It was the great American novelist Ernest Hemmingway who once said, ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ And while hardly anyone uses a typewriter nowadays, that doesn’t make his statement any less true. Because the fact of the matter is, having the ability to create a captivating story is a skill that’s not easily taught.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom, if you have the creativity, imagination and dedication you can become a literary genius in no time.
Here’s a helpful guide on the steps you need to take to pursue this career path and make your literary dreams come true.
1. Research the Profession
You know you want to become a writer, but do you know what type of writer you want to be? To narrow down your option, you should get to grips with what each job entails. Whether you want to be a blogger, poet, novelist, content writer, screenwriter, or write about, pretty much anything, that your heart desires, you should first identify, how this job will relate to your career goals.
A writer’s main function is to put into words what others might find difficult to articulate. Their job is to capture and reflect the spirit of the times in order to serve and satisfy the needs of their readers. Nowadays, a writer can take on different forms and these include:
- authors/novelists: write books or long stories that have 50,000 words or more and focus on bringing their words to life to create a real image and captivate their reader. Their measure of success depends on whether or not a publisher chooses to publish their book; the number of novels they’re able to sell and the quality of the reviews their books get
- poets: are writers who love to express their emotions by playing with the different forms that words can take. They can be found hosting literary nights, but most poets struggle to make a living from their pieces of work, alone
- content writers: usually write short pieces that typically have a 100 to 2000-word count. They’re often tasked to write for social media, company blogs and other more modern writing platforms. Content writing is perhaps one of the most in-demand professions today due to the way the Internet has made informative articles easily accessible
- journalists: can typically be found in newsrooms and magazine houses, researching, interviewing, writing and fact-checking, to produce short and punchy pieces to a tight deadline
- playwright/screenwriters: are writers who usually create scripts that are meant to be performed on stage or in front of the camera. Similar to novelists, they create characters and narratives that take more than a few pages and don’t normally follow a linear path
- comedy writers: are considered a different breed because their writing requires a lot more discipline and practice. They put particular emphasis on the punchline and how the words sound, rather than focus on the rules of grammar and punctuation. Unlike most writers, their words must also be told out loud to experience its full effect and to gauge whether it’s effective or not
- reviewer /critics: usually have a deep understanding of different literary theories and spend most of their time reading. Like the name suggests, they review and critique other people’s works. Most start their careers by writing a column for an esteemed newspaper or journal
- biographers: have the difficult task of capturing and chronicling the life of others. Their work requires a lot of research and a bit of investigation so that they can provide a vivid and most accurate picture of someone else’s life. Some biographers are also journalists or novelists too
- speechwriters: usually work closely with the leaders of a company, department, or political party. These writers have an intimate knowledge of the person they’re writing for and have a certain flair with words. They’re also very familiar with other famous people’s speeches and normally have received training in public relations
- travel writers: may appear to have the most glamorous job in the world, but travel writers usually live out a suitcase, often going from one place to another and almost always working on the road. They usually work on a tight deadline and are required to capture the nuances of a place the best way they can within a short period of time
- advertising copywriters: while most writers have the luxury of using hundreds or sometimes even thousands of words to express what they mean, copywriters have the unique challenge of driving a point, sending a message and convincing a customer about a particular product in 10 words or less. When done right, however, copywriters are some of the most effective marketers in the world
- business writers: rather than having an English or Creative Writing degree, business writers usually major in Finance or Management. They must have an intimate understanding of business terms to write about it, which makes it a highly-specialized skill
- bloggers: have been frowned upon as writers for many years but over the past decade, they’ve proved their worth and have become one of the most in-demand, writers of the digital age. Their writing gives them an outlet to express a passion or knowledge in a niche area, which then allows them to produce merchandise or even publish a book (if they become really popular).
Essential Skills and Qualities
No matter what kind of writer you hope to be, to excel in this craft, you will need to possess the following characteristics:
- discipline: when it comes to writing, you don’t have the luxury of waiting to be inspired by your muse. The most successful writers usually have a routine that they strictly adhere to. For example, Haruki Murakami, one of the world’s greatest novelists, is known to wake up at 4 am and write for six hours straight
- resilience: any published writer will tell you that they’ve had their fair share of rejections. And they’re not telling you this to make you feel better, but simply because it’s the truth. JK Rowling, the creative mastermind behind the massive hit book series Harry Potter, got rejected countless times and was even told by one publisher, ‘to keep her day job’
- creativity: to have a sustainable career in writing, you must always have ideas brewing in the back of your mind and find inspiration in the ordinary. Only by having a creative mind will you always find something new and exciting to write about
- passion for reading: no matter how skilled you are with words, you can never be a great (heck! not even a good one) writer if you don’t read. Being exposed to other people’s work and their techniques is a great way to refine and improve your craft
- love for words: this doesn’t really require any explanation because without this quality (and we doubt you’ll even reach this part of the article if you didn’t have this)
- patience: it’s not uncommon for writers to constantly revise their work, whether advised by their editors or of their own volition. Patience is an innate quality that comes with their dedication to the craft
- marketing skills: in today’s world, every writer should be able to market themselves to get the attention they hope to receive. Learning to market your skills ensures that you’re never out of a job
- time-management skills: time is a writer’s most valued ally. Squandering it can cause the demise of your career, so you must be able to use and manage and use it well.
Working Hours and Conditions
Most writers don’t have a typical work schedule; their days can begin as early or as late they want, provided they meet the deadlines set by their editor or publisher. The in-house writers may have typical 9-5 working hours and will spend most of their day researching, and writing on specific topics, while those who work remotely manage their time between different clients. Freelance writers have more freedom when it comes to their schedules but they must also constantly build their connections to have a steady income.
Salaries can vary, depending on the type of writing you are doing and the industry you are in. But according to Payscale, full-time or professional writers can earn an average yearly salary of £22,017 ($29,164). While freelance writers get paid between £7 - £40 ($9 - $53) per hour, depending on the length and quality of the articles they produce.
2. Get the Qualifications
It is possible to become a writer without any technical training (look at the famous J.K. Rowling, for example). But, if you do want professional teaching and experience, it’s advised to complete a degree in a literary related course, including, English, Creative Writing, Journalism, Marketing, Media or Communications. During this course, you’ll get a real understanding of what type of writer you want to become and will truly sharpen your technique and skills.
3. Land Your First Job
Whether you’re fresh out of university, or hoping for a career change, landing your first job as a writer requires a lot of perseverance. Get your feet wet by starting your own blog. This will help you get in the groove of writing again, it will also give you a clearer picture of the kind of topics you’re drawn to.
If you’re not confident enough to put your voice out there, you can intern for a magazine, newspaper or a publishing company. Editors are always on the lookout for eager interns who can help them with the tremendous amount of paperwork they have to go through on a daily basis.
Another nifty way to get noticed is to volunteer writing for your local paper. These small publications usually encourage readers to share their opinions by asking for submissions in the op-ed page. You most likely won’t get paid but the editor might remember your name and if you impress him or her enough, you can become a regular freelance writer (plus nothing beats seeing your printed by-line for the first time).
4. Develop Your Career
You can always keep your writing skills sharp by attending writing workshops. Most of them do come at a hefty price and have strict application rules. But don’t lose hope!
Nowadays, there are a lot of online courses that can help you improve your craft (check out Gotham Writers or Masterclass). But perhaps the easiest and most pleasurable way to develop your craft is by constantly and tirelessly reading. Don’t stick to one style of genre either, expand your knowledge and pick up a book that you wouldn’t usually go for.
Lastly, you should always practice writing; keep a personal blog or journal with a record of your thoughts and ideas. That way, you’ll always feed your imagination and never get stuck with writer’s block.
Have you always wanted to become a writer? Tell us how you plan on making your dream come true in the comment section below.
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