Want To Be A Professional Writer? Here's What You Need To Know

Jake Wells

computerPhoto by Ankel Checkov on Unsplash

After seven years of being a professional writer, it’s time to pull the curtain back a bit. As you know, the internet is full of information… but a lot of that information is not being told until now.

1. Writing is quite often not about the writing.

It is often more about presentation, marketing, and networking. If your website looks absolutely terrible, that is a contributing factor to why you don’t have many readers. Are you writing tons of content that doesn’t actually resonate with anyone? That’s another super common problem. (Look at your read rate especially hear on Medium. It’s VERY revealing.) You can’t write about everything under the sun. People put you in one bucket. They say you help with (fill in the blank). So be careful here and choose wisely.

2. There will be times when you hate writing.

No one ever talks about this fact. Being a writer is not all sunshine and rainbows sitting at the beach with a laptop or hanging out at the coffee shop. Some writing is flat out soul sucking. That’s the writing you want to avoid like the plague. But it’s often easier said than done when you’ve got bills to pay and you want to keep the lights on. The only solution to this challenge is to remember why you started writing in the first place and to focus on the joy of creating something or the joy of storytelling. For me, fiction is what keeps me going. I honestly would like to write 80–90% fiction and just write some non-fiction here and there. I can’t do that right now at this time, but it’s definitely one of my goals. Speaking of which, I released my debut novel, Bite The Bullet, came out a few weeks ago. I share more about writing a novel here.

3. It’s really hard being a writer today. But it’s also the best time ever to be a writer.

If you want something that’s easy to do, don’t be a writer. You can find cushy jobs out there where you just punch in and punch out. That being said, if you want to really stretch yourself and avoid the status quo, it’s a great time to be a writer! Many gatekeepers have disappeared. There are more opportunities than ever before. So if you have the right attitude, you can absolutely make writing work.

4. It’s really easy to get depressed writing full-time.

If you’re lonely and isolated for an extended period of time, depression is the next logical step. The words are flowing and when you go online and it seems like everyone else is a writer who is more successful than you.

To fight this, I find working out is something I absolutely must do. I also intentionally step away from the computer. Seriously, I have to take breaks and just set aside the computer. A walk in the park and jotting ideas in a notebook is absolutely restoring.

Depression is a serious issue for many people — especially artists and entrepreneurs. If you think you may be depressed, please seek help and talk to someone. It really can make a world of difference.

5. Your writing must be interesting.

Most readers don’t care at all about Oxford commas, sentence fragments, run-ons, and, in many cases, even typos. As long as the message is clear — that is, the writing is clear enough to let the writing entertain/inform/inspire the reader — that’s what really matters most. Grammar fanatics are rarely the end users or the clients that pay you.

6. Social media is your best and worst friend at the same time.

I’m serious. It’s great for networking and connecting with others, but it is also the number one form of procrastination out there. So use social media very wisely.

funnyPhoto by Author

There is always a cost for social media. That cost is often your focus and your time. And the cost is not equal. 10 minutes on social media can drain more of your focus than you realize, especially if you get sidetracked.

7. Publish less and edit more.

I’m not saying don’t write a lot — you should — but don’t hit the publish button as often. One great or even good blog post is better than 40 mediocre ones. I’m serious. Quality over quantity wins, despite what the gurus will tell you. If you’re not sure about the quality of something, compare it with something from a professional you admire. Your work must be comparable to their work to have an impact online today.

You want to keep raising the bar for the content you share with the world.

Don’t share mediocre content that is boring or dull. That’s just wasting your time and also the reader’s time.

8. Headlines are ABSOLUTELY critical to your success.

Without a great headline, it’s safe to assume that your audience is much smaller than it should be (aka mom and only a few bored Facebook friends reading your writing). I know that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. Headlines are almost always overlooked by most writers. A writer recently reached out to me and I mentioned the importance of headlines. This writer shrugged it off and didn’t listen to me. PLEASE DO NOT MAKE THIS SAME MISTAKE. If you can’t write an interesting, clickable headline, you’re wasting a lot of time. You must work on this skill.

9. Most advice about how to do things is just a preference or opinion.

Very few other rules apply today as things change so quickly. Don’t be afraid to break the rules and experiment. When you follow what others say to do all the time, you will not be able to form your own conclusions.

funny gifPhoto by Author

10. Your writing is NOT about you.

If you want to write for yourself, that’s fine, but let’s be clear — that’s really more of a journal or a diary. Unless you’re Oprah (or some other huge celebrity), it is best to write for a particular audience, or you will spend the majority of your time spinning your wheels. Write to help the audience. Even if you write fiction, you want to take the audience on an adventure and solve the problem of boredom.

11. If you want to be a writer, you must be a marketer as well.

It is UNAVOIDABLE. Marketing is NOT a dirty word. It is just how you spread a message or share a story. Don’t let a few sleazy, pushy guys in ugly sport coats skew how you view marketing.

Marketing is just another form of storytelling. And if you write good stories, over time, some of them will spread. And best of all, marketing can be fun.

12. You are not just a writer, the truth is you’re a content creator.

Writing is just one way to tell stories. Don’t be afraid of audio or video. Some people flat out don’t read. They simply don’t like that medium. You probably don’t want to ignore those people.

computerSoundtrap on Unsplash

Create content by using the triple threat of audio, video and text. This will allow you to also repurpose your work and reach many more people.

13. Networking on a regular basis matters more than you think it does.

I’m serious. That’s why I started doing a video show called the StoryMaking Show. You must network and talk to other writers (and creators) on a regular basis if you want to find more work. It’s the most important thing you can do.

The Takeaway For You

Your writing must be interesting. I know I’m repeating myself here, but it is THAT important. What do I mean by interesting? I mean informative, inspiring and entertaining. Ideally all three. Most blog posts simply are not interesting. Writing content just to write content does not help or interest the reader. And believe me, the reader can tell.

If you’re questioning whether or not a piece is interesting, back away from it and say, “Would I actually read this if I didn’t write it?” If the answer is not “HELL YES!” then you’re falling short, and your writing is not interesting. I know this is tough, but as a writer you are going to be challenged (and fail) a lot. It comes with the territory.

Even this post right here is competing with MILLIONS (if not billions) of other options out there fighting for your attention. If you want to be a professional writer, you already have everything you need. The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever before. The bad news is that there are more opportunities than ever before. This means you’ll have to focus and work harder than you can imagine. You’ll fail some too (I promise). But if you keep going, you can do it too.

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