Sounds so romantic. Being a writer.
You’re excited to explore your endless creativity and transfuse it into words you love so much.
Oh and it doesn’t hurt that you can do it from anywhere. Your home, the beach, your lower body chilling in an infinity pool. And rack up big, fat profits for your work.
The truth is, if you want to make your living as a writer, you can.
But you better understand what you’re getting yourself into.
For one, as you start researching on how to succeed as a writer and deciding your first steps, the alluring voices of the Internet will assure you it’s easy and simple to become a well-fed writer.
But the lush jungle of advice, tips, opinions, groups, experiences and recommendations (breathe), live videos, webinars, promises, emails, books, courses and sale pages will suck you in and often spit you out scared, disoriented and confused.
(And you’ll only have a minute before it grabs you and pulls you in again).
You mustn’t avoid this labyrinth of knowledge, because it’s the absolute necessity if you want to make it as a writer.
But you could sure use a map and a compass to help you get what you need and find your way back.
So these 4 cornerstones are like your survival kit. A simple map, with the most important landmarks of becoming a skilled, knowledgeable and successful writer.
Sharpen up your machete, we’re going in.
1. Build writer’s mindset
Don’t get me wrong, but you’ll never become a writer, unless you ARE one.
You need to own it. You may still need to work on your writing skills. And it’s ok to doubt how good of a writer you are. Or not to be sure what you want to write about and where.
But if you daydream about the day you’ll say, with your chin up: “I write____________ for a living,” you need to see yourself as a writer now.
Something has to click inside you.
Because, otherwise, it’ll be difficult for you to focus and be driven to do whatever it takes to build the career that’ll make you proud. And don’t let anybody fool you, writing for a (good) living is tough.
2. Whatever you write, know your audience first
When you land your first gig or start creating the number one post for your blog, as well as many more to come, your initial impulse will be to write.
A lot of advice you run into in the mentioned jungle will boil down to: “practice, practice, practice i.e. just write.”
So a lot of times, you’ll assume you get your audience, ignore another omnipresent advice to learn more about them and skip this step to follow more interesting ones that focus on the word-crafting itself.
Because the reality is writing is much like sex.
You need to make an effort to know your date. Take her (him) out. Give them your attention. Listen. Learn. And show understanding and affection.
Only then comes the sex. I mean, the writing.
Ok, ok, quicky one-night stands count too, but do you want your copy to be a one-night stand, do you?
Another meaningless story, in the vast sea of texts. An empty narrative that fails to either touch or connect with your audience.
They won’t remember your name and you won’t get followers, fans, readers or buyers.
Just a fake: “I’ll call you!”
And that’s not how you become a successful writer. That’s how you become $20 for a blog post writer. If you’re lucky.
So whatever your niche is and whatever topic you’re covering, take the time to know your audience.
The big question here:
- Read the questions people ask about your topic on Quora;
- Google specific questions people ask about what you’re writing about;
- Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups where your audience is and listen to their voices;
- If you can, create a poll and ask them for help and clarity;
When you’ve done your research, describe the people you’re getting ready to talk to. Or even go a step further and create a marketing persona.
3. Write in waves
Headlines and subheadings. Opening paragraphs and hooks, plots, twists and points. Power words, sensory words, closing paragraphs and cliffhangers. Writing tone and voice. And the mood. Persuasive? Sentence structure and grammar, use of adjectives and adverbs…
Writing is a science and an art. If you want to make progress - read, learn and absorb a lot. Lucky for you, knowledge has never been more available and easy to come by. Inside the jungle.
But if you’re a vigorous learner, you’ll soon realize that most of what you read and watch, no matter what source it came from, sounds familiar. As if you’ve already read or heard it before.
And you probably have.
But don’t mistake the feeling of familiarity for writing like a pro yourself.
Advice and guidelines on good writing you find on the Internet (in books, blog posts, some courses, videos, webinars...) mostly sound like common sense and simple enough to apply.
But you must write a sea of words for them to sink in.
The thing is, while there has never been more tips on how to write just about anything from an Instagram caption to a sci-fi novel, advice on HOW TO include these tips and absorb them in your writing is often missing.
That’s why this is one of the pillars.
Your learning curve will seem a bit like waves. The fluent waters of knowledge you’ve already adopted will pick up the grains of new information, literary devices and other educational elements and absorb it into the next wave.
Or in less poetic manner:
You sit before your task. You write it. Then you read your favorite tip on how to write
(whether the whole piece or one section like the headline or closure).
Then you rewrite or adjust your copy, implementing the tip.
Remember to use the same tip next time you write something. And the next time.
When you’ve included one tip into your copy and you use it naturally, it’s time to find and follow the next one.
Likewise, having someone to comment and provide feedback for your writing - so you can improve and grow even more, is priceless.
And your learning is never over just like the sea is never still. You can always try out new literary devices or work on your structure to make your writings more compelling for your audience.
4. It doesn’t count if you don’t show & tell
You can be the world’s best writer of all time. Your family and friends may love your work and swear they have read nothing like it.
If you want to earn your living writing, that makes no difference. A well-fed writer is exclusively easy to be found by their audience - writer.
In fact, even a not-so-good author with decent social media presence, content marketing strategy and/or good pitching skills will have more gigs and hires than a good one, but may be reluctant to get out there and market themselves.
People don't market themselves for many reasons. But whatever yours is, this is the one step you cannot skip. You can’t be an affluent writer if you don’t promote your work & you. Period.
What you can do is not get ahead of yourself, make a massive plan and then choke at the notion of how much work you need to do every day to put all that machinery in motion.
Write a couple of blog posts (or make a couple of videos, whatever’s your preference), learn about different social media and decide where to promote them.
Give yourself time to experiment.
Maybe what you’ve first tried doesn’t work out. Maybe you still didn’t develop your social listening skills.
Whatever the reason, even if you decide to buy a promising course and follow a well-beaten path, you need to anticipate trial and error period.
Writers often live in their heads and hesitate to reach out either to help others or ask for help.
Yet, stressing on just how important networking is can be a bit of a challenge. Hint: extremely!
Getting to know your prospects or readers can lead to better understanding of what they need from you. Helping them will make them trust you.
And the fellow writers you engage with can ease your struggles to overcome the roadblocks and setbacks you face and on occasion, refer you to their clients. Also, they can refer marketing experts they worked with to work on your promotion.
However, whatever you do, don’t let the social media and the marketing part of your writing career overwhelm you. It can do that.
Watch where you step. And take one step at a time.
You know, when you think about it, who’s to say you can’t build an infinity pool for successful writers in the heart of the jungle? All by yourself.
True: the forest can be fierce and merciless if you get in unprepared. But if you enter fully aware of the basics, pick up only what you need to build from the groundwork and not let the lianas pull you back and forth from one useful tip (course, book, webinar...) to another, in time (and with a little luck,) anything is possible.