Yes, being a professional writer is worth it but you must be willing to write good work, read plenty, study writing, study more broadly, network, seek funding, read the room, prepare alternative funding, seek mentorships, and join writing societies and groups. If you are willing to work the rewards can be enormous.
Those rewards aren’t just financial. Not every writer makes a lot of money. Writing can be rewarding by providing a wonderful pastime, by bringing you closer to subjects you love, by introducing you to new friends, and by providing a fulfilling vocation.
There are many paths to becoming a creative writer. In this article we discuss some things to consider that will hopefully be helpful on your journey, and help you to decide whether the journey to becoming a writer is worthwhile.
Just Write Amazing Work
Yep, this is a painful truth. Anyone can write amazing work, at any time, and you don’t need any special preparation to do it. Cut out the gatekeepers. You don’t need anyone’s approval. All you have to do to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction is write a novel that wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
For most people however, attaining the level of skill required to write at a professional level takes years of practice, and a lot of formal study in one field or another.
Contributing something original is difficult, and the writers who are heralded as truly originals are often very well read / aware of what has gone before in their medium. Think Quentin Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of film!
Study Creative Writing
You might want to take creative writing classes at high school or university. Consider studying an MFA, or a PhD in creative writing. It can be really wonderful to have the guidance of the experienced teachers you are likely to encounter, as well as the advice of your like minded peers, and the space and time to experiment and write yourself.
Study Something Else
Any field of study is useful for creative writing in many and often unexpected ways. For instance, if you study medicine you will be in a really great place to write medical dramas / comedies. I studied law and I used all that knowledge when I was staging a production of a play I wrote (writing contracts and negotiating fees). You don’t know how study in another field will help you as a writer – but it probably will.
Networking leads to commissions and other professional opportunities.
As a writer, you generally want to move to writing on commission as quickly as possible, as opposed to writing on ‘spec’. On spec means you write a work speculating that someone will buy it at the end. This is risky and often results in disappointment.
When you get a commission you are paid to write the work upfront. This comes with less artistic freedom and means you have deadlines, but it also means you are a professional and can afford a home and some food.
Get out there and meet the other people in your field. Try to make a good impression and remember that making no impression at all is better than making a bad impression. Always be polite and just walk away as quickly as possible if things aren’t going well.
Seek Government Funding
Another major source of funding for writers comes in the form of government grants. See what your federal government, and local government have to offer. As well as your local government supported writing societies.
Keep your Finger on the Pulse and Read the Room
Try to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world, and the news. This is so that you can write projects that are relevant to the concerns of the day, and so that you don’t misread the room e.g. so you understand the reason for and importance of the drive towards diversity in creative works.
Do you Enjoy Writing?
Make sure you actually enjoy writing. Even tortured geniuses wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t getting enjoyment from some aspect of the process. Many lawyers find out too late that they actually don’t want to be chained to the desk for 10 hours a day. Do you enjoy sitting down by yourself and writing prose / poetry etc?
If not, some professional writers like television screenwriters actually live far more social lives and work in teams! Perhaps there is a particular form of writing that is suited most to what you enjoy!
Have an Alternate Source of Income
Income from creative writing can be unpredictable and low. Always stay honest about the chances of making a living from writing. The average pay for novelists is very low, and it’s even lower for poets. If you can run a small business on the side, or offer you services as a teacher or editor, you will be in a better position, especially in the early years of your career, to pursue writing professionally!
Mentorships are an important way to get advice from experts. There are many types of mentorship. If you’re super lucky someone awesome will mentor you for free. You can also pay a mentor to give you advice. Just make sure the mentor has written work that you like. Otherwise the mentorship is likely to be worthless or even harmful.
Read Books and Resources on How to Write
Check out the rest of articles on this site which contain many writing tips. Also read as many books on writing as you can. You may not agree with everything that’s being said, but every now and then you will stumble on a gem that will hopefully really help you. The sooner you become an expert the sooner you can teach others.
Join Writing Societies and Writing Groups
This can be a great way to get free feedback, and an awesome way to make lifelong friendships! Creative writing can be a profession, but also a life journey. It can be deeply rewarding, take you to places you never imagined, and introduce you to amazing new friends.
I hope you enjoy your journey! As you can see being a professional writer takes work but is totally worth it.