Laura’s note: Over the next few days, I’ll be answering some of my Frequently Asked Questions — questions that I often hear from readers. As I email my answers, I sometimes think, hey, that would make a reasonable blog post! So here we go. If you have a question to add to the series, please email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.
Q. I’m working as a lawyer/consultant/administrator/small business owner but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. How do I get started?
A. I think writing is a great career. I’ve heard too many stories lately of people who’ve wanted to do something creative or artistic, but have been discouraged from it by well-meaning sorts who inform them that it’s impossible to make a living. This isn’t true. It’s quite possible to make enough to support a family in a creative career. I know a number of writers earning six figures, and none of them are as big of names as, say, J.K. Rowling.
That said, it’s not as straightforward a path to earning a decent living as going to law school and then getting a job at a major law firm. It’s pretty hard to earn a good living if you are dead set on doing only one sort of writing (e.g. only magazine features, or only books). And anyone hoping to build a career as a writer should know that it requires a lot of patience. Momentum builds over time. Seeds you plant can sometimes take years to bear fruit.
The old advice to get started as a writer was to start building up your “clips.” Clips are magazine or newspaper clippings of your work — basically, evidence of what you’ve done. I got my first professional clips in college writing freelance stories for local newspapers. My first “big name” publication clips came right after college when I started writing for USA Today. Those op-eds got me a number of other gigs later. My biggest “clips” these days are my books. I hear from editors who’ve read my books and are looking for writers.
There’s nothing wrong with my approach — and getting a few professional clips is still a great idea. But these days you can also get started by making your own clips. So I recommend that anyone looking to make a career as a writer start a blog. The best reason is that you’ll get a lot of writing practice as you crank out posts daily. But the next best reason is that a blog creates a portfolio of your work that anyone can read, including people who hire writers. If you want to write feature stories, just write them for your blog, and people will see what you can do. Send your best posts to various editors, or to bigger blogs that take guest posts, and over time you’ll hear back from people who are interested. Then you can start sending ideas for paid stories to these people who hire writers, and go from there.
Of course, none of this is a sure thing. It may take a long time or you could make the leap overnight. If you write a blog post early on that somehow goes viral, you’ll get book offers coming to you. But probably things will build slow and steady, which is good because your writing will get better over time as well.
Photo courtesy flickr user qisur