A professional writer can work on anything from novels, plays and poems to the adverts and blurbs that help to sell them to the public. Writing jobs can differ enormously from one to another, and two people who both happen to spend their working life writing may have very little in common in terms of their day-to-day experiences. While some writing reaches the pinnacle of human creativity, some writing is as mundane and functional as they come.
As a professional writer, your work is likely to be somewhere in between — and probably closer to the ‘functional’ end. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But there are many similarities between the Hemingways and workadays. Both, for example, are likely to have a love/hate relationship with their craft; to enjoy the product of their work (sometimes) while often struggling with the process that creates it. This can range from mild irritation to full-on existential crisis and chronic writers’ block.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start at the beginning, and attempt to answer the age-old question: what do you need to be a writer?
Firstly, writers are likely to be fastidious in their use of language, even if their objective is to appear un-fastidious. In advertising, for example, the job is to sell an idea or a product, not show off your grammar or vocabulary.
But a good writer should have excellent grammar and vocabulary, even if they don’t show them off — they will strive for the correct word and the correct phrase, and develop an ability to do so at speed. From there, they will tamper and toy with said phrase, to ensure that it’s the right one for their target audience, even if they happen to think it rather dull.
Hardly anyone is allowed free rein in the professional sphere. Even the most high-profile novelists and journalists have editors and audiences that they have to answer to; editors and audiences that will respectively berate and ignore them if their concerns are not taken into account. You might have written what you think is the funniest joke; the most well-balanced sentence or the beautifully timed callback you could ever have conceived of, but it can be deleted at the drop of a hat. Don’t take it personally.
Arrogance is not becoming of a writer, and some become renowned for it. Take Giles Coren, for example, who once infuriated his Sunday Times sub-editors through his foul-mouthed tirade at their apparent incompetence and earned himself nationwide dislike in the process. A bit of modesty goes a long way in writing, especially as you become more and more ‘professional’. Put simply, no matter how well-paid or well-regarded you are, there’s always someone who’s going to know better than you — and it’s better to embrace, learn and improve from this, rather than resent, reject and retaliate. Not that you should ever allow yourself to be put down.
A love for writing — both as a noun and verb
Writers should love the written word, as well as writing the written word, if you catch our drift. That isn’t to say that you should be nose deep in a sonnet every spare moment, but take a moment to appreciate a headline (or even read the whole article), watch an advert or skim over the back of a pamphlet every now and then. You’ll be surprised how much pleasing copy you might find, and how much you think could be drastically improved upon.
And when it comes to writing down words yourself, try to enjoy it. Make it as good as you can make it, even if the subject is dull, which it often can be. Try to inform, engage and enlighten with every job. And if you struggle to enjoy the work you do in your day job, then write in your spare time too. One of the advantages is that you will improve every day.
A specialist subject (even if you may not get to write about it)
Whether you’re a copywriter, a journalist or a fiction-ist, a specialist subject will work wonders in giving you an edge to future employers. If you’re into music writing and love post-punk, then delve into the genre. Then delve deeper. Then delve into Maximum Joy or the Pop Group. Then sell yourself as a specialist of the 1980s Bristol scene and grab the attention of editors as a go-to authority on the subject. You get the picture.
And even if you just end up writing the odd article, and don’t end up getting that book deal or staff writing position, you’ll have portfolio material that you can use for anything, because it’s good, and you wrote it.
Finally, and this goes a long way, is creativity. No one’s expecting Paradise Lost, but being able to formulate your own ideas is a very good way to get work.
HOWEVER, don’t worry if you’re not a ‘creative’ as such. Copywriter and Twitter funnyperson Clare Barry describes herself thus:
“To some, I’m a creative. To others, I’m a ‘space filler’. To some, I’m a ‘content storydo-er’ (wtf) and to others— I’m a personified dictionary, paid for the sole purpose of removing their need to google how to spell a word”.
The ability to write a clear sentence with a good turn of phrase, as well as the ability to write about a range of subjects, is enough to get you a good position as a writer. But creativity can get you an exceptional one — so work on ideas, and work on thinking of ideas.
Things you don’t need:
– A degree or relevant qualifications: while they may be beneficial, a good portfolio is much more interesting to an employer or editor.
– A family history of writing: no one cares if your dad is Salman Rushdie, and lots of people don’t know who Salman Rushdie is.
– A ‘for as long as I remember I wanted to be a writer’ story: some people just start writing and discover they’re good at it. This can happen at any age.
If you are looking to start out as a writer, then Copify is a great place to start. We pay per job and don’t require any tricky interviews — just a writing test to make sure you’ve got the skills you need. Apply today.
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Internal image credits: fotografierende, Lisa Fotios, mentatdgt