Things to Know Before Turning Writing Into a Career

You can do it – as long as you’re prepared for what it’s really like.


Thinking about turning your writing hobby, experience or degree into a career? It is possible – there are plenty of different ways you can incorporate writing skills into different jobs, industries and companies. I’m not here to tell you it can’t be done. But there are some things you should know about getting paid to write either part-time or full-time. These are things all writers have to deal with – but I don’t hear anyone talk about them too often.

it gets lonely

I’m pretty fortunate to be able to work from home while still living with my parents – really. It won’t last forever, but if I didn’t have other people around by default at the moment, I’d be pretty miserable. Writing and creating things on the internet is fun and fulfilling, but in the end, it’s still just you engaging mostly in one-way communication, or only with yourself. I interact through Slack, Skype and email with clients almost every day, but some days I just do my work quietly and that’s it. Even on the days we do exchange messages, it’s not usually over the phone or video chat. It gets lonely. There aren’t any co-workers in the next cubicle over to chat with (if you work from home – not all writers do). It’s just you.

That’s why you have to find ways to connect with people – either through writing or something completely different. Writing groups are great, book clubs are great, conventions and things, I’m sure, are amazing – and for you, those things might be enough. But if you want some kind of social life that doesn’t involve writing or books or anything of the sort, you’re going to have to put more effort into it than usual – and that’s just part of the deal. Communicating with people through text will never replace real human interaction, regardless of how much you might wish it could.

it gets repetitive

Sometimes people ask me how work is going. They ask me if there are any projects I’m particularly enjoying or “what’s new.” I have to politely explain to them that aside from signing on with a new client – and even then – things are never really “new.” I’m asked to write something and I write it. I have a specific process I go through for each assignment, but in the end, I produce an article or edit someone else’s and that’s really all there is to it. After awhile, it all starts to look, feel and sound the same. Writing is a really cool job, but when you do it every day, it can start to seem repetitive.

This is not to say writing as a career is boring or that getting paid to write sucks all the fun and fulfillment out of it. Definitely not. At the end of each day, I’m genuinely proud of the work I’ve done and the things I’ve managed to accomplish. Some people really enjoy being a writer, but hate writing – the process is long and draining and sometimes you really just don’t want to do it. In time you come to adjust to this, though. You know what’s coming and you just take the day one thing at a time. Weekends are beautiful blocks of time. You will learn to savor them. Not because the job is unbearable, but because a little spontaneity is what mentally prepares you for the week that will follow.

You’re not always in control

This is a common misconception, and one that has me worried for new writers. When you start writing for a paycheck – regardless of the kind of writing you’re doing, how many hours a week you’re doing it for, who you’re working for – it’s very easy to believe you will be in complete control of your work. You’re the writer, after all. Shouldn’t that mean you get to decide what you write about, how it’s written, etc.? You’d think so. But writing as a job is still a job. You will very rarely, if ever, have complete freedom over your writing. Even if you own your own business.

Everyone you work for needs something very specific from you. You are working for them – when they ask for something, you need to give them exactly what they want. When they ask you to revise something, to rewrite something completely, you don’t get to choose whether or not you do it. You don’t even always get to choose what you write about. If you want to write professionally, you’re going to have to give up your need to be in control – because you won’t be, and if you can’t handle that, you’re not going to succeed. It’s not as difficult of a thing to give up as you might think. You just have to be willing to let go.

And yes, it’s a lot of work for not a lot of money

It’s not all about the money. Really. Because even more traditional jobs in publishing and communications aren’t going to compensate you for what your skills and experience are worth (in the majority of cases). That’s just the reality of the business; we all have to deal with it. Novelists, freelancers, staff writers – all of us. I have clients who are paying me as much as they can afford – while they might want to offer more for the value I bring, they’re the publishers – they’re basically in the same boat I’m in. A few times I have agreed to lower rates for the sake of valuable connections and experience – I can do that because I know exactly what I’m looking for.

I work a lot – not because I enjoy 10+-hour days, but because I have to make the same amount I’d earn at a more traditional writing or editing job every month for the time being. That’s a sacrifice you might also have to make. Just know that it’s not a forever situation. Your hard work, long hours, the loneliness – it’s all going to pay off, not just literally, but figuratively, in the long-term. Employers want experience? Samples? Recommendations from clients? I’ll earn all those things if it means I’m better qualified to have a really good writing gig someday. So should you.

It’s worth it. It may not seem like it, but I present these warnings to you to say that yes, despite all these things, it can be done, and it should be done. The world, believe it or not, needs more skilled, disciplined writers. We are an under-appreciated, underpaid, misunderstood bunch, but that doesn’t mean what writers do matters any less.

If more people actually knew what we go through every day – usually without complaining, at least out loud – there’d be more respect for the profession as a whole. Writing is a hard job. I’m not saying we deserve more. I just wish our work wasn’t judged so harshly, so quickly. That’s not just a writer-exclusive problem, though.

Still, no matter how lonely it might get, no matter how mundane, no matter how much control and monetary compensation we might lack, we’re lucky. We get to write for a living, something many of us have dreamed of for a long time. It may not be exactly how you pictured it, it may not always be comfortable or even all that rewarding in the short-term. But never forget to appreciate the opportunities you have, or may have in the future. You’ve gotten this far. Wherever you go from here, you at least got to spend part of your life doing what you truly enjoyed. If that’s not success, I’m not sure what is.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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