So You Want to Become a Writer? Here Are My Five Best Tips…
It seems like every day on social media somebody asks “How do I become a writer?”. Of course, the simple answer is, “If you want to be a writer, write.” And that’s not incorrect. It’s a simple answer to a simple question. After all, the definition of writer is: one that writes.
Now, if the question is how to be a good or great writer, how to get paid to write, or how to become a published author, my answer is a bit different. You still need to write a lot. But you can write all day long and not be a good writer, a paid writer, or a published author.
After almost 20 years writing professionally, I’ve been there done that. I’ve written for magazines and newspapers. I’ve been a marketing copywriter creating content for catalogs, websites, speeches, and more. And recently I became a romance novelist with three novellas published by The Wild Rose Press.
Along the way I’ve learned more than a few things about what it takes to write well–and get paid for it. Today, I’m going to share my top five tips for becoming a good writer who actually gets paid (or offered contracts).
- Read often and widely. In addition to writing a lot, you have to read a lot. Particularly in your area of focus but not exclusively. Why? Because you need to understand the conventions and expectations of your genre or type of writing, as well as have an idea of what’s been done before and in other genres, before you can do your own thing.
- Study the craft. When I started out as a marketing copywriter, I read endless books on marketing, psychology, sales, copywriting, and advertising. I took workshops online and went to conferences. I developed a solid understanding of what works and why so I could deliver terrific results for my clients.When I switched to fiction, I read (and am still reading) countless books on writing novels, romances, and screenplays. I joined local and national professional organizations and attended conferences and workshops. Basically, I spent the next three years getting good enough to write something worth submitting to a publisher.
- Get help. Great writers are rarely formed in a vacuum. When I started writing for magazines, I was lucky enough to have an editor take me under his wing. He answered questions and provided feedback and guidance (and editing) that was invaluable.As a copywriter, I took online courses and sought out other copywriters at conferences for advice and commiseration. When I switched to fiction, I made a point of finding a pull-no-punches critique partner and a network of nitpicky beta readers. And I’ve hired my own editors.
- Prepare for seemingly endless versions, drafts, and revisions. Whether I was working for clients, or teaching copywriting, most people believed that professionals wrote a single perfect draft and called it a day. Like it came out fully formed day one. That couldn’t be further from the truth.Drafts are not called final versions for a reason. While I strive for no more than two rounds of revisions or rewrites, that’s rarely reality (hello versions six and sixteen). And that’s okay. Writing is a process, and processes take time. Like a good stew, ideas often need to simmer to achieve optimal depth and flavor.
- Develop a system or method that works for you. Whatever kind of writing you’re doing, you need to discover your own best process for organizing ideas and information into a cohesive story. The more work you do planning and organizing upfront, the easier it becomes to write well quickly and effectively (yes, even if you’re a pantser).
Writing well is both an art and a science. While you very well may be that unicorn who’s born with an innate talent, most of us aren’t. It takes time, effort, and practice to be good, and more of the same to be great. But I think it’s worth it.
Do any of my suggestions surprise you? Are there any you’d like to add? Please do share in the comments below.