How to become a professional writer in 6 steps

by Louisa Hann | 6 min read

The professional title of ‘writer’ is something many of us readerly types dreamt of acquiring as children. Writing books not only sounded romantic but seemed to promise a life of peaceful days during which we could explore our imaginations. However, while many people still associate writers with reclusive novelists, the reality is very different.

The term ‘writer’ covers a whole range of professions from novelists to copywriters to journalists to screenwriters. Indeed, many writers will dip their toes into a whole range of different professions throughout their lives, providing an exciting and dynamic career path.

So what does it take to become a writer? The simple answer is talent and determination. Writerly abilities often make themselves apparent at a very young age and develop throughout a person’s lifetime. However, it must also be noted that inherent writing abilities do not provide an automatic pathway to success. Developing your skills and being able to sell yourself is key to developing a lucrative career as a writer. Furthermore, rejection is an inevitable part of any writer’s life, meaning resilience is very important.

While no two writers’ careers will look exactly the same, there are a few key elements that often characterise successful ones. To give you an idea of what they are, we’ve collated the following tips on how to become a professional writer.

Step 1: Start writing

Although you may have innate writing skills, having aced all of your exams at school and impressed friends with your brilliant short stories, this does not guarantee you a successful career. While many people have strong writing abilities, maintaining the will to write on a daily basis can be difficult for some people, and even downright painful for others.

According to statistics cited in the Huffington Post, over 80% of Americans would like to be an author. The number who succeed, however, is far lower because simply sitting down and writing can be the hardest part of the process.

Before committing yourself to become a professional writer, experiment with writing every day. Try writing stories, blog posts or articles and consider whether you actually enjoy doing it. Nobody has to see them – this is merely an exercise to see whether writing is an actual passion or, like the millions of Americans who would like to be novelists, something that is likely to remain just a nice idea.

Step 2: Get yourself out there

If you’ve discovered your passion for writing and are starting to build up a portfolio of work, getting yourself published and known to the world is the next important step.

Websites such as WordPress, Wix and other free copywriter portfolio sites are fantastic resources for budding writers as they allow the publication of content onto users’ very own web pages. Best of all, it’s absolutely free.

Start by posting a few blog entries or short stories and publicise them through your social media accounts. With tools to show you how much traffic your content generates, you’ll be surprised how much attention your writing garners. This can be a real confidence boost and provide a good forum for you to showcase your work to future employers or publishers.

Step 3: Consider whether you need any extra training

Just as there is no one way to be a writer, there are no mandatory degrees or diplomas a writer must have to be successful. However, it remains the case that most writers in professional jobs such as public relations, journalism and copywriting have some kind of undergraduate degree or diploma in a writerly subject.

However, this is by no means a prerequisite. The Balance has produced a smart and incisive article about the various diplomas and degrees writers may want to take. Give it a read to find out about your options, some of which may surprise. The world of online and short courses is burgeoning in our digital world and could be the perfect opportunity for you to brush up on your writing skills.

Step 4: Start getting to know your way around the industry you would like to work in

Having immersed yourself thoroughly in the first few steps, you should have some idea by now of the kind of writing job you would like to pursue.

Let’s imagine you’re hoping to get into the world of music journalism. Explore the web for sites that accept new writers’ work. Pitch them your ideas for new articles by getting in contact directly or via social media. Show them your work. And, most importantly, be persistent.

It’s an unfortunate fact that many writers will have to do a bit of work for free or at a reduced rate before they can start making money out of it. However, this is also a great time in your career to start getting valuable feedback from industry professionals. Make sure you take feedback seriously and not too personally. It can be disheartening to be critiqued on your work, particularly if you are not used to it, but this is a vital step in developing your skills.

Step 5: Find your routine

Once you’ve started making money out of your writing, or have finally established your ultimate goals, you may want to think about forming a productive daily routine.

The stereotype of the eccentric and reclusive writer can be an irritating one, but it does, unfortunately, contain a grain of truth. Embrace your kooky writing habits and do whatever helps you feel productive. The following article from Medium is a great read and demonstrates that developing daily habits and rituals (no matter how odd) can be the key to success.

Step 6: Finally… Make sure writing remains an enjoyable hobby

The primary reason most people want to get into a professional writing career is because they love it as a discipline. In this way, it is important that your love of crafting words never fades.

To make sure you continue doing what you love, make time for writing tasks you enjoy such as short story writing, poetry, or some simple food blogging. Who knows – one day the writing about which you are most passionate may be your primary source of income!

Main image credit: StartupStockPhotos
Louisa Hann

Louisa Hann