April 10, 2022, is National Encourage a Young Writer Day. To celebrate, I want to share advice for new writers. I learned a few things on my journey to becoming a professional freelance writer, and now aspiring author.
So, if you’re a new writer wanting to turn pro, heres some advice to help you on your way, no matter your age.
How do you know if you have what it takes to be a professional writer?
Writing is a skill set, like baking. Some people are naturally good at it, while others might struggle. For example, I have strong writing skills, but I can’t bake for shit. In fact, my husband took only one bite of the birthday cake I made him before smooshing the rest around his plate!
Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to bake. I’d just have to invest some time, and maybe training, in it. Similarly, people who aren’t naturally skilled writers can learn to write well, if they so desire.
You may already know you posses strong writing skills. If not, here’s how you can tell.
Signs you might be a natural writer
love to read are obsessed with reading
Looking back to childhood, I was a voracious reader right from the start. My mom was an elementary school special education teacher, and she’d bring home gigantic books for my brother and me — the kind my kindergarten teacher would prop on an easel as she tapped each word with a pointer.
Your teachers/tutors/etc. applaud your writing
My earliest writing memory is from 1st or 2nd grade. This memory only stands out because my teacher kind of made a big deal out of it. I think I had gone above and beyond the simple writing assignment I was given.
I believe the main reason I’m a professional writer today is the encouragement of former teachers. From elementary school all the way through college, teachers would comment on my writing skills and leave encouraging notes in the margins of my papers. One time, my 6th grade English teacher read my assignment in front of the whole class as an example of a perfect 5-paragraph essay. He didn’t single me out by saying my name, but the memory still warms my heart.
Thank you, teachers!
My mom was a great influence, too, but I’m under the impression she thinks everything I do is amazing. When you get accolades from someone other than your mom, it feels more substantial.
You enjoy spending time alone
It’s no coincidence that most writers are introverts! Writing is a solitary activity that requires spending a lot of time in your own head.
Fortunately, a writer’s head is a very interesting, colorful, and dynamic place to be. If you’re a writer, you probably have so many ideas buzzing around inside your mind, you’d rather sit alone, scribbling them into a notebook than making small talk with the person next to you.
My advice for aspiring writers
Aside from school assignments, I’ve always kept a journal. As a teenager, I loved sitting on my bed with a package of thin Crayola markers, scrawling into a spiral notebook while Korn, Nirvana, and R.E.M. blared from my boombox.
Instead of angsty tunes, my new soundtrack usually consists of binaural beats or the song of birds outside my window. My dog, Bruce, likes to snuggle on my lap.
You can write for yourself all day long. But if you want to be a professional writer, you have to publish. My advice for new writers is to start a blog or something similar.
I started sharing my writing publicly on Livejournal.com sometime in my late teens. I was totally obsessed with LiveJournal well into my early 20s. That’s when I discovered WordPress. Yes, friends, even though I’ve been blogging under the pen name Luna Phoxx for less than a year, WordPress and I have a long relationship.
ICYI, my legal name is Lauren Steinheimer, and I’ve had WordPress blogs called AsNeuralSlime, Action Potential, and Irunintotrees. I used the last one to document my marathon and ultramarathon running career that spanned about a decade.
These blogs never made any money. What they did do was provide examples of engaging creative nonfiction for people to enjoy before they decided to hire me to write for them.
So, if you’re a young person with dreams of becoming a writer, my best advice is to share your writing publicly. Whether it’s a WordPress blog or short stories on Wattpad, get your work out there. Start now.
Learn to love screaming into the void
When you first start writing, don’t expect a huge following right away.
For a long time, I wrote for myself. I published my work on WordPress, but I didn’t do much to promote it other than sharing posts on Facebook. I don’t think I even paid attention to my audience stats because I didn’t care who was reading or not. A handful of devoted blogging buddies connected with me on WordPress, and that was enough.
These days, I care more about audience engagement. While some posts are still primarily for my own enjoyment, I also strive to write creative articles to inform and inspire others. Reaching these people takes consistent effort.
There’s so much on the internet these days, and everyone’s competing for your reader’s attention. Through personal experience and listening to the wisdom of those who came before me, I’m convinced the only way to cultivate an amazing audience is to keep writing good, relatable stories — the kind that make your reader feel like someone get them.
Fake it til you make it
Learning to manage imposter syndrome is essential advice for new and experienced writers.
My first paid writing gig was ghostwriting. I was so floored that someone wanted to pay me to write, I accepted a horribly low fee even though I didn’t get a byline — the line that says who a piece is written by.
Years passed between landing this temporary first gig and my next, much more exciting writing job.
In that time, I grappled with what it might take to be a freelance writer. It was my dream. When people asked, “What do you do?” I’d say, “I’m a writer.” Even though I was working in outdoor retail at the time.
My first writing job with bylines was for the local newspaper in Mount Shasta, California. I had the idea to apply for the job as soon as I got there, even though they weren’t advertising an open position. But fear and imposter syndrome got in the way. I felt unworthy and unqualified.
So I packed that dream away and went to work at one of the local outdoor gear stores. At some point, they fired me. The story goes like this — I had fractured my foot running my first 50k, and they wouldn’t let me work while I was on crutches. However unfair this seems, I was also a terrible employee. I mean, I always showed up for work, and usually on time. But more often than not, I showed up hungover, high, or both.
After they fired me, I desperately needed a job that would pay my bills and didn’t require standing on my injured foot.
So, with nothing left to lose, I emailed the editor of the Mount Shasta Herald and shared a recent blog post I’d written about a wildfire that broke out in the neighboring town. That’s a good story I’ll share another time.
Persist, even when they ignore, reject, and criticize you
Pro writers must have a certain level of tenacity.
Case in point — the newspaper editor didn’t get back to me, so I emailed him again a few days later, and maybe again a week after that. Finally, he replied and invited me in for an interview. At the end of the interview, I had my first trial assignment covering a school board election.
And my workload kept increasing from there.
Sometimes, I covered fun events like concerts in the park and brewfests. I literally got paid to drink beer and talk to people about beer. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t followed up on that first email, insisting I was a perfect fit for a job they weren’t even looking to fill.
Persistence, young padawan.
Editors receive tons of emails every day. My advice for new writers — don’t be offended or discouraged if they don’t get back to you. And if they get back to you but reject your pitch, be grateful for the feedback. And if they tell you your idea is total garbage? Well, maybe they need a nap or a snack. Try again with a different editor/publication/day.
In conclusion, writing is a gift and a curse. If you’re like me, maybe you feel compelled to do it. I can’t guarantee your success in any field, but if you follow the tips I shared in this blog post, you’ll save some precious time, energy, and tears in your quest to become a professional writer.
I hope you enjoyed reading my advice for new writers. If you feel like you could use more support in unlocking your creativity, achieving your goals, or simply getting clear on what you want, I can help…
Thanks for reading, and happy writing!
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