How to Become a Writer and Live Out Your Dream
To become a writer, you need a unique voice. First, it’s a foolproof way to stand out in today’s competitive landscape since you’re creating an inimitable experience for your audience. Second, your writer’s voice provides that particular authenticity in storytelling every reader craves.
Take the example of literary giant Toni Morrison, whose exploration of her own voice resulted in her acclaimed first novel, The Bluest Eye. It emerged from Morrison’s own interest in wanting to read the story she finally set out to write. She went on to build a successful career by always writing with a sense of purpose that would further develop her individual style.
Finding your voice takes time. It requires experience and learning to trust yourself and all that you stand for. But that shouldn’t prevent you from starting somewhere. Today, there are different ways to hone your craft, from creating a blog to writing for clients. Follow our step-by-step plan to become a successful writer, while also making money from it.
Is writing a viable career?
The key to making writing a viable career is having reasonable expectations about what you’ll earn in relation to the type of writer you’ll become. The median annual wage for writers and authors, which culminated at $63,200 in May 2019, in the U.S., hides huge discrepancies. For example, the pay of a grant writer is significantly higher than that of a technical writer. Or a self-publishing novelist will have a salary that fluctuates more than someone who gets a publisher, and whose income does not solely depend on book sales.
In all fields of writing, you'll need to practice and polish your craft in order to gain access to more profitable positions that are based on level of experience. Furthermore, writers gain a better understanding about their work through on-the-job training. This means that they will perfect their skills gradually rather than turn pro overnight.
It takes time and effort before you can begin making substantial money from writing. That said, you should become a writer for the right reasons and foremost for the pleasure it gives you.
Do I need specific credentials?
As mentioned earlier, writers will sharpen their writing skills on the job, as they accumulate experience that qualifies them for better paying roles. Moreover, some professional writers won’t have formal credentials because many companies and clients prioritize your work history above everything else.
However, depending on the kind of writing you want to do, you’ll need to look into the different levels of education that are relevant for you. Remember that with the right accreditations, you can strengthen your position as a writer.
PhD in Creative Writing or Literature is necessary for those who want to teach at a university level. Before you can embark on a PhD - a four-to-seven year commitment - you’ll need to have completed your bachelor’s degree and in most cases, your master’s degree as well. This means that you would be enrolled in a university or college for more than a decade. Finally, university lecturer jobs and other full-time faculty positions are highly selective and hard to come by, so ask yourself if this is truly your passion.
MFA (Master’s of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing can help aspiring writers gain confidence and mastery of their craft. It also signifies that you are a professional writer because you have completed courses to refine your writing techniques. In addition, an MFA holder will have the relevant credentials to teach courses at a higher education level.
Bachelor’s degree is an important stepping stone (four-year program) for those who want to pursue an academic career or for nonfiction writers whose authority on a specific topic is supported by having the right qualification. Some news outlets also require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, whether they majored in journalism or something related.
Associate’s degree in Writing, Marketing or Media is a sure way to build your writing career launchpad. Typically a two-year program, an associate’s degree gives you academic knowledge and helps you qualify for an entry-level job in a specialized field, such as copywriting or content writing. It’s also a great solution for those who can’t afford a four-year program.
Certificates are given in supplemental programs that teach skills and provide additional resources and instruction. Courses may range from two weeks to two months and are generally conducted online. No prior degree is required to enroll in a certificate program.
How to become a writer in 10 steps
From finding your niche to growing your brand as a writer and everything in between, here are the 10 steps you’ll need to complete before becoming a writer—and commit yourself to doing what you love each day:
01. Pick a field of writing
I remember the day I decided to become a journalist. That decision marked my life because for five years, I built a career toward one goal: to help others understand the world around them. To this day, my writing is guided by my desire to make my reader’s life better. Choosing a specific path for your writing career should be personal. It will help you create richer content and engage with your audience. By narrowing your focus, you will be able to achieve a lot more as a result. Here are some of the most popular fields of writing to consider:
Columnist writes opinion pieces for a newspaper or magazine. It can be on any topic that strikes their interest.
Copywriter creates advertising or marketing copy on behalf of companies, brands or agencies.
Grant writer crafts the application forms for nonprofits and organizations seeking funding.
Ghostwriter is someone hired to write text for another person who will be officially credited for that content.
Journalist reports for news, magazines and other publications. A journalist requires specific skills, including the ability to research, be objective and work in a fast paced environment.
Localization writers focus on the process of adapting content to a market different in culture, language, geographical location and even values.
Novelist authors novels in genres, such as fiction, sci-fi or fantasy.
Technical writers can communicate complex information in written form, like documents, manuals and white papers.
Web content writer specializes in providing optimized content, such as blog posts or articles, for websites.
02. Find a niche
When considering how to become a writer, it is recommended to fill a niche or specialized role within the thriving writing ecosystem. Whether you pick a health, education or food niche, owning a topic makes it easier to create quality writing that’ll resonate with your audience. In turn, you become more valuable to your clientele or readership. You’ll also work more efficiently and gain satisfaction from producing good content.
The first thing to do is evaluate your passions or skills to help you find a niche that’s also sustainable over time. Then, you’ll want to make sure there’s a market for that particular topic. Remember that your interests or expertise should always intersect with something people actually want to read.
How to proceed? Come up with a list of relevant terms or topics your target audience is susceptible to search online. Using keyword research tools (such Google Keyword Planner or Ahrefs), you’ll be able to analyze how often the words and topics you found are actually searched for on Google, in your country. You want to keep in mind that keywords with high volume of search also tend to be more competitive, so aim to write about topics that are more niche—especially at the beginning of your career, when your reputation is not fully established.
03. Start a blog
In parallel to collecting ideas and topics, you should think about where you will centralize all your content. Starting a blog is a great way to turn your first publications into effective writing samples that you can share with potential clients when looking for gigs. As you write for your blog, you’ll also be sharpening your technique, nurturing your writer’s voice, and even experimenting if you desire.
For many, blogging is the gateway drug to a writing career as both share a common goal: to increase readership. Blogs are scalable and are great places to connect with readers. They allow people to quickly post content and directly share their thoughts with other like-minded individuals.
To ensure you’ve got all the essentials to set up your own, check out these effective tips for starting a blog.
04. Overcome writer’s block
Writers will face doubts about their skills or talents during the early stage of their career, but there are ways to ease these difficult times. First, your determination to become a writer should put all your fears to rest. Second, remain positive that the right opportunities will appear soon enough.
For those who are dealing with writer’s block, there are a couple of strategies to help you overcome this treacherous period. You should work with an outline to guide you through your writing. You’ll also want to frequently check in with any objectives you set for yourself, whether that’s implementing new topics or wanting to write more. Goals help you write with purpose.
Consider creating an editorial calendar to better organize and manage your content, ideas and time as you take on more writing assignments. This will also help you track your advancement along the way.
The key to establishing the perfect writing schedule is to set attainable targets for yourself. Not only will it keep you motivated to stay on task, but it will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you reach each milestone.
05. Improve your writing skills
Every expert in their field knows that practice makes perfect. Writing is no different, so in order to improve your craft, you’ll need to find different ways to refine your chops. One way is to write each day in a journal, notebook or on your blog. By choosing the latter, you get the benefit of having other eyes on your progress. Another way is to become a voracious reader. This is important because reading exposes you to new styles, voices and even vocabulary, all of which you can incorporate into your own work. You can read some of the best books on writing to help you develop critical thinking skills and teach you how to assess good writing from bad. This kind of thoughtfulness will elevate the level of your own material.
06. Get feedback
Getting feedback will strengthen your writing. It can come from friends, family, editors or peers. This valuable information pinpoints the areas of your content that work well or don’t. Once you get some feedback, you’ll need to know how to apply it to improve your overall performance.
Start by reading over the feedback to get a sense of the bigger picture, asking yourself “What are the main issues being addressed?” For example, the problems arising could either be style, grammar or structure. Listen to their message and remain calm. This will help you stay objective. Then, thoroughly review your feedback once more to make sure you understand what the comments actually mean and how much revision you’ll have to make. Ask for clarification if something is unclear.
07. Edit your work
At this stage, you’re probably staring down at an initial draft that’s ready to be edited. It’s definitely possible to edit your own work and with the insightful feedback you received earlier, you’ve also got some hints on where to start.
To begin revision, here are a few writing points not to miss:
Catching typos. Take time to read through your content and look for any type of mistake—grammar, spelling, duplicate words or missing content—so no one doubts your professionalism. If you’re working on a computer, it’s always good to refer back to spell check and grammar check.
Writing with clarity. Make sure sentences are arranged in logical order. For example, each sentence in a paragraph should follow a sequence of time or events. You should also check that your sentences are not incomplete and that your word choice usage is correct (i.e. effective v. affective).
Be original. Writing in your voice and style makes your content more relatable and is also essential to building brand identity. Always write about your own ideas and unique take on a topic or query. In doing so, you’ll also avoid plagiarism—accidental, of course. It happens more often than you might think due to a lack of understanding of what it encompasses and how to prevent it from happening.
08. Find new opportunities
There are many writing opportunities out there, but it’s essential that you find the right fit for you. You can search across online job boards for paid freelance writing gigs, such as FlexJobs or MediaBistro. Or use social media platforms, like LinkedIn, to connect with companies related to your niche.
When you’re ready to make first contact, take time to work on your intro email or message and personalize it. Here you’ll want to use your own writer’s voice that will set you apart from the hundreds of emails an organization might be getting at any given week. You can craft a killer email subject line by using precise language and engaging text.
Alternatively, if you’re a columnist or freelance journalist, you can submit your proposal by sending them to the relevant editors at media outlets. To make a successful pitch, you must know the audience you’re writing for and be fluent in the tone you’ll be expected to uphold at the various publications.
09. Grow your brand as a writer
A writer who creates a strong and authentic brand will be able to attract their ideal audience and better connect with them. As a result, they will also be able to effectively market themselves. That’s because a brand tells everyone who you are and what you’re all about.
When building your writer brand, there are several ways to go around it. First, you’ll need to know who your target audience is and how you will reach them. Are they online or off? Do they engage better via social media or email? These are just a few of the questions that you need to consider when developing your method of communication.
Second, just like developing your writer’s voice, you’ll also need to create your brand voice. This will be displayed across all your marketing efforts, whether that’s your website, social media accounts or in the media. Take the example of best-selling children’s horror author R.L. Stine, whose brand voice is both matchless and authoritative, “Reader Beware.” Very few authors will experience similar success. Without him, no one else can effectively give you Goosebumps, as explained in this NPR sound-bite: “It’s not so much about one of your stories. It’s about all of them, and about you.”
10. Get involved in a writer’s community
Forming relationships with other like-minded writers can be lucrative and beneficial for building your reputation as a professional writer. Networking not only helps you stay on top of industry trends but keeps you informed in an ever-changing landscape. Through professional connections, you might gain access to additional money making opportunities, such as collaborating with other experienced writers in your field. This could come in the form of guest posting, which is where you write an article on another person’s website, exposing you to other readers.
It's important to get involved in writing communities, online or off. It's never been easier with so many active social media writers' groups. You can check out a number of online writing communities formed for specific audiences. Remember this, writing shouldn't feel like solitary confinement all the time. So, let your voice ring out.
Cecilia Lazzaro Blasbalg, Writer at Wix
I love to read and research history and enjoy wearing many hats in life.