By Aaron Guzman
The road of professional writing can be a rough one, fraught with difficulties throughout the entire uphill climb. And it is an uphill climb.
In the beginning, writing can be a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice for little to no reward. But with some dedication, patience, and a little luck, you can be producing high quality work for an eager audience of appreciative readers.
What follows are several tips to help you get a foothold in the turbulent and competitive world of professional writing.
There is no such thing as “too much” writing.
Write As Much As You Can
This almost goes without saying—“practice makes perfect.” Writing is no exception.
There are plenty of reasons for producing a large body of work on a regular basis, the most important being to improve your craft. Write so much that it becomes second nature—be able to summon your talent at will and produce content with ease at the drop of a dime.
Writing on a regular basis not only prepares you for the volume of work you can encounter in the professional world, but will eventually provide you with a lush and varied portfolio that you can refer readers and potential clients to.
Finally, the most obvious reason to produce prodigious quantities of work is simply to improve your chances of getting published in other competitive markets. The more work you have being distributed and reviewed, the more likely someone is to publish it—and the more publications you have under your belt, the more readers you will earn, lending to your reputation and credibility in the field.
Make the time to write regularly. Make it routine.
Keep a Notepad With You At All Times
Always be prepared! You never know when or where a good idea may strike you—and when it does, you don’t want to be caught without a means of recording it.
Keeping such materials with you will also allow you to work more writing into your daily routines—during your work breaks, on the bus, at lunch, the park, etc.
Keep a Journal
Journals are a great way to keep track of your ideas and thoughts—but you don’t have to limit your journaling to personal matters alone. Use your journal to plot your goals, both large and small, and to record your progress towards those goals.
Journals can house facts, names, dates, vocabulary, and any other research you might perform for projects. This is also a great place for experimental writing, poetry, story outlines, and character sketches for fiction projects.
Every great writer should be a prodigous reader. Read and find fuel for the pen.
Just as a skilled chef must taste high quality food on a regular basis in order to understand the nature of flavor, so must a writer experience the fruits of other talented professionals: the capacity to manipulate language and emotion, convey complex or abstract ideas with clarity, and above all the ability to trigger our imagination so that we may see and construct the author’s world for ourselves.
The concept is not to simply emulate and copy another writer’s style, but rather to set the bar higher. By exposing ourselves to the work of others, we learn to strive for a deeper understanding of the craft, a deeper appreciation for it. We give ourselves something by which we can measure ourselves against, and ultimately improve ourselves.
Determine what subjects interest you, topics that you may already possess specialized knowledge about, and determine if this is something you can write consistently about. Put the effort forth to learn as much as you can on the subject: perform your research and publish to demonstrate your understanding of the subject.
In time, with the right audience, you can steadily build your reputation as an “expert” in your field, ultimately setting you up as a potential niche author.
Specialized knowledge can land you specialized jobs—not necessarily in the field of writing. Demonstrated knowledge, coupled with the ability to organize and convey complex ideas in a clear fashion (i.e., writing) can go a long way in impressing potential employers or future clients.
The more versatile you are, and the more specialized skills you have, the more marketable you will be.
While to some extent it may seem counter-intuitive or counter-productive to generalize one’s knowledge or skills, it can be essential to expand one’s portfolio and pick up some new clients.
The philosophy here it to adapt, learn, and be able to write about virtually any subject for any client. You are demonstrating that you are not limited to one set of information or a single writing approach. Experiment with various writing and formatting styles, become familiar with researching and find a comfortable chair at your local library.
Learning a new subject primarily entails learning the specific language/vocabulary used in that field. Taking the time to understand the fundamentals and being able to express them cogently is the first step towards demonstrating your talents in new areas.
Ultimately, generalization in writing is about survival in a competitive and ever-changing market. The more you can do, the more potential clients and employers you can draw upon.
Create a Portfolio
Prospective clients and employers need to be able to find contact and employment information about you, as well as samples of your work. Constructing a webpage and linking to your currently published work is the most efficient way of making your projects accessible to others. Web pages or similar mediums allow you to express some creativity while demonstrating your ability and showcasing your work off-site or on-site.
Once your site is established and your portfolio is ready to show-off, inform others via your social networks and pass out business cards to anyone you might encounter offline.
Make connections in the virtual world with social networks and network in the real world by promoting yourself.
Build Networks and Make Connections
They don’t call the Internet the “information super highway” for nothing. Thanks to social networking, you can share information or send a friendly message to thousands of people with the mere click of a button. Those people are now your virtual audience, as well as potential clients, and should not be neglected.
Share your current work, show-off your prize pieces, and interact with your followers. From here you can make new friends, professional colleagues and business contacts that can become profitable enterprises.
Take on Clients, Build a Resume and Name Recognition
Once you have publications under your belt, an audience, and a way to share your work with them, it is time to step up and earn some money for your work. You may be able to find clients via social networks or you may have to go it the old fashioned way and search through online job listings. Don’t be discouraged—sometimes it can be difficult finding clients early in the game.
Writing professionally for clients is the best way to start building a solid resume.
Your ultimate goal should be to compile a resume that will make you competitive and stand out amongst the other fly-by-night writers that are bidding for the same clients you are.
Writing for clients may require some adaptation on your part: you may have to write about things that don’t interest you, work with people directly that may be rude or impatient, or have to teach yourself new information and skills on the fly. But if you tough it out, in time you can build yourself a reputation, be recognized as an experienced and talented writer, and have clients fighting over you!
Ultimately, the best advice that can be given to any writer is simply to keep writing. And keep publishing. Don’t pass up opportunities to see your name in print and expand upon your resume. Stay active, and show the world that you are indeed a writer.
Image Sources (from top to bottom): Ladyheart, Miguel Ugalde, Celal Teber, Omar Franco, Aleš Čerin