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On Becoming a Professional Writer

How can you become a professional writer? The journey from amateur enthusiast to full-time paid author is not an easy one. As with any profession, talent and passion are prerequisites, but the professional contacts you develop will play a significant role in how quickly you advance from “spec” writing to lucrative paid assignments.

Choose a Specialty

Before you begin, determine what writing medium is your favorite. There are many different forms of writing. Journalism is distinct from fiction, just as writing for television is different than writing for the stage. While there are stylistic overlaps between each medium, it’s better to have a focus. This will allow you to concentrate on refining a particular set of writing skills in a very competitive marketplace.

Develop Your Contacts

As an example, a novel writer should spend his energy attending writer’s workshops or retreats, while a journalist should develop relationships with news editors. If you want to write for television, you should apply for internships or positions as a writer’s assistant at major production companies. An aspiring playwright should spend as much time as possible in the theater.

Be Prepared for the (Financial) Long Haul

Earning money as a writer, regardless of the medium, is never as simple as collecting a paycheck. Your level of skill and persistence will determine how often and how much you are paid. Unlike a traditional job, writing requires you to constantly generate fresh ideas and then craft them in a way that is both accessible and appealing to the market.

When you first start out, you will likely earn very little. As you gradually accumulate a publication history, it will become easier to find paying work. Again, the amount of money you earn will be based on the particular writing medium you choose. Television and film pay the most amount of money, but they usually require you to first spend years working in low-paid internships. Journalism can supply a steady paycheck, provided you find a position at a weekly or monthly publication that is not currently reducing its staff or having trouble adjusting to the online marketplace. Novelists labor for years without any remuneration until they have perfected their book, at which point they may or may not attract a healthy advance from a publisher.

Maintain Your Integrity

Paradoxically, truly gifted writers develop a recognizable voice that allows them to trade purely on their name. This can be a struggle, as many deadline-oriented editors may want you to write in a particular “style” that may have nothing to do with your true voice. Never take assignments that compromise your ethics or force you to write material that you do not stand behind. Writers who take any assignment, regardless of their personal beliefs, are known as “hacks.” Once you’ve developed a reputation as a hack, it is virtually impossible to sell your original work.

Quite simply, before you start on the long journey to becoming a professional writer, make sure you love writing. If your passion is genuine, everything will eventually fall into place.

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