There are two kinds of people in this world: those who will encourage you to chase your dreams regardless of their magnitude and those who will try to “be real” with you about the things you want to accomplish.
As writers, we need to surround ourselves with both types of friends, mentors and family members. We need to be encouraged while still bracing ourselves for the worst (even if the best or worst outcome never actually hits us). We need to be able to believe in ourselves while still remembering the publishing industry is a great place to be – if you make it into the club.
And that’s a big IF.
Balance is key. Here’s how to keep your feet on the ground while still pursuing a writing career, whatever your specific niche might entail.
Be prepared to balance writing for work with writing for fun
Most successful writers you’ve probably heard of didn’t start out writing whatever they wanted (within reason) because someone paid them to do it. They probably started out as a freelancer or a reporter, or they had a completely different job (teacher, marketing manager, scientist, who knows). Everyone has a crappy entry-level copywriting job of some sort at some point. It’s like a prerequisite. Like having to take a math class before you can get into your chosen degree program.
Even when you are sloshing through one job or another, you still need to make time for the kind of writing you really want to do – or for more of the kind of writing you’re already doing at your job, if you’re super lucky and get to do what you like at work when you’re first starting out. You really have to make the most of where you are and figure out how to do what you have to do in order to be able to afford to do what you want to do full-time.
Search for experience, not recognition
You might be convinced building a stellar online presence, blogging daily and writing a lot will eventually be enough to get you noticed. It’s not a wrong assumption, it’s just a little overrated. Everyone is online, everyone blogs and everyone wants to write for Huff Post and Forbes. If you didn’t catch the new blogging wave back in the early 2000s, you’re far less likely to rise to the top of search engine results. In a virtual nutshell: what you’re doing, everyone else has already done.
When searching for writing opportunities, go in with an “experience mindset.” Treat every opportunity as another chance to get more writing experience, build your portfolio and showcase that you’re not just a writer: you are able to write a lot, for a diverse array of audiences every single week. The more experience you have, the more you will learn what it takes to have people reach out to you for contributions, not the other way around. (They’ll still ask you to write for free, but it’s better than nothing at the start.)
Write what you want when you can, for the sake of doing what you love
Everyone would love to be able to write something audiences across the globe fall in love with. Everyone. That doesn’t mean having that kind of dream is wrong. It just means you have to not only commit to it, but do so for reasons much deeper than having your name in print. You are a writer because you want to tell stories. You are a writer because you believe in the power of words. And maybe you have other, more personal reasons as well.
Write often and write what you want to write, even if it means coming home to your laptop after a full workday of writing website copy or whatever you’re lucky enough to get paid to do. Write short stories, write poetry, write a novel. Will anyone else ever read it? It’s impossible to say for sure. Write it anyway. If you love something enough, you will stick with it, even when it feels like no one will ever notice how much time and effort you put into your art.
There is no definite yes or no when considering whether or not you’ll ever get published for real. That doesn’t mean you can’t still chase that dream. Maybe you won’t be the next J. K. Rowling, but with enough writing experience, you might end up doing something for a decent living that reaches people who use your words to lean, to grow, to feel inspired or to make positive changes in their lives.
Your words are powerful and you can still make a difference. You never know what’s out there until you put all your heart and soul into heading in that direction, even if you can’t see what’s coming.
Don’t you dare give up. You are a writer. You have a unique voice and you have a passion for something very specific. Use your art. You will not regret it.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.