Everyone has a story to tell. Maybe your mind has been craving to tell that story since you were a kid. Or perhaps, you’ve been writing on the sly for years, and feel ready to claim this as something you’re meant to do. Turning your passion for writing into a real career may seem like a pipedream. But, while the road may not be smooth, it is attainable.
So, where do you start?
Here are five essential things you should know as you take those first steps to chase your dream, hone your craft, and share your magic through a career in writing.
1. Writing is Messy Work
There is a common misconception that authors possess a certain type of talent that allows them to sit down, pick up a pen, and write the perfect book from cover to cover. The End.
In reality, the work of writing is made up of many interlinking parts—drafting, revisions, research, editing—and each step in the process makes the story a little bit stronger, the concepts a little bit clearer, and the finished product a whole lot better.
Maybe you’ve been discouraged from writing because your efforts are a far reach from your favorite novels. But that’s okay, because a first draft is not the finished product. You’ve got plenty of time left to give your story that effortless flow and polish.
Instead of aiming to write a finished book on your first go, let yourself TRY. Try different methods. Try new genres. Try using story structures, critique partners, and productivity tools. Ignore all the rules just to see what happens. Teach yourself how YOU write and don’t be afraid if the work in progress looks like a big mess. That’s writing!
We often assume publishing is the starting point of a writer’s career, but a publisher can’t do anything until you have a manuscript to sell them. Learning to be self-initiating, self-motivated, and self-assured will be essential to get you through the aforementioned stages of drafting, revising, researching, and editing whilst navigating the various setbacks and challenges that inevitably come with a writing career.
In a way, a writing career is similar to having a small business startup. There’s a lot you’ll have to be responsible for all on your own. To be honest, the work of writing mostly happens from your very own laptop anyway! You are a writer. You have goals. You are a walking business. You’re going places with this.
Making the transition from rainy day writer to a full-on side hustle might feel awkward when your journey doesn’t come with a Success Story™, guaranteed! But it’s never too soon to start forming those pro-writer habits. Scheduling time to write, learning to create attainable goals, following self-imposed deadlines, connecting with peers, and educating yourself on writing craft and the publishing industry all go toward that big end goal of seeing your writing out there in the real world. Don’t apologize for being a boss and making it happen.
3. Writing is Slow Work
If you’ve never tried to write a book before, it may be shocking to learn how long it takes an idea to become the lovely volume you can easily read cover-to-cover within a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Every part of the process, from pre-writing to publication, is notoriously slow. Success as a writer requires monumental patience, diligence, and trust.
In publishing, there’s simply no way to speedrun toward success. It takes time to become a skilled writer. It takes time to put together a sellable manuscript. It takes time to find someone who will publish your novel. It takes time for the publisher to put your story out on the market. And even after you’ve been published, there’s plenty more time-consuming work to be done. After all, a career is made up of more than one novel.
Your strength as a writer isn’t tested by the brilliance of your plots or the originality of your writing style, but by how you stand up to the relentless waiting and wondering. Friendships with fellow writers, careful management of your mental health, and staying tenaciously in love with writing will keep you motivated until opportunity decides it’s your time--no matter how long the wait may be.
4. Writing is Custom Work
Being a newbie in the writing world is an exciting, overwhelming rollercoaster of an experience. You’re welcomed and then quickly inundated with workbook recommendations, community hashtags, lists of blogs to follow, and memes that will probably go over your head. For now.
Immersing yourself in the online writing world is the best way to pick up helpful tips, improve your skills, find likeminded friends, and make sense of our particular brand of jargon and rules. But be wary. Every writer has their own ideas about how stories should be written, which rules could be broken, and what type of writing routine is the absolute best. As a beginner, it’s easy to assume somebody else knows best, and go with their flow. But this isn’t always what’s best for you.
How and what writers write is a matter of individual taste and personal circumstance, so it may take time to find what really works for you. It can be helpful to try some of the advice and suggestions you receive, but never feel obliged to hold to what everyone else seems to find successful if it doesn’t work for you. Your writing style, productivity hacks, and go-to methods are going to be uniquely yours, so bend and break those so-called rules and make the process your own.
5. Writing is Specialized Work
Many of us dream of seeing our name printed on the beautiful cover of a book, but being a novelist isn’t the only type of writing job out there. If plot twists, worldbuilding, and character arcs aren’t your thing, you don’t have to give up on writing altogether.
Your skills may be geared for concise instruction to use in technical writing. Use that keen eye for errors to become a savvy copy editor. Strike out as a speechwriter, or see if you’ve got what it takes for a job in journalism. Each of these occupations are unique, and may play perfectly to your writerly strengths or preferences.
It’s not uncommon for authors, even well-known ones, to have a day job to support their writing career. Creative work doesn’t always pay the bills, sad but true. Putting your specialized skills to work might help you make ends meet while still doing something you love, even if it’s not quite as artistic.
Written by: Elza Kinde
Elza Kinde is a visual designer, fiction writer, lettering artist, word nerd, and avid blogger who shares creative encouragement, colorful content, and children’s book recommendations at ElzaKinde.com. You can find Elza anywhere online @ElzaKinde.
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