only after I lined up enough book projects to pay me three times what I was making in salary did I feel in a position to quit my day job. Even then, the decision wasn’t easy.
Because it’s not just your salary that must be replaced. It’s ALL your expenses, including your pension, benefits, supplies, even your off days and vacations.
And my biggest breakout project, Left Behind, was hardly my first book, or even my 50th. It was my 125th.
Again, you don’t have to aim for dozens and dozens of books to have a writing career. But here’s….
How To Start A Writing Career in 10 Steps
Writing is hard work, but becoming known as a writer is even harder.
You won’t likely begin with many cheerleaders.
So, how badly do you want this?
1. Don’t wait to call yourself a writer.
You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You’re a writer if you’re writing—working at it, learning, progressing.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice.
Every writer you can name began unknown and unpublished.
2. Don’t quit.
You’ll find more than enough reasons to give up. Determine to write no matter what.
Study, research, grow, develop a thick skin, work hard, accept editing and input—painful as they can be, and learn to become an aggressive, even ferocious self-editor.
Get your seat in the chair every day and get words on the page. They won’t all be perfect, but writing is the only way to get better at it.
3. Write from your passions.
I was a sports fanatic as a kid, dreaming of becoming a big league baseball player. Every book report I wrote in junior high was about baseball, until my teacher insisted I broaden my reading.
I read Sports Illustrated, the sports section of our local newspaper, and anything else sports-related.
My father created a dice baseball game that occupied me for hours. I wrote about each game as if I were a sports writer.
At age fourteen, I talked my way into a sports stringer job covering high school sports for the local newspaper. I was paid a dollar per column inch that survived the sports editor’s edits, making me a professional writer.
At nineteen, I became sports editor for that paper. My passion had become my profession.
4. Work at it every day.
Would you believe I still work at honing my writing skills every day?
I believe that if I’m not growing, I’m stagnating. Writers who think they have arrived get lazy and become obsolete.
5. Create your writer’s website.
When you begin pitching your work to agents and publishers, they’ll look you up on the Internet.
Your website becomes your calling card, your portfolio, and it also allows you to begin building the following you need to become a full time writer.
6. Look for opportunities.
Do you volunteer with an organization that could use writing help? Is your local newspaper looking for content?
Opportunities, paid and unpaid, can give you valuable experience.
Be willing to do what nobody else will do.
7. Seek like-minded writers.
Most writers I know are surrounded by a helpful community that helps them deal with:
- Wanting to quit
Another pair of eyes on your work can prove invaluable. Ten pairs of eyes are even better.
That’s why I recommend finding a writers critique group or a mentor.
Be prepared to take an ego-bruising at first. You’ll become a better writer by being held accountable and encouraged to stick with it.
One caveat: Be sure at least one person in the group—preferably the leader—is experienced and understands the writing business. A group of all beginners risks the blind leading the blind.
8. Network, network, network.
Meet people in your community. Get involved. Volunteer. Build relationships.
Introduce yourself and get to know writers who you admire.
Gaining experience isn’t just about writing; it’s about building relationships. The more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way.
A writer career can mean more than just writing books. You could become a journalist, a medical writer, a translator, a business plan writer—all niche markets need writers.
As a freelancer, you can’t be all things to all people (especially when you’re first starting out). So, you need to pick an area of focus.
Here are a few of the most popular writing career paths:
Do you have a story idea that so captures you you can’t get it out of your mind?
Maybe you’re meant to write a novel.
Start by immersing yourself in short stories and trying your hand at writing them. You’ll learn the business, how to interact with an editor, and you can benefit from the feedback.
Categories include, but aren’t limited to: articles, autobiographies, biographies, essays, memoirs, nature writing, reviews, profiles, reports, sports writing, how-to, self-help, and travel writing.
The demand for nonfiction is huge—and nonfiction writers have produced some of the most influential books of our time.
Comic Book Writer
This is an art form best accomplished through teamwork. The writer is the visionary—he creates the plot, characters, and story. Illustrators create the art.
Video Game Writer
Like comic book writing, video game writing is an art form in which teamwork is a given.
The video game writer works with developers, animators, graphic designers, and voice actors and creates the plot, characters, and scripts dialogue.
Do you love news and have the ability to be objective?
The best journalists have stellar research skills and the ability to detach from the story in order to give the most accurate, neutral account possible.
Journalists write for newspapers, magazines, news websites, or creates scripts for television news broadcasters.
Web Content Creator
Individuals, companies, and organizations need content for blogs, social media, and websites and often hire freelance writers.
It helps to be versed in SEO, HTML, CSS, and WordPress and also be a social media specialist.
As opposed to a journalist, a columnist writes opinions and perspective on current events.
A songwriter is a poet who writes song lyrics.
Greeting Card Writer
This is a competitive art form that requires writing a concise, moving message—humorous or compassionate—that appeals to a broad audience.
Politicians aren’t the only ones who need speeches written. So do government officials, business executives, celebrities, and PR firms. Some even hire writers to craft wedding speeches and toasts.
An excellent speechwriter gets to know the voice of the person doing the speaking, researches the subject, and prepares the speech.
Writing scripts for movies, cartoons, and television programs may be the most collegial of all freelance writing. Up to a dozen people may have a role in producing a script.
Working on a movie set or the stage and learning the business is helpful for writing in this field.
If you can turn complicated jargon into something readable and understandable, technical writing might be for you.
A grant writer finds funding sources, conducts research, and writes proposals seeking money for foundations, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations.
A ghostwriter writes but doesn’t get the credit.
He’s often the writer behind social media posts, scripts, speeches, blog posts and other web content, and even books. He could be doing any of the jobs listed here, but remains behind the scenes.
Ghostwriting requires you to get excited about someone else’s message, to write in their voice, and to be quiet about the work you do.
A copywriter creates publicity and advertising copy, including brochures, billboards, websites, emails, and catalogs. He must know how to say a lot with few words, conveying a powerful message that invokes action.
10. Respect the profession.
Writing is hard, exhausting work, and if it isn’t, you’re probably not doing it right.
Writing a book is especially daunting because of the sheer magnitude of it. Attack it the way you would eat an elephant—one bite at a time.
Don’t let fear of failure stop you. Even the most successful writers are afraid there’s too much competition and that they’re not good enough.
Don’t try to overcome that fear. Embrace it! It’s valid! Let it motivate you to do your best work every time.
Follow these steps, and you may find there’s room for you in this business.
Welcome to the writing career you’ve always wanted..