Growing up, I was never told I could be anything I wanted to be.
I was taught that if I worked hard for what I wanted, and believed I could earn it, I would.
I was never told I couldn’t be a writer.
I learned, sometimes the hard way, that if that was what I wanted to be, it was going to be up to me to make it happen.
If you dream of earning royalties as a writer, whatever your reason, you already know the odds. You know that, in a world where anyone can publish anything they want to on the internet, getting paid to write becomes more and more of a fairytale ending.
You know that aspiring writers need to develop more than just writing skills to be successful. And you know that you’re not going to get where you need to be without sending several hundred query letters, pitching to dozens of publications and spending your days and nights writing, sometimes more out of necessity than pleasure.
Believe it or not, that’s still not quite enough.
Your attitude matters just as much as, if not more than, every word you have ever typed.
In order to be the writer you have always wanted to be, you need to earn it.
Earn your experience
While I serve as a magazine editor, I simultaneously act as an internship director, which means I decide who is going to write for me each semester and who is not. Which means I receive all inquiries related to applications, sample articles and the like.
Here’s a little secret: I skim resumes. I review sample articles. After reading cover letters, I do not remember names or previous publications or how many previous writing jobs or internships someone has had. What I look for is enthusiasm. A willingness to learn and grow. An understanding that experience is the most valuable asset an aspiring writer can earn.
You will never be handed a writing job. You will never be offered the chance to write for someone else if you cannot prove that you are willing to work, put your writing first and never expect a single thing in return that you have not earned through determination and effort.
Earn a reputation for being selfless
My least favorite part about pitching ideas to content websites and magazines is the one or two sentences I spend talking about my mission and my accomplishments. Not because I am not genuinely proud of the work I have done, but because so many people do it wrong that it takes A LOT of effort to show you know how to do it right. (Effort you should be willing to expend.)
Being selfless as a writer means you walk into a proposal completely willing to give your skills and expertise to the publication in question. It is not about you, it is not about what you will get out of it. It is about the publication and its audience. Selflessness is putting the receiver of your work above what you will receive as a reward, financially or otherwise.
Demanding to be rewarded for writing will get you nowhere. You are better than that. Show you are passionate before anything else.
Earn your place in the writer’s circle
Never once in my life have I asked for or expected anything to be handed to me. In fact, I may have unintentionally refused a lot of well-meaning humans offering me their help, because I do not believe I am entitled to anything I have not earned.
Which is what makes wanting to write for a living the perfect vocational aspiration for me. And perhaps for you, too, if you learn that no one needs to read what you write. No one needs your words.
Instead you have to earn your audience. Others need to want to read your work. And to get there, again, you need to put them first. You need to realize that before anyone will show interest in the person behind the stories, they need to feel interested in too.
You cannot expect the rest of the world to promote your stories enough to gain a significant following without having to lift a finger. You have to involve yourself in every step of the process by showing your fellow writers and readers and publishers that you care more about stories than you do about yourself. They may still read your stories, but you will never earn their approval.
If you want to be a writer, think long and hard about your reasons why. Because earning it is hard, and the rewards are often small and abstract. But if you are in it for the right reasons and are willing to make sacrifices, you will make it, and it will be enough.
Image courtesy of Julie Jordan Scott/flickr.com.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.