Consider this: Everywhere you look, from the banners plastered across Los Angeles to the playbills they hand out on Broadway, from form letters cancelling your cable to those sweet sweet royalty statement from Amazon, the answer’s pretty clear:
Someone had to write that, right?
And that someone is you, dear reader. You’ve been a writer ever since you made your first grocery list. It’s not so much about “how to become a writer” as it is about realising that you already are one. Let me explain…
What a Writer “Does” and “Is”
Like the Wizard of Oz, your talent has been in you this entire time. Essentially, it all boils down to your definitions of what a writer is. My personal definition is that a writer becomes a writer when they get paid for it. Even if it was a $1 hand-stapled zine you sold in your punk rock years or a slice of pepperoni pizza for touching up your roommate’s thesis, if you got paid, you’re a writer. But if you’ve ever composed something that can be read, you’re ALSO a writer. It all comes down to goals and “making it.” Made a touching tale of your weekends at Coney Island? You made it
Essentially, a writer provides a service for a client/recipient. If you’re writing for yourself and putting it out for the universe to stare at dumbfounded, you’re writing for your audience. That’s it. Any deviations from this are just your insecurities with your preconceived notions of becoming a writer.
If you need a little more convincing, famed author Stephen King put it bluntly: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
Thanks, Steve, and there you go.
Character Traits of Writers
Everyone can write, but not everyone can write well. Let’s look at some traits you’re going to need to carry out this writing thing:
Talent: The truth is that you’re going to need to be able to put together something that someone can and wants to read. If you were able to get your book reports graded above a D-, I’d say that’s about all the talent you need to know to start. You’ll develop talent as you create more and more works; the work is practice.
Curiosity: It helps to have a curious mind that loves learning new things and new ways of thinking. Every assignment is a learning experience and it helps me slog through subjects that may seem initially off-putting. When I was writing an SEO-heavy article that focused on the merits of a ceramic coffee grinder versus a steel-bladed version, I had a chance to explore how metal builds up more heat, burning the oils that make a cup of joe so delicious. Who knew?! At the very least, the stuff you learn makes for great cocktail conversation.
A Love Affair with Solitude: Love solitude? Me, too (also, leave me alone). The ability to be disengaged from people should be something you enjoy, not endure while hoping it will get better as you rise through the ranks of writerdom. If you’re an extrovert, you may go a little stir-crazy. Just saying…
Commitment: Remember that half-finished pieces are just that: pieces. It can take a lot of work to create something that knocks the socks off your clients and the general populace. If you don’t have the ability to shake off the doubts and follow through, writing may be a little difficult to you. On the other hand, if you like to think of your articles as your children, you may enjoy the process of seeing those words grow up into the handsome and hardy articles you always knew were there.
Okay, got all that? If so, may I show you what’s behind Door #3…
Benefits of Being a Writer
If you ask me, writing has so many benefits that make the career worthwhile:
Public Approval: I’ll admit it. Whenever I see my byline or work in print, I hope that all my ex-girlfriends die a little on the inside, wondering about the “one that got away.” Getting publicity ups your status among your social circle, especially if you spread your newfound fame on social media. Plus, it shows to potential clients among your social and professional circle that someone thought you were worthy of publication. After all, how many people do you know have something published? At least one—you! Use that social proof to your advantage and collect the tears of those ex’s as trophies.
Creative Spillover: I find that the more I invest in my writing and my writing career, the more my other endeavors become honed. For instance, a failed story idea might make a great song; researching a magazine article’s fact might spur on a hiking trip through a seldom-visited part of town.
I’ll give you an example: an article I recently wrote about the concept of quality, speed, and payment and it lent itself immediately to the traditional Cajun lyrics to “Parlez Nous a Boire” I was listening to in the background. I composed a song that’s titled “Hot, Nice, or Smart: Pick Two” using a misogynistic article on Reddit as source material. Voila!
(Yikes, we’re already at two “bitter ex-girlfriend” references by now…)
Freelance: Writing grants you freedom to choose a workload that suits you. Don’t want to work 40-hour week? You don’t have to. Got a crappy client? Fire ‘em. Want to change a different type of writing you want to work in? You can. While the benefits of freelance vs. 9-5 are numerous and are a subject for future articles, I think you can see why you would want to become a freelance writer.
Job Skills: Hey, we all make mistakes. Freelancing isn’t for everyone, but having a few clippings and examples of your work can certainly separate you from the ocean of applicants desperate for a steady job—especially ones that require more than four years of beer-blasting your way through college (i.e. PR reps, companies with a web presence). Freelancing shows that you’ve taken an initiative and that you take your career seriously.
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So, there you have it—what’s a writer, what makes a good writer, and the sweet rewards of writing. Think you have what it takes? I hope to read something of yours soon.