So, You Wanna Be A Writer…

Well, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery a writing career.

To be fair, a writing career can be a bit of a gamble. It is certainly not the path of least resistance; it’s full of hills and valleys, rocks and holes that will make you stumble around like a drunk and might possibly break your ankle. Also there is poison ivy. And bears.

Lots and lots of bears. And they want to bite your face.

I’m mostly kidding. Editors can be a scary lot but most of them are not so bad.

Establishing a writing career feels daunting in the beginning because you’re plagued with so many questions. Where do I start? What do I do? What should I write about? What if I suck at this? What if I never make any money? Is it too late to go back to clown school?

I wish I had all of the answers. Truth be told, you’re going to have to forge your own way and the winding path you take will depend on the field(s) of writing you intend to pursue.

Unless you’re hired as a full-time staff writer for a publication, you’re most likely going to need some other source of revenue while you’re working on Your Big Writing Project. I have a few books currently in the works: a full-length fantasy novel, a conceptual humor book, and a couple of children’s books. The thing is, none of those projects are paying me squat right now, so I’m holding down multiple long-term freelance gigs to pay the bills. I write for a couple of clients, I do editorial and layout for a local newspaper, and I even do graphic design for another local client.

My dream of working full time on my own writing projects is one that I hope to achieve one day, but for the time being, a girl gotta eat. A girl also gotta keep the lights and internet turned on.


The Search For Paid Writing Work

And that’s the trick. Freelancing – particularly writing gigs – will help build experience while also paying the bills. I got my initial start working (on a very short term basis) in a field I swore I would never sink to: a content mill.

Most content writing mills pay shit. They do. They make bank on what they charge companies for “professionally written content” while paying the writers dirt-cheap, pennies on the word wages. That said, they can actually be a good first step because you have the ability to write what you want to write about, given the pool of assignments and clients, and you can walk away when you don’t want to do it anymore – no hard feelings, and no obligations. A content mill, if used wisely, can give you a little bit of experience writing in various styles and for various industries, while also adding valuable writing samples to your portfolio.

Again, you’re not going to get rich while writing for a content mill. Make no mistake about that. But you’ll earn a wee bit of extra cash while getting your feet wet in the world of content writing, which is a good thing if you intend to seek more freelance writing jobs in the future. Because at that point, you can charge a fee that’s on par with what a content mill charges, while working directly with clients. (Most content mills do not allow you to engage with clients directly.)

Writing job boards like can provide you with tools for seeking more freelance writing work. I’ve successfully nailed decent gigs that way, and only one of them didn’t work out in the long term. It’s free to use, but you can also pay a small monthly fee to access their premium job listings. There are other free job boards online, and PLENTY of free-to-join writing-related groups on Facebook that’ll help you keep your ear to the ground for paid writing opportunities and jobs. Writers groups on Facebook can open doors to all sorts of opportunities for guest posts, anthology submissions, and longer-term writing gigs. And they’re free for the joining.


Working For Free Is Not Necessarily Without Payment

Speaking of free… there is value in writing for free. Sometimes. When you’re building a name for yourself in the very beginning, guest posts on blogs or websites, or anthology submissions that may or may not be paid, can be great opportunities to set your work in front of a larger audience. With any luck, you’ll slowly build a fan base and your name will be kept in mind for other opportunities that arise with the folks involved in those publications. On top of that, those guest posts and anthologies can offer a vital career boost by providing you with author credentials. Author credentials look great on writing job applications, and they make you appear more established in your career when you set out to seek potential agents/publishers if you’re going the book-route.


Well, What If I Just Wanna Be Published Somewhere?

If you’re the type who’s really only looking to get published by certain media outlets and you’re not afraid to pitch articles or ideas, you might compile your “bucket list” of publications and start there. Familiarize yourself with their topics of interest and preferred writing styles, and study their submission policies. When you submit anything for publication, follow their guidelines to the letter. Some prefer email attachments, some do not. Some prefer single-spaced 12-point Times New Roman, while others might prefer double-spaced 11-point Helvetica with a side of bolded italics. Whatever. You might think their requests are being ridiculous but there’s a method to their perceived madness. You’d be surprised at just how easily editors will toss submissions that don’t conform to their guidelines. Following guidelines shows that you’re taking their work and their time seriously, that you’re paying attention to detail, and that you care enough to do so. That’s a big deal.


Oh Gods, What If My Hard Work Is Rejected?

Don’t be afraid to submit your work to an editor or publisher. The absolute worst thing that will happen is that you’ll get a “Thanks, but no thanks,” in response. That’s it. They won’t hunt you down, they won’t kill your dog, they won’t blow up your life or make you eat canned beets. They’ll just… say no. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s really not so bad, is it? So be brave; submit your work and hope for the best. Just know that if it isn’t accepted, it certainly isn’t the end of the world.

Understand that rejection is a part of the game. It’s a sucky part of the game, I’ll give you that much, but it’s actually a very important part. Rejection might make you feel bad about yourself or your work for a short bit, and that’s okay – wallow for a few minutes or hours if you must, but don’t allow it to end your career. Ultimately, rejection can make you a stronger writer if you let it. It will push you to keep trying, to not give up. Hell, I’ve been trying to get published by McSweeney’s for a while now, and every new rejection I receive is just one more reason to keep trying.

If you’re lucky, an editor will provide you with feedback about why the piece wasn’t accepted. Learn from any critiques you receive and grow from them. Not every editor will provide a reason other than “this just wasn’t a good fit” or “we’re not interested right now,” but if they offer you any advice, listen to it and take from it anything that’s useful. Tweak the piece and/or take it elsewhere because that rejection does not mark the end of the line.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there is a home for everything you write. Somewhere. You might not necessarily find it right away, but everything you write is valuable to some degree. If you can’t find a place to publish what you’ve written, put it on your own website/blog, or keep it as a portfolio piece. Nothing is ever truly wasted, not your time, and not your writing.


The Trash Can Is For Trash Only: Don’t Shitcan Your Words

Along that same vein, don’t throw your work away. Ever. Your words have worth, even when you’re mad about that really stupid thing you just wrote. Because the thing is, you might go back and re-read that awful manuscript or terrible poem months or even years after you wrote it and decide that, yeah, this totally sucks and I can’t believe I wrote this steaming pile of word-turds, but there’s a nugget of inspiration to work with. You’ll look at this horrible, no good piece of shit that you wrote, read it with fresh and far more experienced eyes, only to discover that there’s an idea within that’s actually salvageable, something you can run with.


What If I Run Out Of Ideas?

This is every writer’s worst fear in life: running out of things to write about.

Inspiration is everywhere and usually shows up when you least expect it. I keep a text file on my laptop and a notepad entry on my phone that’s filled with random ideas that pop into my head. Might be an idea for an article or story, might be a funny thought I had about potholes in the road, whatever. Jot that stuff down because 1) you’ll forget that awesome sentence you just came up with a minute ago, and 2) you might be able to use that idea for something one day.

You will find inspiration in the weirdest of places, but that’s how it works. It’s like lightning; keep a bottle handy so you can catch it before it disappears like a fart in the wind. When you’re feeling less than inspired, go check out the stuff you threw into that file of random thoughts and notes. Something might strike a chord with you and lead you to write something amazing on a day where you felt that task was otherwise impossible.


Hey, Lady… You Didn’t Answer Any Of My Questions About Publishing A Book

Well, that’s because I don’t have any real answers to give. Yet. I’ve contributed to a few anthologies over the years, but I’m not at the point where I’m querying agents or publishers. I have started compiling a list of potential agents for the fantasy fiction book, and I have one publisher in mind for the conceptual humor book (a publisher that takes manuscripts directly without an agent).

There is a load of useful advice to be found online regarding book publishing. The one thing I do know for certain is that no publisher worth their salt will EVER ask you for money up front. “Vanity” presses, as they are known, are notorious for targeting inexperienced authors with promises of publication, but only after you foot the bill for it. Do not go there. You’ll never earn back the money you put into it.

Instead, seek agent representation (check out Poets & Writers or AgentQuery to start), or do a search for publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts in your book genre. They are out there.

There is also a ton of useful information to be found on the art of self-publishing, and plenty of resources to help you do it. For me, I figure that I’ll try my hand at publishers/agents first, and then self-publish if none of them pan out. I’ll let you know how that stuff goes when I get there.


Just Freaking Do It

Above all things, you have to believe in yourself to make it anywhere in this field. You can do this thing. You can. Get up every morning, look yourself in the mirror and say so, directly to your own face. “I can fucking DO THIS THING.” And then… go write something.

We live in an age when writers have more power over their words than ever before. You just have to be resourceful and be willing to head into the enchanted forest with your machete firmly in hand. After all, there are bears out there.




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