The leap from writing your first article to calling yourself a professional writer can seem vast, but there are a number of small steps along the way that add up to a successful career.
- Write. A lot.Just like any other skill, writing takes practice. The more you do it, the better and more efficient you will become—which often makes the difference between earning and losing money on a project. Set up a routine for yourself in which you write everyday. Soon, you won’t waste time staring at a blank screen—you’ll be in the habit of sitting down and getting straight to work.
- Define your expertise.Often the only way to know what you’re good at is to try it. You can gather experience and figure out what you like by completing assigned projects as part of a graduate program in writing, by volunteering your services, and by self-assigning writing challenges. If you think you might like grant writing, try putting together a grant proposal for a nonprofit organization you’re passionate about. If you want to try technical writing, see if you can pair with a local software developer to create documentation for one of their projects.
- Find feedback and support.One of the best and most straightforward ways to find what you need as a budding writer is to enroll in a graduate program, which offers two key things most writers need: deadlines and feedback. You’ll gain discipline and the invaluable benefit of constructive criticism.
- Build a community.Gaining a community of other writers and members of your industry can be a game-changer. Try joining a writing group or professional organization, attending author readings and events, enrolling in writing workshops, going to conferences, etc. The people you connect with will become your professional network.
- Create a writing portfolio.Nothing says “professional” like a well-crafted writing portfolio. It won’t be the first step in your journey, but it will be a vital part of establishing yourself.
- Make your online presence known.It’s not just your writing portfolio that counts, but your blog, LinkedIn profile, social media accounts, etc. Create a consistently professional brand for yourself as a writer and publicize it.
- Put yourself out there.Unless you’re extremely lucky, writing work does not fall into your lap. You must actively pursue it. This means, that in addition to writing everyday, you should be answering calls for submissions, entering contests, and pitching your story ideas to editors.
- Volunteer selectively.Everyone likes to earn cash, but sometimes offering your services for free can pay dividends, especially if it allows you to gain valuable experience.
- Own it.Once you’ve put in the time and gained the confidence, don’t be afraid to take ownership of the empowering phrase: “I’m a professional writer.” And don’t forget to pay the goodwill forward by helping other new writers get into the game.