How to Start a Writing Career

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John Steinbeck said, “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

I agree with Mr. Steinbeck. If we don’t believe our work is important we’ll never finish. We’ll give up.

When was the last time you watched someone pursue their dream without distraction? Can you think of someone? I have a friend who’s a marathon runner. She’s a little intense about her daily and weekly running quota and achieving her goals. She stops at nothing. Even when she’s injured she works toward mending so she can get back on track. If she wasn’t dedicated and driven she’d never qualify for the big events. She’d never finish the race.

The same is true for writers. You have to want this career. You have to believe that what you have to write is important, that it’s the most important thing in your life. It takes the same kind of dedication and hard work of a marathon runner. To be successful you can’t give up. However, instead of the elements getting in the way of your success, it’s typically your doubt devil who gets in the way, who tells you you’re not good enough.

Flick him off your shoulder, will you? And begin writing. Now.

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Steps that can lead toward your writing career success:

1. Learn. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.” Don’t think that you have to be talented to be successful at writing. You can learn. If you’re curious you will find the way to be a writer. An awesome writer. Read FREE blogs on writing. Find one that resonates with you. A few of my favorites are listed at the sidebar.

2. Decide which type of writing suits you—fiction, nonfiction, journalism, magazine writing, medical journals. Ask yourself, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Some writers start out writing for magazines because they pay, but it’s not easy to break into. Many magazines have staff writers.

3. Find a mentor in the genre you want to write for. Introduce yourself. Ask them how they broke into their field.

4. Build a blog. Don’t be afraid. What are you passionate about? You don’t have to write about writing. Write about something that matters to you and invite others to read what you have to say. Invite them to comment–even if it’s controversial. Mingle YouTube videos in with your prose.

5. Learn technology. Take classes at your library. Don’t give yourself an excuse not to do something because you fear technology. There are youtube videos available that teach everything. If you aren’t tech savvy you need to be. It’s a must-have in this profession. The internet has brought us virtual learning, so there’s no excuse not to learn anything anytime and anywhere.

6. Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect to land the high-paying assignments right away. Set short and small goals initially and build them as you gain experience.

7. Be patient. Learning takes time. Don’t rush it. “If a person will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, that person will be an expert on that subject.”– Earl Nightingale

8. Find an accountability partner if you need to–someone who asks you weekly what your goals are. The person doesn’t have to hound you if you don’t meet your goals, but verbalizing your goals to someone else makes you work harder. Zig Ziglar said, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

9. Never think you know it all. If you do, you’re sunk. “Education is learning what you didn’t know you didn’t know.” –Daniel Boorsten. Stay humble.

10. Attend writer’s conferences. This is the place to land assignments, find mentors, agents and publishers. Go prepared. Learn from the speakers, but listen to the attendees too, learn something from everyone attending.

11. Visit libraries and take community educational courses that offer writing seminars. I took one on fiction writing fifteen years ago which catapulted me into an amazing new life as a writer, author and novelist.

12. Read everything you can on writing careers or writing in the genre you want to write.

13. Reach out to an author who wrote a book you loved.  If you read a nonfiction book on writing and like what the author taught find their blog, find their website. Let them know how much you appreciated their advice and ask if you could stop by and ask them periodic questions. Establish a rapport with them. Success breeds success.

14. Write every day. If you’re waiting at the doctor’s office. Write. If you’re waiting in a line in a store, write. Keep a notebook handy if you don’t have the ability to write on your computer. Write everywhere and anytime. Don’t wait for the mood to strike. Jot notes on grocery lists. Log dreams in a notebook next to your bed.

15. Keep a notebook of your favorite phrases. If you’re reading something and love a metaphor or a description—stop and write it in a notebook. Date it and quote who wrote it. Have fun writing something similar, but make it your own. Twist the words with others. (If you keep your faves in quotes and tag it with the author you won’t be tempted to steal their phrases.)

16. Don’t quit your day job. You probably won’t make a lot of money right away. Work a day job to pay the bills, but when you’re not at that job push yourself to build a writing career. If it’s a passion you’ll make it a priority. (Here’s a great site if you’re looking for a day job, or want to discover which careers are trending, or to find a writing job: Career Ladders.)

17. Give yourself writing goals. How many words will you write each week? How many books or blog will you read each week? Keep it reasonable and attainable.

18. “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden Do something profound. Write the book you’ve always wanted to read. Inform the audience with a message they need to hear. Make it matter.

How do you make your writing matter?

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  1. What great advice, Pat. I really appreciate your eagerness to teach others. I have to work on setting my daily writing goals and then keeping them. That seems to be my biggest struggle right now with all the distractions in my life. Thanks again for your expert advice.

    • Hi Londa – You aren’t alone with distractions. Prioritizing my life seems to get more difficult every day, but when I tell someone else what I hope to accomplish for the week I’m more focused. I’m glad you found this helpful!

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