There’s only one problem with being an aspiring writer: the possibilities are seemingly endless, and trying to choose where you want to focus your writing time can become very overwhelming, very quickly.
You could write a book! You could start a blog! You could write book reviews on Instagram or get published in a magazine or do all of the above and more!! Well, probably not ALL of the above. That’s the problem. You want to write everything. In the back of your mind, though, you know you can’t. There’s somewhere your interests and skills as a writer collide to form a dream job, of sorts. But how do you find that place? How do you know where you belong?
Take these steps to broaden your writing horizons, develop and refine your writing skills, pinpoint your interests and figure out where you best fit as a writer.
Try writing a little bit of everything, one thing at a time
When I first started freelance writing, I wasn’t picky about what I wrote about or the types of clients I wrote for. I wrote about fashion and productivity and self-improvement, mostly, none of which happened to be what I actually wanted to write about. One of the best things you can do though, when trying to figure out where you want to spend the majority of your writing time, is to try different things. Things you may not necessarily be comfortable with or that you haven’t done in awhile. You also tend to figure out what you absolutely do not want to write about, or the kind of writing you don’t want to get paid to do.
This is a hard thing to do, because your brain just might not be wired to try and focus on too many different projects at once. You can still focus on one thing at a time, just for shorter amounts of time. If you want to try your hand at writing fiction, for example, spend a few weeks to a few months working on a short story or novelette. If you want to try something else after that, go for it. If you want to stick with that one thing, you can do that, too. You don’t have to try writing a novella, novel, ebook, blog posts and articles all at the same time (not recommended. Trust me.).
Be willing to make some sacrifices along the way
Starting out as a writer, in any field, is hard. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get paid. No one respects you, because you don’t have a well-branded online presence or credible expertise. You’re going to end up writing things that never get picked up. You’re going to spend a lot of time writing stuff that just isn’t good or that no one ends up reading. It can start to feel like you’re wasting energy and time. That’s part of the experience, though – a not-so-fun part, but a necessary part. There seems to be this misconception that someone can decide they want to “be a writer” one day and get published the next. That’s not the case. And writing for cash? Good luck.
One of the biggest sacrifices you’re going to have to make, as an aspiring writer, is writing for free. I see far too many posts in Facebook groups from people who are just starting out as writers and want to know where to find paid writing jobs. Regardless of the type of writing you’re interested in doing, it’s just not realistic to think you can go in with no experience and get paid a decent amount to write. Start a blog. Contribute to a content hub. Post some experts of your writing projects on Wattpad. I spent six months writing without getting paid (AT ALL) last year, and that’s how I got my first client. Now I’m pretty much writing and editing full-time. Do what you have to do to figure out where you want to use your skills. Earn the right to get paid for something you can do well.
Pick a writing focus and stick with it for a year
Once you have spent six months to a year trying a variety of different writing mediums and scoping out a niche or two you feel you fit well in, pick one type of writing – such as working on a novel, writing a collection of short stories, pitching and writing for magazines – and spend the next year focusing mainly on that type of writing only.
A year seems like a long time to focus only on one area of writing. But in the grand scheme of things, a year isn’t a very long time. Many writers struggle with focusing and finishing projects, so it really might benefit you to pick one thing and train yourself to focus on it and follow through with it. In a year, you can build a blog with a small but loyal following; write and revise a novel; write dozens of online articles to add to your portfolio; whichever you choose, it’s a drawn-out but worthwhile way to practice discipline and figure out whether or not you want to stick with only one kind of writing, try something completely different or attempt multiple simultaneously.
Test your limits and write what makes you happy
It’s okay to, after that year of focusing primarily on one specific set of writing projects, slowly start to expand your workload and add other types of writing into the mix. For example, you might want to try NaNoWriMo (write a novel) while also bulking up your copywriting portfolio and sticking to a regular posting schedule on your blog. Just don’t go overboard and try to do too many different things at once. Test your limits, try not to push too far past them, and most importantly, write what you want to write. Always make sure you’re consistently working on a writing project that makes you happy.
This is a harder point to get across, because when you’re trying to break into professional writing, you can’t always write things you enjoy. You can’t always write what you want to write. The trick is to always have at least one project, whether for work or on your own personal writing time, that you truly enjoy. This might mean you spend a lot of time writing things you’d rather not be writing, but you still have your ‘fun’ writing to retreat to when it’s over.
Breaking into writing, no matter the form, is tough. Not only do you have to figure out what you want to write about (and what you DON’T want to write about) and which medium you want to spend the most time in, but you also have to decide if you want to try and balance more than one thing at a time. And if that’s the case, you have to learn how to do that – because burnout is real, and it takes a lot to come back from that.
Most importantly, though, you have to figure out how to always make sure you’re working on something that makes you feel fulfilled. It may be that novel you’ll never publish or that blog you write for your family and friends. Where you fit, as a writer, is a mix of what you’re best at writing about and what really makes you feel good. It’s not about making the most money or having the most popular profiles. It’s about writing to fulfill your own purpose … whatever that purpose may be. (Check back soon for a guide to figuring out what you want as a writer!)
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.