Today I’m going to answer a reader question about forging a career as a writer.
Leanne recently got in touch with me, shared a bit of her life story, and told me about all the writing she’s done over the years. This included journals, stories about her family and school days, stories for her grandchildren, a memoir for her Mum, and even a published book of poetry.
Her question was this
“Given all the writing I’ve done, do you think there would be a possible career for me in writing? Maybe working for someone, with someone, or just a column somewhere? Or should I concentrate on trying to publish a book of stories?”
The short answer is – it’s very hard to make money from writing. And even when you break in, it can take a long time to establish yourself. But, if it’s something you really want, there’s no reason not to go for it. Just keep in mind that it will likely be hard and take some time.
If you decide to go for it, here are some things to keep in mind:-
Firstly, ask yourself: what do you get from writing?
For me, it’s the joy of creating something out of nothing. Of immersing myself in an imaginary world, that’s sprung from my head; of bringing characters to life. It’s that quiet process, just me and my laptop, chiselling away at the words to make sure they’re just right. Those are the things I really love.
So, no matter what happens with my writing career, I know I’ve always got that. This takes the pressure off whether or not I’m successful. Because no matter what happens, I know I’d do it anyway, for the love of it. When you take the pressure off yourself, it makes it easier for you to keep writing, and when you keep writing, you naturally get better at it.
Also, don’t forget, self-improvement is a really healthy thing to do; you’ve probably heard that lifelong learning is good for your brain health. So, no matter what comes of your writing, it’s a win-win. When you’re learning, challenging yourself and improving, it’s never a waste of time.
But let’s say you’re desperate to do this for more than just love.
How do you forge a career as a writer?
Start by deciding what field you want to work in. Short stories and column writing are different areas with different requirements. You may want to do both, but to start with, I would focus on one and really work on that.
I’m a big believer in focusing. When we focus on one area, it’s easier for others to see us as an ‘expert’. If we dabble at lots of different things, we might be seen as a ‘Jack of all trades’. It’s also easier to get better when we focus. If we try to work in lots of different mediums at once, we risk spreading ourselves too thin, and not making the progress we’d like.
If you want to write fiction, there’s a quote that goes something like this: fiction is like life but with the boring bits taken out. So, think about how to make your stories ‘heightened’. Exaggerate them. Push the characters to their extremes and see how they react.
If you want to write non-fiction, look around your local area, and see if there are any blogs that share local news or interesting historical stories. Have a think about whether you have an idea you could contribute. Maybe you could write little historical blog posts about your area, perhaps something you have already researched. Or you could even start your own historical blog. Just a thought.
Whichever medium you choose, the key thing is to learn and hone your craft. Practise, practise and practise – and of course, get feedback. This will help you improve your writing, develop your style and also find your ‘voice’.
Next, make sure you know what you want to say and that you have a unique angle. Knowing what I wanted to write about, and finding my own style took me years, to be honest. But the process was a wonderful exploration into getting to know myself. It was so satisfying when I finally stumbled across an idea that was truly me.
But to begin with, I tried to write stories that I thought would make me look good, I was worried what other people thought. Eventually I learnt to just write from the heart. It turns out my heart is full of silly, whimsical ideas, and funny, goofy characters. When I finally accepted that, I found my voice!
It’s hard to say exactly what makes something original, but it’s worth taking the time to keep asking yourself the question – how is this a fresh take on something familiar? Don’t panic if it doesn’t feel original or fresh at first. The more you work on your ‘voice’, the closer you’ll get to writing something original. But it can take a lot of time and practise.
Work on your craft
Another couple of craft points. It’s important to keep asking: How can I be concise? How can I be simple and clear? Don’t try to wow your reader with fancy words and phrases, instead, imagine you’re leading them by the hand through a story, that unravels step by step.
Readers really want to grasp your point without having to stop and figure out your meaning, as that pulls them out of the moment. So, for me, simplicity and clarity are vital.
Apart from this, the main thing is to persevere; you need a mixture of determination and optimism to be successful. But along the way, keep reminding yourself about what you love about writing, because at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
Could I work with a writer?
You also asked about the possibility of working for or with someone. Do you mean helping a professional writer with their work, perhaps with their research or admin? I don’t have any first hand experience of this, but here are a few thoughts…
Most writers want to do their own research. It helps them find and hone their idea. Secondly, sadly, most writers don’t earn enough to be able to hire another person to help them. That said, there are bound to be some writers who do need help and can afford to pay. But it would be a question of finding them and proving you’re the right person for the job.
Where to start?
Start by reaching out to the Society of Authors or the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain – they might be able to give you better advice than I can. Perhaps they could put you in touch with some authors working in a field that interests you and you could quiz them for tips. You could also attend writers festivals, once lockdown lifts, and network with writers there.
Alternatively, try seeking out authors in your local area. Are there any facebook groups in your local area – you could write a post, letting people know you’re looking to meet local authors. See if you can chat to them and start by asking them for advice.
I hope that helps, Leanne. Do let me know how you get on with your writing.
Do you have a question?
If you have a question get in touch as I might be able to answer it in a future post.
Finally, if you find my posts helpful, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter where I share tips on all aspects of writing, productivity, habits and different ways of marketing yourself and your work. You’ll also get a free 7-day writing course.
Thanks so much for reading! I’m Katy Segrove – animation writer, children’s author, writing coach and mum to cheeky 2-year old Otto.