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How to Become a Professional Writer: Help and Advice to Get You Started

Posted in Commercial Writing, Creative Writing, creativity, discipline, Editors, Freelance writing, Getting published, how to be a prolific writer, Learning to Write, Literary agents, Literature, making a living as a writer, motivation for writers, Productivity for creatives, prolific writer, Publishing, writer's workshop, writers, Writing for Money, writing life, and Writing Tips

Writing for Love

 

What Do You Need to Be a Writer?

Professional writing is one of the most challenging, interesting, enjoyable, and rewarding jobs in the world. In this post I’ll share with you the basics of how to become a professional writer.

In my first year of writing full-time I didn’t earn enough to cover my costs. But I’ve been earning my living, albeit a humble one, as a freelance copywriter, article writer, and occasional journalist, for several years now. I’ve also published short stories and novels. So I know what it takes be a professional writer.

The 3 Rules of Professional Writing: Write, Write, Write.

~ Austin Hackney

To become a published writer demands you develop a special set of skills and techniques. It can be very hard work. The good news is that even as an unknown writer, you’ll play on a level field. Editors and publishers don’t care who you are unless you’re already a celebrity. They only care about the quality of the work submitted to them. If the work you send is of high quality and is what the editor is looking for, you have as good a chance of being published as anyone else. The editor will judge your work on its own merits.

Writing for money

Approach Your Writing Career as a Business

Because publishing operates as a meritocracy you should do everything you can to develop your skills as a writer to the highest possible standards to compete in a busy marketplace.

Good writing serves the reader, not the writer.

~ Ann Handley 

The hobby writer can take a more relaxed approach than the full-time, professional writer. But if you aim to earn a living from your writing you will need to adopt a business minded approach. You should expect to put in as much time, energy, and commitment as you would for any other job. This is one of the most important things to understand about how to become a professional writer. If you work hard, develop your craft, and work consistently toward your goal, there’s no reason you shouldn’t become a successful, published writer.

Writing for love and money

The Personal Qualities of Professional Writers

So aside from a computer with good word processing software, an Internet connection, a printer, some paper, and a pen, the things you need to be a writer are the following personal qualities:

  • a willingness to learn new skills
  • a good command of the English language
  • self-discipline and good organizational skills
  • some familiarity with IT and word processing software
  • a love of words, reading and writing
  • a problem-solving approach
  • the ability to regard mistakes as opportunities, and to learn from them

If you have at least some of these qualities and are prepared to strengthen your weaknesses, then you are at the start of a very exciting career as a professional writer.

Professional writers are never short of ideas

Professional Development for Writers

To become a professional writer, you will need to develop your writing technique. When starting out, keep an open mind and experiment with a range of subjects and styles before you commit to any particular specialization.

The writer’s secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience.

~ Orhan Pamuk

An important aspect of how to become a professional writer is a commitment to reading widely. Make close observations of the world. Cultivate a reflective and analytical approach to everything you read and experience in daily life.

However much natural flair you have for the craft of writing, you should always look for ways to challenge yourself and develop your talents. Keep on top of your game and you will be regularly published and paid for your work.

Writing professionally is hard work

How to Discover Your Strengths and Weaknesses as a Writer

To discover your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, you should try out as many writing projects as you can.

It’s worth trying your hand at all of the following:

  • Short stories
  • Radio and television scripts
  • Opinion pieces
  • Reportage
  • Letters-to-the-editor
  • Web content
  • Blog posts
  • Magazine articles
  • Humorous filler items

Take advantage of every opportunity you can find.

Write. Re-write. When not writing or re-writing, read. I know of no shortcuts.

~ Larry L. King

Many professional writers enjoy the wide variety of work available to them and remain generalists throughout their careers. Others discover a particular passion and specialize in a given genre and style. By experimenting, you’ll find the path that suits you.

Once you find out what kind of writer you are, concentrate on developing skills needed in that arena to maximize your chances of financial success.

How to become a professional writer: develop a special set of skills

The Importance of Routine to Professional Writers

Professional writers tend to be self-disciplined and well organized. Developing a regular writing habit is fundamental to success. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. It is usually a waste of time. Start your chosen project without worrying about results. These are the key points to remember when developing a professional writing routine:

  • Every writer is different and starts out with specific personal circumstances to consider. Choose a time and place to write when you’re at your most alert and least likely to be disturbed.
  • Make sure you finish every piece you start. The habit of finishing work is essential for the professional writer. You can’t sell work you haven’t finished!
  • To write a little every day is better than writing a lot one day and nothing the next

Cultivate the writing habit. Start and finish your work. When you are ready, submit that work for publication. Rinse and repeat. That is the professional writer’s routine. It’s a vital lesson to learn about how to become a professional writer. I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Writing professionally is a great ambition

How Professional Writers Get Their Ideas

The most common question writers are asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Everything can be a source of ideas for your writing. Professional writers often jot down ideas that spring to mind during the day, either in a traditional notebook or a portable electronic device.

Anyone who says writing is easy, isn’t doing it right.

~ Amy Joy

Your own personal experiences, interests, work and hobbies can all provide ideas for writing projects.

Read the newspapers. Pay special attention to the letters page. Read question and answer sections on websites and in magazines. Show an interest in what people are asking in the agony column. Listen to conversations overheard in the street and other public places. Hangout in online forums where people discuss subjects of interest to you.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.

~ Richard Bach

If you write about issues people are discussing every day you can be sure there’s a readership for your work.

Do you have what it takes to write for a living?

How to Find Ideas for Writing Projects Which Are Likely to Sell

Many subjects are of perennial interest. If you have personal experience of a topic already popular in the press or online and you can put a particular spin or angle on it, there’s nothing to stop you taking inspiration from an already published article.

You get ideas from daydreams. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

~ Neil Gaiman

But be careful if you do that. You must never plagiarize another writer’s work. You can draw inspiration from the topic, but then you must make it your own. So long as you understand this, the newsstand can be a wonderful source of ideas for writing projects which are likely to sell.

All of the following can inspire you with ideas for your writing:

  • Hobbies & crafts
  • News items
  • Gossip columns
  • Personal experiences
  • Professional knowledge
  • Reading & research
  • Daydreams
  • Courses and classes
  • Websites & Online Forums
  • Clubs & Meet-ups
  • Magazines

Professional writers are constantly learning and developing their craft. Writing gets easier the more you do it. There are no shortage of possibilities for what to write about. But it can be a bit of a knack to recognize opportunities in everything you see, hear, and read. Cultivating that knack is important if you want to produce and sell written work consistently.

Many aspiring writers give up too soon to succeed

How to Become a Professional Writer: Could This Be You?

So there’s more to being a professional writer than the ability to put words together to make sentences. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you willing to take risks and learn on the job?
  • Do you regard rejection and failure as opportunities for growth and development?
  • Do you have a good command of grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
  • Are you disciplined and organized?
  • Do you have an undisturbed place to write every day?
  • Do you love reading?
  • Do you read widely?
  • Are you fascinated by people and events?
  • Do you have a range of interests and hobbies?
  • Do you love telling stories?
  • Are you prepared to invest time and energy now for rewards that may only come later?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions you’ll probably make a good and successful career as a professional writer. The only thing to do now is to get started!

What do you think? The comments section is for you.

800px-Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904

If you’ve enjoyed this post, or hated it, or agree or disagree, or for whatever reason, I would love to hear your insights, experiences, thoughts, critiques, or reflections in the comments.

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4 Comments

  1. Interesting ideas here, thanks for sharing!

    November 28, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Steve,

      Thank you for calling by and taking the trouble to leave a comment. I always appreciate that! I’m glad you found this interesting, although I think you’re a little further along the road than folks this post is aimed at helping. Still, I think there’s always something new to learn. 🙂

      November 29, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Geneva Waldorf
    Geneva Waldorf

    Kudos for this. It’s very informative and well-written. I have a couple of friends who wants to be a writer, but they just don’t know how or if they even have what it takes. I’m sure this post will help them a lot.

    February 2, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Geneva,

      Thanks for your comment. I hope your friends find it useful and informative. 🙂

      February 2, 2017
      |Reply

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