Writing is a skill that’s required in a variety of professions, from law to journalism and countless others in between. It’s a skill that can lead to flexible hours, self-employment, and many unique opportunities. If you’re interested in becoming a professional writer, here are five things you need to do.
1. Write. (The obvious one!)
Most professional writers grew up writing. They wrote poetry or stories in school, they excelled in English class, and they gravitated toward college majors like creative writing, publishing, or literature. By the time most professional writers begin an entry-level job in the corporate world, they’ve typically had years of experience as a novice writer, plus some experience with learning writing in an educational setting, as well as an internship or two.
2. Pick a specific niche.
Do you want to write for TV, film, magazines, newspapers, lifestyle websites, advertising agencies, product companies, or social media? Do you want to be a creative writer, a copywriter, or a technical writer? Get clear on a medium and a field. Find someone with your dream job, look them up on LinkedIn, and see exactly what steps it took to get there. You may need to take a course to get more experience, or your dream job may require a certain degree—find out, and start preparing.
3. Work backward and identify a starting point.
If you want to be a columnist at The New York Times, your first job out of college might be an editorial assistant at a local paper. If you want to write feature films, your first job might be a production assistant in the film industry. If you want to go the non-corporate route, such as writing novels or Broadway plays, many writers work whatever day job they can get while writing manuscripts at night. In this case, you’ll really have to hustle to make connections, attend industry events, and meet as many people as you can.
4. Expect to work your way up.
Your first full-time staff job may involve some writing, but it also might not. For example, an assistant editor at a magazine might not do any writing at all; she or he might help get clothing samples for photo shoots, book models, and organize the fashion closet. But after three years of solid work, she’ll get promoted to a position where she’s writing a weekly column, and someone new will take her place in the more administrative role. Don’t expect to be given everything right away! You will need to prove yourself, make connections, learn, and work your way up.
Make sure you are reading often; whatever you want to write (novels, articles, newspapers, etc.), you should be studying. See what your competition is doing, stay on top of trends, and get inspired by the level of talent that’s setting the bar in your industry.
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