To the Aspiring Writer Who Just Can’t Get Her Life Together

If you look closely, you’ll see that one thing all successful writers, creators, entrepreneurs have in common. They had a dream, and one way or another, they made it work.

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As expected, my professional life hasn’t quite turned out the way I thought it would.

It never does, no matter which way the tables turn.

I’ve been officially out of college for a year (if you count the extra semester it took me to finish my second major). I scored a temporary full-time job right away, and I remember thinking, “Yes. It’s going to all work out. I’m not going to be one of those grads who can’t get a job. I’m going to make it.”

I made all kinds of plans. I established the perfect routine. I would hop on the train in the morning, spend 45 minutes writing and blogging, sometimes reading, work all day; spend another 45 minutes on the way home listening to TED talks and catching up on the news; write some more, work some more. I started graduate school, because I could afford to pay for it myself. What a feeling that was!

The thing about being hired on as part of a team to finish a project, though, is that when you’re part of a team that does really good work, really fast, the project ends. Fast. As does your temporary full-time job.

You could look at it as being punished for working hard. I don’t. I just look at it as bad luck. Not thinking far enough ahead. Getting a little too confident and comfortable, as a 22-year-old will do.

I just figured I would bounce right back. I had experience, I had writing samples. I would find an editing job, someone to write for. For the first month, I was patient. Confident. Ready.

Then one month became two, and two became four. And so on.

I’ll be completely honest with you. It’s not easy to stay hopeful or productive or happy when you’ve all of a sudden become one of those people you never thought you’d be. The graduate with a killer work ethic, a hunger to work hard and earn her place in the workforce, experience, everything you would think would grant you access to the real world, who just couldn’t get that second interview. Who just didn’t quite have what it took to be enough.

Access denied.

I can’t speak for anyone else in this situation, no matter how many of you are out there reading this. But I can tell you what I did to cope. I started writing. A lot. Knowing it was going to cost me a lot of time and earn me nothing. Knowing it was going to get me some writing samples and fill out my already cramped resume. Hoping it would matter. Eventually.

I’m still going at it. Writing, collecting experience, learning, giving myself the credibility I need to turn around and help you gain that experience and learn, too.

Why am I telling you all this? Why the back story?

Because you have dreams, just like I do. You might be good at a lot of things and capable doing anything and everything that will earn you a spot among the adults, in the land of the grown-ups. But there’s only one thing you really want to do. You want to write. You want someone to pay you for your words, because it’s hard and it takes time and you’ve practiced so many hours, so many years. Even though you know, realistically, it’s not going to be easy, or even possible, it’s what you want.

Here I am honest. I’ll do anything and everything I can to help you succeed. With each day that passes I find myself more and more knowledgeable of how this industry works. People are always going to give you “that look” when you tell them you’re going to be a writer. Isn’t that what everyone wants to do? It seems like that, at times. It feels like that, when you think to yourself, “Yes, I nailed that interview, I nailed those writing samples,” and it still doesn’t work out.

We all have to struggle. We all have to have those moments when we start to doubt things are ever going to get better. Even when we don’t realize it, we’re constantly drawing strength from those moments. I could have given up a long time ago. I could have said, “Forget it,” and stopped writing and blogging until I “had my life together.”

I still don’t have my life together. That hasn’t stopped me from writing anyway. Even if nothing ever works out, even if I’m always just going to be a writer on the side, ignored, unappreciated, at least I’m still, sort of, doing exactly what I want to do when I take a break from “real” adulting.

If you look closely, you’ll see that one thing all successful writers, creators, entrepreneurs have in common. They had a dream, and one way or another, they made it work. You will make it work. We will all make it work.

It’s a strange place to be. Not knowing where I fit, not seeing what’s on the other side of the hill. Wondering if this year will be just like the last, or if it will be better.

But inspiration comes from all kinds of different places in life. Even when nothing seems to be going right, there is one thing we can still control. The story in our heads. The characters we create. The words we made up, because we’re just wired that way. That’s just how we are.

Someday that will pay off. Someday, this will all be worth it.

Keep writing. Promise me. And I’ll promise you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of matryosha/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.

My Biggest Fears As an Aspiring Writer

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Being a writer has its ups and downs. This has been a down week for me. I’ve written a lot, though not as much as usual, but honestly, some days I just wrote to get it done and move on to something else.

It’s been a tough week all over the world, non-writing related, and I get emotional about this stuff, I really do. I REALLY CARE ABOUT PEOPLE!! I just want to take a second to say that. I am thinking about what has happened and, even if I haven’t written about it (yet), I do care, I am heartbroken and if you are in any way affected personally by the events of the past few days, I am thinking of you constantly.

Being in this kind of emotional state brings up a lot of things I’ve gotten pretty good at suppressing, mainly so I can get my work done and write what I need to write. A lot of it has to do with fear. I used to be afraid to show people what I wrote. I’m way past that now, obviously, but my writing-related fears have over time sort of morphed into insecurities, and to keep myself from stopping, I have to ignore them and write anyway, which is hard! Some days are much harder than others.

I wanted to share my biggest writing-related fears with you all today. Starting off the week on a high note, I guess. But in all seriousness, I want this to be a good thing. Fear stops a lot of us from doing what we want to do, and in being open and honest about what we’re afraid of, I think we can learn to overcome these fears, or at least make peace with them.

So before I invite you to share yours, here are mine.

What if my words don’t actually mean anything?

I write a lot, for both exposure and to refine my own skills. A lot of times I sit back after finishing an article or post and wonder if what I just spent 45 minutes writing even means anything. Am I really helping anyone with this advice? Would it even make a difference if I never hit publish?

I put as much effort as I can into everything I write, I really do, because I write for other people, to help other people any way I can. Sometimes I just don’t know if I’m always accomplishing that goal.

Will writing always just be a volunteer effort?

As I said above, I write a lot, but I don’t get paid for it. That’s not me complaining, either. Most publications that let you publish once a week don’t compensate you for it. They’re doing a favor by helping you get your name out there: exposure is your payment. I get that and I actually really appreciate it. But it just can’t be this way forever.

Many times I’m afraid that one day I’ll have to settle for a career that allows me to support myself and either keep writing as a volunteer side gig or put writing to the side forever. I don’t want to do that. I’m fairly new to this whole adulting thing, you know. I worry too much about a future I can’t see, but it’s one of my biggest fears as a writer, and I know I’m not the only one.

Am I just like every other writer out there?

Nobody wants to be anonymous. That’s why so many people blog and try to write for every publication that will let them. I love to write, I love sharing my words with my readers (greetings to all my newbies!) and as you’ll read in a second, I wouldn’t mind if I never became “successful.”

But I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing about something because everyone else is doing it. I don’t want this blog or my articles or the magazine I manage to be the exact same as everything else that’s already out there. I’m still learning how to be unique. I’m afraid I’m not, or that I never will be. Some days that makes it really hard to get a post up for all of you, but I do it. Every day.

But here’s what I’m not afraid of …

I’m not afraid of promoting my work. It’s out there for those who are interested, but if they’re not, or they don’t like it, that’s out of my control and I’m okay with that.

I’m not afraid of never being successful. I don’t ever expect to be and that’s not why I write. Of course I want my words to matter and I would love to be able to turn writing into a career, but so does everyone else. I’m probably never going to be a “big deal” and that is completely fine with me. I’m just going to keep on writing anyway.

I’m not afraid of being rejected. I’ve been given a “no” enough times to finally have come to terms with it just being a part of life no matter what you’re trying to do. It’s nothing personal. I’m not going to be a good fit for every job or every publisher or even every audience. No one is. The more I learn to brush it off and keep trying, the better off I am in all areas of my life, not just in my writing.

None of these fears have anything to do with me personally. I love what I do regardless of whether anyone reads it or likes it or shares it, I’m not in any of this for any of that. I’m just a small-town writer living in a big word-filled world and it’s terrifying and amazing all at the same time.

What do you fear? How do you keep writing, even when these fears try and stand in the way of making progress on your latest project? Are we just imagining these fears? Do they exist to motivate us to keep writing anyway?

Keep writing. Make this week count.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Should I Go to College? Why Getting a College Degree Is Still Important for Aspiring Writers

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You’ve been writing a long time. For as long as you can remember. All you want to do, you’re certain, is become a writer. But doesn’t everybody go to school to get a degree in English or something?

That’s not what you want. You want to write. Is it worth paying all that money and spending all that time and energy studying something you never even want to use professionally?

College is essential, regardless of your chosen career path. If you’re thinking about not even giving it a go, keep thinking. Getting a degree, even as an aspiring writer, is more beneficial to your future self, and your career, than you might realize. College, these days, is inevitable.

But don’t let that discourage you from a bright future as a writer. Here are a few things you’ll learn along the way, things that will make four years of stress and hard work worth the time, money and effort.

You’ll learn the most effective speaking and writing strategies

College students spend a lot of time complaining about papers, projects and presentations without stepping back to realize the skills they’re developing in the process. Even if you’re not in a creative writing class or writing articles every week, that doesn’t mean you’re not still learning how to structure and present arguments on a variety of topics.

Professors don’t just give out those assignments to have something to grade. Regardless of the subject matter, college courses teach you the most effective writing and speaking techniques out there. You’ll need them to pitch story ideas and carry yourself professionally, even if you do find a way to make a full-time career out of writing.

You’ll learn how to work with all kinds of people

Two words: group projects. You probably have yet to meet anyone who loves them, and that’s exactly the point professors try to make when assigning projects to be completed in groups. Again, it’s not just to make grading easier. It’s to teach you an important life lesson, over and over … and over again.

In your lifetime, you will work in groups. All the time. You will work with people who put way too much effort into every little thing, and you will work with people who do their best to get away with participating as little as possible.

It’s not exclusive to schoolwork. As a writer, you’ll work with all kinds of people: agents, editors, other writers, people who love their jobs as much as you hopefully do, as well as people who don’t. College prepares you for this much more efficiently than you’ll initially realize. Just push through it. You will not regret it.

You’ll learn what you do and do not want to do career-wise

Many students embark on their collegiate endeavors thinking they know exactly where they’re headed and what they want to do after graduation. Many of them change their minds, sometimes more than once in a four-year time span. Taking a variety of courses, both in your major and outside of it, will introduce you to a whole new world of possibilities you may have never even considered before.

Without that experience, you might actually end up struggling to find where you fit in the publishing world. The best way to figure out what you do and don’t want to do is to learn about the industries and careers available to you. As an aspiring writer, you might start out in marketing, PR, administration, some career you never thought you wanted. Often, though, laying a foundation early on gives you the freedom to build your portfolio and continue to write, which will, most likely, come in handy later.

Even freelance jobs want to see that you have a degree in English, journalism or communications. There is no escape. But you won’t regret taking the time to write a little less to study a little more. It will all be wroth it. We promise.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Five Things Aspiring Writers Should Do in College

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College is supposed to be that time in our early young adult life where we start figuring things out: how to balance extracurricular activities with school, friends and sleeping; how to do laundry; even how to act like a responsible human being (sort of).

With responsibility comes thoughts of the future, and if you’ve known for a while that you want to be a writer when you grow up, let’s be honest: it’s about to get much harder to find time to write while also figuring out how to keep your dorm room reasonably clean enough to live in.

There are a few things you can do to keep your college lifestyle choices in alignment with your overall goal of becoming a professional writer (yes, it is possible, if you work hard). Here are five things all aspiring writers should do before college graduation.

 1. Study subjects you like, not just English or creative writing 

Studying English is a great way to refine your analytical skills and give you some practice writing in different styles, but there’s a reason you’ll have a set of core courses to take as graduation requirements as well. Learning a wide variety of topics gives you more baseline knowledge to work with when you sit down to work on a new writing project.

You don’t even have to declare English or creative writing as your major, though: study whatever you want, whatever interests you the most. There are plenty of ways to learn about things you’re interested in and apply those topics to your writing.

 2. Pitch story ideas to real-world publications

When it comes to pitching, no publication is too big. In your lifetime, as an aspiring writer, you’re going to get rejected more times than you’ll be able to count. Aiming high, even if you think it’s too high, will help you gain confidence in pitching story ideas (creative or more journalistic/academic) and get used to that pre-written rejection email—or never hearing back at all.

If you do aim high, though, don’t forget to aim a little lower in-between the big pitches, too. You’re probably much more likely to start small and work your way up, so your best bet is probably to pitch ideas anywhere you can, as long as you pitch within that publication’s guidelines and in alignment with their brand.

 3. Write for your student newspaper or literary magazine

This might not sound very appealing to you if you’re a creative writer to the core, but you’d be surprised how much creative writing and journalism compliment each other.

Learning how to fine-tune your work and narrow down the focus of your pieces can really help you in your own writing, too. Plus, gaining experience interviewing people you don’t know won’t hurt, and the more you can prove to future employers you did all you could to get any kind of writing experience while you had the chance, the better.

 4. Form a peer review circle

If you’re not enrolled in a writing course that has a peer review component built into it, or even if you are and want more practice outside the classroom, form your own. Find fellow students who might be interested in having their work critiqued, and giving feedback on others’ work, in a group setting.

It doesn’t even have to be an official campus group or club: you can meet up informally once or twice a month at a local coffee shop to check up on each others’ progress and help hold each other accountable.

 5. Apply to work for your campus’s writing lab

Learning how to critique someone else’s grammar, structure and writing style can be an effective way to track down and improve on weaknesses in your own writing. Even helping students with their academic papers and other projects will keep your mind focused on writing even when you aren’t.

Besides, it will look good on your resume, and if there’s a small salary attached, even better.

You don’t have to wait until you have that degree to start your writing career. Gaining pub cred and networking with other writers and editors will serve as a major asset to you somewhere down the road. You won’t regret taking the extra time to make college all about writing, even if it’s a small part of everything you do as a student on and off campus.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Five Things Aspiring Writers Should Never Do

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The list of things all aspiring writers SHOULD do always seems to get longer: write often. Have a writing partner. Join an online writing community. However, the list of things you shouldn’t do as a wannabe writer isn’t quite as set in stone.

If you have a successful career as a writer in your sights, here is a list of five things to avoid, and in a few cases, what to do instead.

1. Delete their work

Sure, everyone hits backspace five times a minute to correct a would-have-been typo. But deleting entire paragraphs, pages or even entire projects without saving back files first shouldn’t be your go-to revision strategy. Always save over a new file of a draft, instead of just overriding the current one. For example, use dates to keep track of your multiple revisions. You never know when something you wrote on the fly will actually be usable for something else, or become something you want to reference, later.

 2. Ask everyone they know to read their work

It’s a good idea to have at least one, maybe two close friends, a teacher, family member or writing companion of some kind who is willing to read and critique your work from time to time. It is not a good idea to offer this “privilege” to every other writer, classmate or acquaintance you meet. Not everyone will want to, but some won’t feel comfortable turning you down, and that’s not a good way to get solid, honest feedback.

 3. Copy other writers’ styles

This isn’t something writers usually do on purpose, but it’s easy to do it without realizing it. The more you read, the more you are exposed to different writers’ writing styles, and while this can be a good thing for your own style, it can be tempting to want to mirror the styles of authors you love. Keep to your own voice. Have you ever spaced out in the middle of writing a sentence, gone back and read what you wrote without remembering it? What you find there is your voice. Completely yours, straight from your brain to your Word document without second-guessing yourself.

 4. Judge a book by its cover/title/author

If you ever publish something, you definitely would not be pleased to know potential readers were passing up your story because of silly snap judgments. So when you’re browsing to add to your own to-read shelf, try not to make those same kinds of premonitions about others’ hard work. Give all stories an equal chance, no matter what they look like on the outside or who took the time to write them.

5. Stop writing

There’s nothing wrong with taking short breaks every once in a while to give your brain a rest, and every now and again projects come along that just aren’t going anywhere and have to be put on the back burner. But whether you think you’re a good writer or not the greatest, never stop forever. Always let your creativity out once in a while. Write a haiku. An email. Anything that exercises your skills and keeps your mind stimulated.

Never forget: writing is your passion. Even on those days you just can’t put your thoughts into words, they will always come to you eventually. Just keep going. You got this.

Image courtesy of psychologytoday.com.

Is Your Idea Good Enough?

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Everyone gets ideas, even if we don’t always carry them through. One barrier to turning an idea into a reality is the question we’ve all asked ourselves at least once: “I like my idea, but is it actually good enough?”

Good enough for someone else? Good enough to get noticed? “Good enough” can mean a lot of different things. What it all comes down to is, we’re always going to be a little hesitant about our own ideas. We want them to appeal to a potential audience. We want to make a difference. Say something important. Promote some kind of change through our “brain crack” (not my terminology, I can’t take credit for that).

So. How do you know if your idea can do any of that?

Here are a few important questions to ask yourself.

Could You Explain It in Detail to Someone Else?

The best ideas are thought out and detailed. You could have a whole plan, an entire outline for a book, for example, an entire idea unfolded out on a page. The real test is to approach someone else and translate it.

If you’ve done enough planning, if you know your idea in its full form—even if you don’t yet know how exactly you want to implement it—for example, whether you want it to be a full-length book, short story, T.V. series or short film script—if you can explain it well enough so someone else can understand it, your idea is already more tangible than you probably realize, and maturing quickly, still, inside your head.

Are You Willing to Give It Your All? 

Sometimes ideas are more demanding than we’re willing to admit. Especially writing your first book, it’s not likely (or practical) you’ll feel the urge to drop everything, quit your day job and give yourself over completely to cranking out the prose.

But if you had to, would you?

There’s something gratifying about knowing you have enough faith in your idea to stop your life for the sake of its growth, if that was what you needed to do. If you’re not that into it, if you like it but don’t feel obliged to give it any attention, maybe your idea isn’t good enough. Not that the idea itself isn’t good, but it’s not good for your current lifestyle, not the right place, not the right time. That’s okay, too. Maybe, over time, it will be. Maybe it won’t. If you’re not willing to nurture it, it’s probably not going to work.

Which, of course, brings us to our third point. 

How Excited Are You?

You’re not going to stick with something you don’t connect with for very long. It’s kind of like that full time job you took just to be able to pay for basic living expenses. You don’t really like it, so you know (or hope) you won’t be stuck with it forever.

Good ideas—ideas that influence, that resonate—are long-term commitments. Those of you who have written full-length novels, even those who are still trying to cross that goal off the master bucket list, know how time-consuming it can be—and that’s after an idea has formed and has had time to come together. If you’re excited about it, if you fear you’ll scare all your friends away by talking about it too much, you’re going to be successful.

Even if you never finish it out—it was an idea that ignited your passion for something. That feeling cannot be replaced.

Truthfully, if you have an idea, you’ve thought it through and you’re excited about it, that’s more than good enough. If you put all your faith and effort into it, and it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. We learn from every failed attempt we make.

Never forget, you really are your worst critic. The one idea you almost let die but don’t could become your biggest success story—literally.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.