UPDATE: I got a book deal!
The way I see it, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who would rather walk on hot coals than write even a single page of text, and those for whom writing is as much a part of our life as breathing.
I’m in the latter group – I hope that’s obvious after all these years.
Writing has always been my escape, my coping mechanism and the one skill that came naturally. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t go to sleep until I wrote down everything that happened during the day. I have dozens of horrifically embarrassing diaries from as early as elementary school, and I hoard words I’ve written like I’ll lose them forever if I don’t store them in a closet for the rest of time. I’m sure I’ll never need to lift paragraphs from my high school book reports, but just in case, I have them on hand. Fortunately I’m a much better writer now than I was then, and a good deal less dramatic about boys.
Even still, I never imagined little old me could become a real writer – you know, one who actually made a living spilling all the words from my brain onto paper for others to consume. For a long time, I put that dream in the hobbies column, earned my degree in public relations and ultimately went into corporate communications to pay the bills. I just didn’t know how to be a writer. I didn’t know anyone who worked in journalism or wrote books back then. It seemed so out of reach.
Fortunately I wrote a zillion words a day as a publicist and I did have the chance to be creative, so I exercised the muscles enough to keep the dream alive. I started a silly little blog to sharpen my skills during my NYC days, and I couldn’t believe it when people actually read it… and liked it?!
In 2010, I realized I needed a break from corporate PR so I could give writing a real shot. Would the market sustain me? I had no idea. I saved as much as I could and left corporate PR, starting this very website you’re reading today.
You know how the story goes. I quit my job to travel the world and now I’m a professional writer with a successful blog, solid bylines, a literary agent and millions of adoring fans. It was so easy and you can do it, too! Just buy my course for $999 and I’ll show you how…
Just kidding, y’all.
Since I get emails almost daily asking how to “do” whatever it is that I actually do, I’ve whipped up some practical steps I’ve learned over the years that will help hone your writing craft.
Being a good writer isn’t half of what it takes to be a successful writer, but it’s the foundation you need to start the climb.Tweet
How to Be a Writer: Practical Tips
Write Every Day
Mike Foley, my incredible reporting professor at the University of Florida, gave me this tip my junior year, and it’s one of the main reasons I started BigAppleAngie.com when I moved to New York. Getting in the habit of frequent creative wordplay helped me take my linguaphilia from hobby to career. And writing for my fledgling blog, even though my audience was about 300 people per month and made of little more than my friends and relatives, gave me the boost I needed to strive for higher quality stories and more frequent posts.
Develop Your Voice
This goes hand-in-hand with No. 1 above, but it deserves its own paragraph because it’s vital to have your own distinctive voice, especially now when there are so many more aspiring writers jockeying for assignments and book deals. Writing daily helped me develop my voice away from the structural, strictly informational PR writing I did in my day job. It also gave me the confidence that if I could whip out 1,000 funny words a day for my blog and a press release or two at work. After doing that for years, I realized there’s no reason I couldn’t tackle my dream project: an 80,000+ word memoir.
Read Voraciously …
I’m sure you already do this, probably much more than I do these days when my attention span is so limited. But I notice an encouraging swell in creativity and an improvement in the flow of my own writing when I read stuff from good writers. Doesn’t matter who, as long as it inspires you or reminds you why you want to be a writer in the first place.
And a reminder for me as much as anyone else: I’m mostly referring to non-Internet content. Sure, you can read a novel’s worth of words each day on Reddit or Facebook, but that’s not likely to be the rich, thoughtful prose that’ll get you in the mood to pour out your own stories onto the page.
For me, Jane Austen always gets the creative juices flowing. Re-reading Pride and Prejudice for me is like a strong cup of coffee. I can skim a few chapters and drop right into my book with renewed vigor.
… And Read The Best Books on Writing
I have this stack of books behind me so if I ever get stuck, I can grab one, start somewhere in the middle and regain my flow. Here are my favorites to get you started.
- Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
- The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
- Everybody Writes, Ann Handley
- On Writing, Stephen King
- On Writing Well, William Zinsser
- Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark
There are dozens more that are helpful, so if there’s a specific tome that’s been beneficial to your writing process, please leave it in the comments!
Own Your Writerness
I used to be ashamed of my lack of published clips and PR degree instead of Creative Writing MFA. Many of the professional authors and journalists I knew in NYC looked at publicity as a job for people who couldn’t get “real” writing gigs at magazines.
Discouraged, I’d say, “Well, I would like to be a writer someday,” but not really believe that I could do it.
Not long after I interviewed with Donald Trump for The Apprentice, I just started saying, “Why not me?” Why shouldn’t I be on TV? Why shouldn’t I be one of the finalists for Best Job in the World? Why shouldn’t I apply for my dream PR job at Weber Shandwick? Why shouldn’t I say yes to every opportunity that came my way?
I just started owning it. I AM a writer. I’ve always been a writer. Frankly I don’t need a piece in The New York Times for that to be true. Once I started owning the title, assignments were easier to land.
*I know writerness is not a word. But I’m a writer and I can make things up as I go along. See that confidence?! That comes from owning it.
Strive for Progress, Not Perfection
I’m guilty of wanting to have all my ducks in a row before ever trying something new. It took Rae and I years to film our first episode of The Jet Sisters because we wanted everything to line up just right. I want to be the best before I put myself out there and risk failure – I’m nothing if not a 3 on the Enneagram! This is why it took me a decade to submit queries to literary agents. I didn’t dare send an inquiry until I felt like my resume (and my story) fully deserved it.
Perfection is not your friend, dear writer.Tweet
Do you think any of the average trendy blogger bros give one hoot about their qualifications before claiming to be the No. 1 writer in their niche after having a blog for 6 months? Of course not!
If you wait to try until you’re the best of the best, you miss valuable time where you could be impacting people with your writing, developing your voice and doing what you love. Letting other people read your imperfect writing is scary, but it’s a necessary evil that gets much easier over time.
Networking Does Matter
It’s all about who you know. I hate this bit, but almost every assignment, be it travel writing, web copy writing, travel publicity, consulting, editing manuscripts — whatever it is, has come from connections I made while out and about. And I don’t love networking AT ALL. But I wouldn’t be where I am without it.
Be Realistic About Earning Potential
Freelance content writing is not the career for you if you’re looking to make bank right off the rip or pay off your student loans or I dunno, buy a house or car. Sure, blogging can be lucrative, but it can take years to get to a point where your blog makes enough money to live on. In the meantime, you have hosting expenses, design costs, continuing education, advertising and likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words to write before you make your first penny.
Freelance writing used to be a cool career where you could make an okay living, but it’s never been a gold mine. And bloggers will sell you on the pipe dream that “you can travel the world for free and make six figures,” leaving out the crucial element of their own financial success – selling e-courses to aspiring travel bloggers! This isn’t shade at all – to each their own, make that money, hustle, educate the masses, all that stuff. But there’s no easy money in freelancing or publishing your own website in 2021.
Out of the hundreds of professional bloggers, authors and journalists I know, most make their living in a variety of ways aside from just writing. While I do have friends who are very successful in the freelance game and only do that, they make up the tiniest percentage of freelance writers.
Habits, Habits, Habits
Spontaneity has its place, but if you really want to be a writer, create habits that will help you write more and write better. Routine is a writer’s best friend! (At least while writing- it’s not always best for finding things to write about!)
To get myself in the right headspace for writing, I often start by listening to the same playlist on Spotify every morning. Hearing the same comfortable soundtrack quickly gets my mind right.
It also helps to choose specific time of day to write, and stick with it whether you feel like it or not. If you wait for the inspiration to hit, you’ll find it doesn’t come at a convenient time.
Pick a writing spot and go there every day at the same time, with the same music and even the same yummy scented candle. You may not be feeling inspired in your mind, but your muscle memory will kick in and you’ll be back in the groove in no time.
Just Start Already
Do you want to write YA fiction novels? Women’s devotionals? Long-form travel narratives? DIY tutorials for your crafting blog? Inspirational memoir about your life story? All of the above?!
Writing is an evolving, lifelong process and as such, you don’t have to have the endgame figured out now. Just start. Put some words on the page today – it can be on a computer, in the Notes app on your phone, in a journal or a notebook – but start scribbling. And golly gee, look at that – you’re a writer!
Here’s the thing. It’s probably crap. All first drafts are. You have to accept that to get to the other side, where the words make sense and might actually mean something to a reader.
Carve Your Own Path
Every writer dreams of writing a bestselling book, but that’s like finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn through your backyard on Christmas Eve. Super cool but highly unlikely.Tweet
There’s freedom in that. What worked for writers 50 years ago is not what works now, and that’s a relief. While yes, it seems that there are more content creators and professional word people than ever before, there are so many ways to share your love of words with the world. We have the freedom to write on dozens of platforms – many for free. We don’t have to do things the way everyone else has done them. You don’t have to get a book deal to be a successful author. So many writers are making bank by self publishing. Start a newsletter, create a website, use Instagram to share long-form, thoughtful captions that inspire your followers. Find what works for you!
The only part about this journey that’s been easy for me has been the actual writing. I naively thought that’s all there was to it — but it goes way deeper than that, especially now when everyone is an influencer and everyone is sure their story is the next Harry Potter. Start with these foundational tips for becoming a good writer and you’ll figure the rest out in time. I promise!