How to Get Started as a Writer

How many people dream about a professional writer?  Professional Writing is any writing that you are being paid for.  It can include fiction writing, a bestselling book, articles in a magazine, articles in a newspaper, blogs for companies, technical produce manuals or procedure manuals, copy for catalogues, newsletters and so on. However, many people will write for sheer pleasure.

Your major interest may be garden writing; but in order to earn a living; you may need to broaden what you write about. Some well know garden writers often do other things as well (eg. Writing about travel, home renovation or interior decorating -or something else that may share some common ground with gardening)

Many people have a passion for writing and a dream to earn their living from writing; but in reality, many professional writers struggle to achieve their dream. Even some famous authors actually had to self-publish initially. For example –
Beatrix Potter – The Adventures of Peter Rabbit
James Joyce – Ulysses
John Grisham – A Time To Kill

Other authors who have self published include Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw,  Anais Nin,  Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Allan Poe.

Finding a publisher can be hard. Alex Haley received 200 rejections for “Roots” before it was finally published.  

Getting published is a question of talent AND perseverance. Sometimes it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time to be offered a writing job and having some established knowledge and a passion for writing.

It is common for people to assume that the way to become a professional writer is that if you do a course, develop the skill and offer yourself to employers, the work will become available. This scenario is more the exception than the rule.

Pathways to Writing

When you consider the people who are making a living from writing in today’s world; most have come to their current position inadvertently. They didn’t start out in their careers planning to be a writer; but as their careers progressed, their career paths evolved; and a need to write became evident.

There are many different ways that you can get from where you are now, to being a professional writer. Some people may follow a set pattern of study and career to become a writer, whilst others may become writers almost by “accident” as part of their job roles and other experiences.  For example - 

  • Some study a course in media, writing or journalism; and upon graduating, get a job with a publisher.
  • Some people establish themselves as an expert. For example, they may become an expert in gardening, landscaping or organics and so on; then move into writing as they are an expert writing about what they know
  • Some develop skills and a reputation as an illustrator – such as photography, drawing, IT graphics, which leads to illustrating publications, and in turn leads to writing to go along with their illustrations
  • Some study or work in marketing or advertising, developing their ability to communicate through writing; which may lead to writing media released, promotional materials, and eventually other things. The novelist Bryce Courtney worked in marketing for a long time, before moving into writing.
  • Some people start as an educator, and move from teaching into writing text books or course materials.
  • Some start as a scientist or technician; and move from working in their industry to technical writing. Such as writing reports, technical manuals, texts, etc. 
  • Some people experience things in their life that makes for interesting reading; and their experiences create the opportunity to break into professional writing. Consider a politician, sportsman, celebrity, or someone who has come through an exceptional experience such as travelling around the world. 
  • Some people may not just work as writers. They may write as part of their job. For example, they may write textbooks or technical documents as part of their job. They may write blogs, press releases, newsletter or magazine articles as a smaller aspect of their job.
  • For some, writing may be a hobby. Writing for their own pleasure, for their family to read. Perhaps writing articles for their local gardening club newsletter, newspaper and so on.

How Much of the Job is Writing?
Many professional writers do a lot more than just write. Some only earn a small proportion of their income from writing, while others can earn all of their income from writing.
  • A teacher who writes text books may earn 5 or 10% of their annual income as royalties on the books they write; while most of their income continues to come from wages paid by the school they teach at.
  • A novelist may spend 30 or 40 hrs a week writing novels, but unless they sell well, they may need to work another 20 hrs a week at something completely different to writing, in order to make enough money to live.
  • A businessman may spend 20% of their time writing content for newsletters, online blogs and marketing materials etc, in order to maintain the visibility of their business in the market place.
  • A gardening feature writer for magazines or newspapers may spend more than half of their time doing research; and less than half writing.
  • A TV or radio broadcaster may be writing things to broadcast; but also spending a lot of time delivering the broadcast.
  • A teacher may be writing lesson notes, but spending more time delivering the lesson.
  • More and more different organizations are also getting involved in writing and presenting podcasts, online resources and so on. Many schools now present lectures on line on websites such as YouTube. This obviously requires the writing of the lecture, research and then the preparation of the podcast or video to go online. We see fitness organizations who will offer advice on how to do different exercises, nutrition techniques and so on. Health care professionals may give advice on looking after yourself. Animal health care professionals may show people online how to care for their dog, cat or other pets.  This is often a way to advertise a product or service, but can also be an informative and educational service at the same time.

Where Can You Get Paid for Writing?
Writers can get paid for many different areas of writing. These might include –
• books
• magazines
• newspapers
• TV
• film
• stage plays
• newsletters
• advertising and pr
• social media
• websites
• blogs
• reports
• resumes/CVs
We have already talked about some careers in writing. But there are more than you might think. Other, more unusual examples might be –

• Greeting cards writers – Many cards have poems or little verses or quotes in them. Someone has to write them. 
• Travel writers – Travel writers will write about different locations. This can be as a way to inform others about a certain area, historically, environmentally and so on. Or they can write about the area in terms of tourist opportunities.
• Ghost writers (a writer who writes for someone else. For example, a celebrity may wish to write their autobiography but lack the writing skills. So they will tell the ghost writer their story, then the ghost writer will present the story in a more suitable form)
• Song writer – Many artists write their own songs, but some will use professional writers to write songs for them. 
• Creative writing teacher – Creative writing teachers may be authors or writers who also have moved into the field of teaching. They may teach and still write as well.
• Freelance writer – A freelance writer may seek contracts out to write about a different range of topics. They will usually only receive work for a specified topic. Some freelance writers may only get occasional work, whilst others can earn a good income as a freelance writer. Some writers may wish to retain the role of freelance writer as they can enjoy the flexibility of the job.
• Game writer – there are many complex computer games available today that may tell a “story” that the player works through until the end. Characters are developed with their own personalities, skills, powers and so on.
• Legacy writer – a person who writes family histories or biographies for other people.
• Poet – Poetry is not as popular as say a bestselling novel. Sales of poetry books do not usually reach the heights that the sales of books can.  However, there are some poets who are able to work as professional poets. Over 12 countries have poet laureates. They are poets who write about special state events, for example, a coronation, a new parliament and so on.  Famous Poet laureates include Lord Tennyson, Phillip Levine, William Wordsworth, John Betjeman,
• Personal poet – writing poems for special events, birthdays, people.
• Columnist – A columnist may write columns about their opinions or certain topics, perhaps once a week in a newspaper or a magazine. For example, a specialist in the economy may have a regular column in a newspaper, writing about the economy. Columnists may specialist in other areas, such as celebrity, fashion, current events.
• Blogger – Many people do blogging today. A blog is a combination of web and log.  It can be a person log of a person’s life.  Some may do this for their personal interest. Others may do this as a way to attract attention to their business. To inform their students – for example –some teachers might write blogs about topics for their students. There are also professional bloggers. If you look on the internet, there are many bloggers who write professionally. They may produce a large number of blogs, then sell advertising on their website.  There are different types of blogs – photoblog, artblogs, microblogs (very short blogs).
• Creativity coach – Similar to a creative writing teacher, but a creativity coach may encourage their students to open up and become more creative, in writing and perhaps other fields.
• Comic book writer – Comic book writers once were considered less than novelists. But with the rise in popularity of superhero films, such as Superman, X-Men, Spiderman and so on, the writing of comic book authors have been viewed in a far more positive way.  The author, Jerry Siegel and artist, Joe Shuster, were responsible for the highly popular Superman comics, novels and films.

As we said earlier, writing can be the main focus of a person’s job. They may be a novel writer, journalist, textbook author and so on. Or they may do writing as part of their main job – writing reports, website content writing, writing consultancy reports and so on.

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