Ernest Hemingway allegedly quipped, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Writing is a hard, often frustrating processes. Nonetheless, for those with the talent and the desire to write, there isn’t much more rewarding. To become a writer, you’ll need more than talent and practice, you’ll also need to find your niche, join a community of writers, and train yourself in the craft of selling your writing to editors, publishers, and readers.
Finding Your Voice
If you study the lives of great writers, you’ll find that they all practiced their writing. A lot. Work on your writing every day, even if it’s only for a half an hour. As you produce more work, even if it’s not good, you’ll begin to notice the techniques you’re really good at and those that still need more practice. More importantly, you’ll begin to learn what your voice sounds like as a writer.
What type of writer you want to be will determine how you practice your writing. Different types of writing careers demand different conventions and styles. For example, if you want to write essays and articles for magazines, read the best magazines out there (The New Yorker, TIME, or major titles in your fields of interest) and study what makes a great article. Then practice. Do research, conduct interviews, and commit yourself to writing an article a week. That way you’ll train your voice and produce a solid portfolio of pieces to pitch to possible employers and editors.
If you want to write poems, books, or other literature, keep up with new titles and trends in contemporary publishing. Learn what is selling currently and consider how your unique voice fits in or fills a gap. Produce a poem, short story, or chapter a week and continue to revise.
Blogging can function as a way to practice and train these skills, too. Post new work to your blog at least on a weekly basis (the more frequently the better), network with other bloggers, and get feedback on your work. (Check out our tips about making your blog a brand.) Focus your blog on demonstrating your particular genre or style of writing. That way you can both work on your craft and on making a name for yourself.
An essential part of developing a writing career is an active writers’ community. One of your most valuable resources is the feedback of other people. Other writers will be able to give you better insights than someone who isn’t thinking critically about writing (or someone who loves you, like your mom). Search your area for local workshop groups or find an online writing buddy. For those striving for a literary career, one of the best ways to really develop your writing is to enroll in an M.A. or M.F.A program in creative writing. These days many successful journalists also have a Master’s degree. Whether you’re already in school, or thinking about enrollment, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is an excellent resource. Their annual conference draws thousands of writers from across the country to network, workshop, and have fun.
Find Your Audience: Writing is a Business Too
Though a lot about writing has changed since Hemingway sat down at his typewriter, the basic skills for turning your creative passion into a publication or a career continue to hinge on your ability to sell your writing. Writing is an art, but it’s also a business. In addition to daily practice of your writing, you’ll need to learn how to write a query letter in order to find an agent or a job. If your aim is a literary career, practice writing queries, synopsis, and sample chapters. Hand them out to writers in your workshop group and ask them if they’d buy the project you’re pitching. The Literary Marketplace is your guide to finding agents and places to publish. If your goal is a freelance or marketing career, check out our list of Job Sites for Copy Writers. In the meantime, keep up with that blog to maintain your online presence.
To become a writer you’ll need to figure out how your voice contributes to the existing marketplace or field. What makes your writing worth reading? Continue to practice what makes your work unique as well as strengthening the areas where your writing is weak. Developing an awareness of what your writing offers is a key way to selling your writing in query letters and manuscripts. ~Kasey