From Casual Writer to Professional Writer

by thegoodvillager

The transition from occasional writer to one who is serious about making it a career involves more than just printing business cards.

It's a mindset. A paradigm shift. A leap of faith. A self-powering motor.

Call it what you will, but transforming yourself into someone who fully or partially supports themselves through their writing requires a personal makeover from the inside out. You can spend your entire life dancing with the written word, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with hobby writing. More people should do casual writing. It's psychologically and emotionally healthy, mind-cobweb clearing, good for the soul, exercise for your brain cells, good for posterity, and keeps you in touch with your culture and history through language.

Starting in the Middle

I'm not there yet. And I'm not at the beginning either. In reality, I'm somewhere in the middle of the transition from casual writer to a 'going pro' success story. And I think it's the perfect time to write something about transition. I'm feeling it and living it. I'm making mistakes. I'm exploring. I'm learning. And I'm succeeding. Sometimes a seasoned professional forgets what it's like to start out. They make assumptions, gloss over tiny, yet crucial, details, and say things like, "Just keep going" without realizing how unhelpful that is to the frustrated beginner.

I don't want to downplay the valuable advice a long-time pro can give. I just believe insight can come from many corners.

How To's

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Belief and Identity

Don't underestimate the power of confidence on your self-image and future success. You absolutely have to believe in yourself and your abilities. You have to take those beliefs and make them a part of your identity - not just a set of clothes you put on, but the air that you breathe or a tattoo that you wear on the inside. It is permanent and crucial to your being.

There is a reason those in the self-development and therapeutic fields talk about projecting what you want to be in order to make people believe. While many people might not be able to articulate exactly why they don't believe you are what you say you are, they can certain smell confidence (both too much and too little) coming from a mile away.

It is that right amount of confidence blended into your identity that will open the door for you. Your ability, output, and attitude will keep you from being pushed back out again.

What Kind of Writer Are You?

Feedback Paralysis

As one starts out and becomes more public with one's work, there is a rise in engagement with readers. Feedback will begin to pour in - both positive and negative. Fans may try to give advice ("You should...", "Why don't you...?). Critics will crawl out of the woodwork - sometimes even people from your past - to jab at you. It can be a little overwhelming. If you're the type of person who likes to engage with your audience, the volume can become a bit much to deal with. And responding to suggestions and criticism in order to appease and keep readers can start to make you doubt yourself, your identity and your mission as a writer.

Who should you listen to? First, listen to your confident self, not your hesitant self. Ultimately, it is you who have the power to go forward or hold back. Second, listen to your fans. They are a source of support, and may even generate an idea or two to keep the writing furnace burning. As feedback increases, design a policy for yourself to manage responding to an increasing volume, though. Third, listen to some of your critics. Not the anonymous ones whose goals in life are to troll web sites and pollute the comments section with their bile. And not the ones who have an 'agenda'. Listen to the ones who have constructive criticism - who have expertise and whose opinions, criticisms, and suggestions you can trust.

Be Free, but Not Too Free

There is a fine balance between giving yourself away and alienating possible new readers/customers. As a new professional writer without much in the way of an endorsed portfolio, you are going to need to prove yourself. It will depend on your outlet, but one way to gain supporters rather quickly is to offer free samples of your work. In the age of social networking, word travels fast, and if you touch on a hot topic, or your writing is addictive, it won't be long before people will seek you out or will be willing to pay you for what you're good at.

There is the risk of giving too much away for free. In this case, when people get used to your freebies, they may come to see you as amateur. The reverse is true. While attaching value to something can pique people's interest, putting a high price tag on a product that is untried and untested is presumptuous and possibly alienating.

Occasionally, you may be lucky, and your fans will tell you when it's time to start charging or charging more. I've heard and read comments from fans who've said, "You really need to be charging for this!" It doesn't become any clearer than that.

When Thin Isn't Healthy

Vary your writing outlets, but don't spread yourself too thin. It is possible to derive writing income from a number of sources, especially when you're in the early stages of your career. You'll discover quickly when sources pan out and which are dead ends. It's easy to take on too much, though. This applies to all areas of life - not just writing careers. If you can't do a good quality and thorough job on anything, then you need to cut out some of your activities. I've been guilty of this myself. I've made a list of all the places I want to put myself only to discover that I just don't have enough time or energy to devote to making an honest go of it all.

Sometimes, you'll find that without realizing it, you'll gravitate to the writing outlets that feel right to you and give you what you're looking for. What is key is to recognize which outlets are being neglected and dropping them before making any promises you can't keep. Poor quality work and broken promises always do more harm than top quality work does good.

Practise, Practise, Practise!

The more you write, the better you get, and the more you learn about what sells. Publishing a blog as a casual writer may bring you followers, but are they the same people who would pay to read you? You could offer a few pay-to-read articles on your otherwise free blog just to test the waters on that. It takes much more effort to recruit new customers than to keep existing ones. If you don't get any bites, it is time to find out whether it is your writing, your topics or the audience you're already performing in front of that is posing the problem.

While you're practising and getting better, it is wise to find yourself an editor or proofreader. EVERYBODY makes mistakes, and not always the easy ones you typically think of when you bring to mind sloppy writing. I can remember countless times putting something before the public eye only to go back later to read it and see glaring errors that slipped by eyes that had already over-read the article.

Finally, getting into the habit of writing as much as possible will allow you to find your groove. Some people write best and most productively in the morning. Others burn the midnight oil. You can force a routine, but often, you'll find yourself naturally if you give yourself a lot of opportunity and flexibility at the beginning. Writing professionally is not the same as writing solely for fun. You want to keep the element of fun there, but output needs to be considerably better and greater.

If you're transitioning, as I am, I know what you're going through ;)

 

Updated: 04/24/2013, thegoodvillager
 
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thegoodvillager on 09/08/2014

Thank you! I couldn't agree more. Writing is lonely work. I think it could be helpful to have a few interesting people to occasionally get together with and bounce ideas off of or just stimulate the creative juices. I don't have that in China, unfortunately - probably why I feel my brain is slowly turning to mush.

Come to think of it, you've asked a very interesting question. I don't actually know any writers in China. Everyone uses social media, but I don't know anyone doing serious writing work. But I also tend to work in colleges and universities devoted to science and technology, rather than the arts...

There are Western coffee shops in large cities here, but the average person doesn't go to them because they are too expensive (a cup of coffee might cost 2-3 times what a poor person would make in an hour). I'm not sure where creative types actually congregate to either work or chat. I need to explore this more, I think!

Mira on 09/07/2014

Good luck with your plans! I'm thinking now writing can be rather lonely, too, if you are serious about it and putting in the hours. Which is why I keep reading that lots of writers spend time in cafes. At least in the US. Same thing in China? Was just talking about this with friends today.

thegoodvillager on 09/02/2014

Long delay and absence from Wizzley. Many apologies.
I completely agree with you regarding the balance between pressure and passion. You need a little of both to make a small living. Too much of either threatens the balance. I know a few very driven people who still maintain that they love what they do.
Myself, I'm in southern China. I teach graduate students at a university. Writing on the side. Would love to get out of the former, but continue with the latter :)

Mira on 11/28/2013

Good post. The problem with turning a passion into a profession is what you say: you're pushed to be better and produced more. And sometimes that creates too much of a pressure. Too much of a good thing, that can sap you in the end. So I have my doubts. Where are you now with work and writing, and how is it going?

thegoodvillager on 04/30/2013

Thank you very kindly, teddletonmr :) For the welcome, the compliment, and for sharing in the experience!

teddletonmr on 04/30/2013

thewriteway,
First things first, please allow me to welcome you to the wizzley community. Secondly, I enjoy reading your article full of well explained in detail insights. So much so, I feel, as though, I should pay you something for the valuable, seemingly heart-felt advice. How about a well-deserved complement? From an ole up and coming writer, to another, well done, the what, and why points are spot on.

thegoodvillager on 04/24/2013

Absolutely. I think one of the most common things I've heard said by those in the know regarding web site and blog creation is "Make it about great content."

katiem2 on 04/24/2013

I agree with Catana, you should blog for the love of it. So many think you can and should simply toss up and blog in support of a body of work but if shallow it has a counter reaction. Great article.

Guest on 04/24/2013

Glad to see another blogger who appreciates its benefits. There's so much discussion about Twitter et al, but rarely about blogging. Of course, you have to love blogging to start with. So many writers take it up because they've been told they have to have it as part of their platform. But you have to build a readership for the blog before it's of any use as a writer's self-promotion.

Keep the articles coming. They don't always apply to me, but they're bound to help someone. There are always newbies coming along.

thegoodvillager on 04/24/2013

I hear you on the social networking. I think Twitter was created to confuse people like me... Blogging is my favourite form - the relationships and insights I've gained from blogging are pretty amazing.

I think it's an exciting time to live in that in between realm of serious writing without aiming for large cash rewards. There are more outlets than ever for that.

Congrats on carving out your own unique writing identity!


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