Just as with any other skilled job, if you want to be a writer, then you need an aptitude for it. You can, and will, learn along the way, so writing isn’t a profession where you need to learn everything possible before you can even start. Still, there are things that you do need, without which you will struggle to make a career as a writer.
Here are the top things to consider if you’re asking yourself ‘should I become a writer’…
1. Are you passionate?
Now that’s not a word careers officers at school often use, is it? But if you don’t have a passion for writing, if it’s something you can take or leave, then by all means continue to write for fun, but you might find it’s better as a hobby.
Writing might sound glamorous, and yes, working from home really does give you an awful lot of freedom, but it’s still work, and you must be able to keep going when things get tough.
The only thing that will get you through the days when rejection after rejection comes in and the words aren’t flowing is passion, along with a dose of sheer grit and determination.
2. How are you at being alone?
Writing is not often a team sport. Even if you have a co-writer for your novel, or run a small company with a couple of other freelance writers on the team, the only person who can put your butt in the chair and get you to write is you. And you can’t do that by spending all day chatting and socialising with other people. You won’t get the deep focus and concentration you need to produce something really good.
It’ll be down to you to find out how you write best, whether that’s in total silence, with music or with background noise from an app like Coffitivity, but at the end of the day, writing is you, by yourself for most of the time, putting words down on your tool of choice.
If you can’t cope with being on your own a lot of the time, writing might not be for you.
3. Are you very thin-skinned?
Delicate little flowers tend to struggle with writing as a career because you do have to deal with an awful lot of criticism and rejection.
If you work for clients, they’ll sometimes come back with a ton of edits or tell you they don’t like what you’ve written and you’ll have to be able to take what they’re saying and, first of all, use it to fix what you’ve written to complete the job how they want, and secondly, to absorb the best and most useful of their criticisms to look objectively at your work and see where you can improve.
If you send pitches to companies, magazines or websites, you will get rejected, sometimes with complete silence and no explanation, and sometimes with a full critique of why your pitch wasn’t successful. That’s if you’re very lucky.
If you don’t get why that’s lucky, if you can’t see how unbelievably helpful it is to have an editor or someone who commissions writing for a living tell you why your pitch failed and how it could be better, then writing probably isn’t for you.
If you start a blog and write your own posts, and then share on social media, you’re looking at receiving criticism from your readers, and possibly from those internet troll types who apparently have nothing better to do than be awful to people who’ve dared to create something and share it.
If you write a book, you’re guaranteed to get at least one 1-star review, and reviewers can be incredibly cutting and rude. Yes, even JK Rowling has her fair share of 1-star reviews!
You’ve got to take risks and be able to put your writing out there, knowing that you will absolutely find people who don’t like your work.
You’ve got to be able to shake off criticism and rejection and pick out the things that are fair criticism and genuinely helpful to improve and get better over time.
It’s not fun, it’s not nice, but it is part of being a writer.
4. Can you write to market?
You might have a deep passion for the tufted pygmy squirrel (yes, that is a thing), but are there enough people out there who also love it enough to pay you for writing about it?
Passion is absolutely necessary, but if you want to make a living with your writing, you need to also be practical, and to choose subjects that you love writing about but where you can also earn money.
5. How do you feel about marketing?
So many people think of marketing as something really distasteful – a sleazy, pushy, unethical thing that just tricks people into buying.
Some people are also absolutely terrified of doing it. You have to reach out, put yourself out there and open yourself up to that criticism and rejection I mentioned earlier. Otherwise, fear really can hold you back.
Both of those attitudes can keep you frozen in place, not getting anywhere with your writing and finding that you just can’t make a real living.
So let’s tackle them both:
Marketing is only sleazy and unethical if you make it so. You don’t have to hard sell anybody to make your freelance business (because that’s what it is) work. If you don’t want to be pushy, then don’t be pushy.
The best way to sell freelance writing is to realise that you do offer real value to your clients and that you can help them build their business and get results. If you can think of it in terms that you’re genuinely going out there to help people, knowing that your writing can make a huge difference to people, then by not promoting your work and finding people you can help, you’re actually doing them a big disservice.
Focus on your clients’ needs and think of marketing that way and, hopefully, the fear will disappear.
If cold calling leaves you feeling like it’s forty below, then don’t do it. Use content marketing and send out written pitches instead. Try a variety of things that you might enjoy until you find the ones that work for you.
You’ve got to find a way to market that works for you and do it consistently, or you won’t have an income.
Stuck for ideas on how to market yourself and your writing? Try Carol Tice’s 21 Ways to Market Your Writing Services, or Elna Cain’s 10 Smart Ways to Market Your Freelance Writing Biz.
6. How do you handle setbacks?
You may be able to make a living with your writing fairly quickly if you get out there and market yourself well, but building a writing career isn’t an insta-success, quit your day job today and earn tomorrow kind of thing.
You’ve got a lot to do to get your freelance writing career going and you can’t expect instant results. You need patience and determination to keep going, and you need to keep learning for the rest of your life and following the experts who’ve done what you want to do.
So really, looking at the points above, it’s a case of ‘you tell me’. Should you become a writer?
Main image credit: McKylan Mullins
Image credits: Min An, Startup Stock Photos, Startup Stock Photos